How to Handle Charity Requests at Work

For Women & Co., by Mercedes Cardona, OMH Communications

We've all been there: Your kid comes home with a boxful of candy bars, or a wrapping-paper catalog, expecting help in selling those products to pay for new team uniforms or a class trip. Or maybe you've been on the other end, as a co-worker circles the office, taking orders for cookies or seeking sponsors for a charity 5K run.

Despite the weak economy, Americans are still a generous bunch. According to the annual Giving USA report, individuals gave $217.79 billion to all kinds of charities last year. Seventy three percent of all the funds raised in the country came from people digging into their pockets. And, that charity sometimes begins at work. But what's the best way to handle it?

Sometimes, it's best to just buy that raffle ticket or box of cookies to maintain good relationships. Like the Super Bowl pool or March Madness brackets, it keeps your co-workers happy. Consider it an investment in your work environment!

If you can't or don't want to give, make sure you have a good excuse. Say you already bought cookies from your niece, or are sponsoring another runner in the race. Or just be honest and say that you're short on funds until payday. In these recessionary times, most people will understand.

If you are the parent selling cookies, or runner looking for sponsors, however, there are rules to follow, beyond just knowing when to back off.

The Written Rules
Most companies, other than very small organizations, have some kind of policy regarding charity and cause-fundraising in the workplace, says Rose Stanley, practice leader at WorldatWork, a human resources non-profit.

Your first step should be approaching a supervisor or the company human resources department for guidance, says Alessandra Cavalluzzi, senior manager of community relations for MSC Industrial Supply Co. MSC, a maker of industrial equipment and supplies, has a community relations charter that encourages charitable efforts focused on children and health-related non-profits. "If your company has a non-solicitation policy, you want to make sure you're not violating any of the terms. This is why it is absolutely necessary to start by going through the proper channels," she advises.

You may find the company is receptive to your efforts and may even help you. Cavalluzzi notes that MSC became involved in two popular recent efforts, Candy for the Troops and Prom Boutique, at the suggestion of employees. The candy drive collects Halloween sweets to send to service members, while the Prom Boutique outfits low-income girls with donated evening and bridesmaid dresses.

The Unwritten Rules
Once you clear it with HR, keep in mind simple office etiquette as a good yardstick where there are no written rules. Be sensitive to where you stand in the company: it's best not to solicit people you supervise. How would you feel if your boss asked you for a donation?

In addition, be careful how you use company time and property. Remember that your work e-mail is your employer's property, so if you're not allowed to go around the office selling tickets for your church raffle, you shouldn't send a mass email to all your co-workers about it. Instead, start a page for your fundraiser on a social media site and invite your co-workers that way. (But do it on your own time, of course.)

If you're a supervisor at work, you may want to sell your bosses on a company-wide community relations policy if they don't already have one. When you pitch it to executives, emphasize how it will help the company, explains Cavalluzzi. Do research and come armed with case studies from other companies, and explain how it will help morale and boost pride in your company among employees and the community. "Your passion and drive will set the tone, and help engage others," she says.

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