Are office solicitations becoming a regular drain on your paycheck?
Last week, it was the IT woman asking if you’d buy overpriced gift wrap to support her daughter’s music program. Earlier this week, the head administrative assistant asked everyone to chip in $20 for an upcoming retirement party. And you know that Ted from accounting is going to hit you up for a donation toward that charitable 10K he’s been training for. While you’re happy to support all of these coworkers and their causes individually, together it’s getting to be a major financial burden.
So how do you keep these regular solicitations from wrecking your carefully planned budget? Here’s what you need to know about navigating this financial and etiquette minefield.
Navigating the Awkwardness
Office solicitations are awkward because it can feel like there will be some sort of work or social repercussions for saying no to a request for money. But you have every right to refuse to give, no matter who is asking. You don’t need to give a reason or an excuse. You simply need to say no.
Perfecting your polite “No” will go a long way to making sure these requests leave no hard feelings on either side. Here are some ways to refuse graciously:
- “No, thank you.” It’s an old standby for a reason. If your coworker presses, you can say that you appreciate their passion for the cause, but you’re not interested.
- “I’ve already allocated all of my charitable spending for the year.” This is polite, to the point, and not something anyone can argue with.
- “I don’t donate to organizations unless I have done my own research on them.” This makes it clear to the office solicitor that you ultimately get to decide where your money goes.
Workplace Solicitation Policies
Many companies are well aware of how uncomfortable workplace solicitations can be, since you’re a captive audience for the solicitor-du-jour, and you have to maintain a pleasant working environment with them, to boot. That’s why it’s common for workplaces to have solicitation policies. These policies will often prohibit one-on-one solicitations between employees, but allow more general solicitations.
For instance, your workplace may not allow the father of a girl scout to go desk-to-desk asking each of his coworkers how many boxes of Thin Mints he can put them down for, but will allow him to put a sign-up sheet in the break room for those interested.
If you’re feeling pressured to give, start by finding out the specific policy in place. If multiple coworkers are not adhering to the policy, then you can say something to HR or your manager about making sure everyone knows the policy.
But what if there is no policy in place? “Tell someone!” recommends HR professional Jenni Stone. “Solicitation only becomes a problem when it becomes disruptive. This repeated solicitation and pressure is unacceptable. Let management know what’s going on so it can be addressed through creating and enforcing a policy.”
Creating Your Own Donation Policy
Even if there’s no policy in place at work, you can still create a policy for yourself regarding donations. Having such a policy for yourself can help you say no comfortably without feeling cornered, since you’ve already made the decision before the sign-up sheet has gone around.
Here are a couple of ways to shape your policy:
- If you have a flat refusal in place because you don’t give money at work, then Rhonda in marketing won’t be wondering why you gave to Keisha’s fundraiser but not hers. If this is your policy, you could say you’ve budgeted for charitable donations and take care of it entirely outside of work.
- Decide ahead of time that you will only donate to certain categories of charities. For instance, you might decide you’ll only support children, education, and the arts. That makes it easier to say no if a coworker is raising money for their church or for medical research. Those are worthy causes, but they’re not in the categories you’ve chosen to support.
- Determine the amount of money you’re willing to spend on office solicitations. That could be an overall budget — like $150 for the year — or an amount like $5 per solicitation. If you choose an overall budget, you can tell anyone asking after you’ve used up the $150 you’d allotted that you’ve reached the end of your budget and to try you again next year. If you choose the $5 per request, that will allow you to support everyone without destroying your overall budget.
Dealing with Pressure from Above
There’s an added layer of stress when the solicitation comes from above. For instance, I used to work with kids for a nonprofit charitable organization. I earned less than $10 an hour in my role as an art teacher with the organization. However, the charitable non-profit wanted to show potential donors how much the employees believed in the mission. We were all “encouraged” to give money during the annual fundraising campaign so they could say that they had 100 percent employee participation.
A similar pressure can occur when your workplace encourages you to give money toward a retirement party, wedding or baby gifts for coworkers, or to help a sick employee. You can often feel like you have no choice but to give money toward these causes, even if you’re feeling financially strapped.
There are a couple of ways to handle these kinds of uncomfortable solicitations. The first is to only give what you can. When I was struggling to make ends meet working for the non-profit organization, I gave $2 toward the annual campaign one year. The higher ups made it clear they didn’t care how much you gave, since getting 100 percent participation was their main goal.
In addition, remember that you can always ask if there are other ways to be supportive. Some employers will allow you to donate sick time or vacation time to coworkers. Donating a day or two of the leave you’ve built up could be a great way to give to an ailing coworker or a new parent without spending money.
Similarly, you could offer to set up the retirement party, bake the cake, or even run the errands necessary for the party in your off time. That shows you care without hurting your bottom line.