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Workplace fundraising 
etiquette a balancing act

Caption
(Photo illustration by H. Rick Bamman – hbamman@shawmedia.com)
Everyone has had it happen. A parent comes around the office trying to help their child raise money, for a group by selling cookies, gift wrap, candy or popcorn.

We’ve all been there. You head into work one December morning with several deadlines off in the distance.

Sitting at your desk, you begin to plan the day when a friendly co-worker approaches.

The chitchat quickly takes a left turn, and you’re asked to donate money.

You politely hand over the $5 that will hopefully help little Tommy earn a pizza party at school.

You’re now in the middle of checking emails when another head peeks around your cubicle wall, this time a more unfamiliar co-worker. You’re asked whether you’d like to donate to help a disabled young child get his Christmas wish.

Your budget’s already tight, and with mouths to feed at home along with other bills, you know it’s impossible to donate to every admirable cause out there, so you politely pass.

The holiday season is in full swing and giving is on the minds of many residents and nonprofit organizations, often spilling over into the workplace.

Fundraising etiquette in the workplace sometimes blurs the line between professional and personal choice, experts said, while companies themselves may reach out to employees about the charity or event they are backing.

There are many unintended consequences an employer needs to consider when allowing fundraising in the workplace, said Karla Dobbeck, founder of Human Resource Techniques Inc.

If an employer does allow it during working hours, the business also must allow for union organizational meetings during the day, said Dobbeck, citing from the National Labor Relations Act.

“You can’t say yes to Girl Scout cookies, and no to union meetings,” she said.

Instead, companies usually have a no-solicitation policy that prevents fundraising during working hours. By law, that does not prevent the employee from asking for donations, pitching their charitable organization or selling items during non-work hours, such as breaks or lunch hours. That often includes placing donation jars, sign-up sheets or promotional information in break rooms or on bulletin boards in the office, Dobbeck said.

“If neither party is working, it is legally allowed,” she said.

Exemplar Financial Network has more than 40 employees at three locations: Crystal Lake, Westmont and Walworth, Wis.

The company has a philosophy of allowing its employees to raise money in the workplace, but with a twist. If an employee is fundraising for a child, officials encourage that child to come to the business to inform co-workers about the effort.

“We are not opposed to solicitation from employees’ kids,” said Jennifer Johnson, executive vice president at Exemplar Financial. “It teaches the kids how to have passion in what they are raising money for.”

Should an employee ask the company to help sponsor a nonprofit organization, officials ask how much the employee has committed and would match it, showing that the employee is committed to the effort, Johnson said.

With personal fundraising permitted, the company also leans toward allowing those employees a chance to share their plans during monthly staff meetings to avoid co-workers being bombarded with requests.

“We want to be respectful because you have a job to do, so let’s focus on that and get the job done,” Johnson said. “If it makes sense, is something you want to support and the time is right, employees are free to do that. There’s no pressure to commit.”

Smaller businesses, such as Crystal Lake-based Douglas Automotive with about 18 employees, have an open-door policy when it comes to fundraising in the workplace.

“My rule of thumb is, if a client supports our business, we support them as well,” owner Douglass McAllister said. “That goes the same for our employees.”

If the issue did become a problem, guidelines would be put in place, he added.

Employees should use some common practices when reaching out to co-workers. The employee needs to be aware that people have limited funds, Dobbeck said.

“Instead of approaching them and asking them to donate, it is sometimes better to leave a donation box or order form in the lunchroom, so other employees don’t feel obligated to participate,” she said. “It can be very awkward.”

Sometimes the co-worker doesn’t have the money or doesn’t support the group or cause for whatever reason.

“If approached, a straightforward answer is the best response,” Dobbeck said. “They shouldn’t be made to feel uncomfortable.”

From a human resource perspective, if a business wants to curtail or eliminate solicitation between employees, it would need to clearly write a company policy and communicate it to everyone.

It then would need to be fairly and equally enforce by management, with consequences in place for employees who ignore it.

“Typically, there tend to be more policies in place at a larger facility because there is more of a chance employees may be offended or bothered,” said Mary Ahnen, president of the Stateline Society for Human Resource Management Chapter. “There are personalities who are more aggressive about it, and that makes it difficult to say no. That can only be eliminated if a policy is in place.”

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