The Relationship Judge – Post #2 – Work Situation

This Friday’s post, comes to us from “Kelly” in Texas.  Kelly works full time in a corporate job in an office of about 200 employees.  She is a mid-level associate in a large marketing/PR firm.  Kelly hesitated writing in here as the issue she was having was not with a significant other or friendship, but rather, an on-going awkward situation happening with the head honcho in her office.  I was thrilled to get a work related question about a work relationship – that is certainly a ripe relationship meriting discussion here.  Thanks for writing in!

The Facts: Kelly has been at her company for 4 years.  In her immediate group there is a team of 15 staff members.  This group is part of a larger umbrella team of the Marketing division consisting of a total of 45 individuals.  At the top of both her smaller group and the larger group is “Alice.”  Alice, a very Type A personality and runs a very tight ship.  She works non-stop, is very well respected amongst members of the company, however, she is known to have more than the occasional outburst when someone makes a mistake or doesn’t deliver something properly.  Besides these management style quirks, however, is an issue which Kelly was hoping for some feedback on.  For the last three years, Alice has been on the board of a charity that she does a lot of fundraising for throughout the year.  Twice a year, Alice solicits her employees to donate money to the charity.  At first, it was just an email that went around with details about the charity and where a donation could be made.  But then Alice started bringing it up at staff meetings.  She once saw Alice in the office bathroom and got cornered into a conversation about how nice it would be if Kelly could get some of her teammates to contribute something.

On top of this pressure, Alice’s inner circle at work always makes generous donations — anywhere from $100-$500 per year (Alice announces these generations at staff meetings).  Kelly feels that there is heavy pressure to donate to Alice’s charity, and nothing less than $100 would be acceptable.  It has become a competition in the office, people talking about who donated what.  On top of this, Kelly’s immediate boss for her group of 15 has also recently become involved in a charity and has started sending around emails seeking donations.

The Question:  Kelly wants to know if she is obligated to donate to Alice and/or her immediate boss and how much is the minimum she can donate without seeming cheap.  Kelly notes that she is barely saving money each month between rent, college loans, car payments, etc. – she finds these solicitations for donations to be putting her in a difficult position, but she does not want to seem cold or callous at the deserving causes.  She feels she could probably afford to make the donations, but feels resentful that she is being pressured into doing so and questions whether it’s selfish to want to spend money on other things. She also wonders if simply refusing to donate or saying she has already donated to another cause will being damaging to her professional career.

The Relationship Judge Says:  Kelly, you poor thing.  What an awful position to be put in.  I’ve had situations where people come around the office with Girl Scout Cookies solicitations, requests to sponsor them in a race/walk, requests to sponsor their kids in something and in one case a mandatory meeting was set up by a senior manager to talk to everyone about a worthy cause he was seeking donations for.  Talk about awkward.  First off, it is not right for the managers in your company to be seeking money for their personal, non-profit organizations at a place of business.  You work hard to make money – how you spend it and what charities you give to, if you give, should be up to you. There are usually company policies against the sort of pressure you’re getting.  The people seeking such contributions should do so in a non-confrontational way so people do not feel obligated to contribute.   You also have the growing problem of two bosses asking for money – and who knows when the next senior manager will jump on the bandwagon.

The next time you get an email seeking a donation or get directly asked by someone bold enough to put you on the spot, you have a several options.  You can respond honestly and say you just don’t have the extra money right now to contribute.  If you don’t feel comfortable saying that, you can always say something like, “Wow, what a great cause! I just contributed to something very similar for a friend, but maybe next time.”  If these don’t work, perhaps speak to another senior manager about the awkward position you and your colleagues are put in by these solicitations and see if he or she can say something to Alice and your immediate boss.  If that isn’t an option, perhaps consider speaking to HR about it.

If none of the above would work, you may want to just budget for two modest donations and consider it a tax of working where you work.  At least it will hopefully be tax deductible and you’ll be known as a kind and generous person by the people determining your salary.  Not to mention, it’s hopefully for a good cause. Either way, please check back with us and let us know what happens!!

P.S. You have the right to do anything you want with your money!

You Be The Judge:  Have any of you out there been through something like this?  How did you handle it?  What should Kelly do?  Make a donation?  Be honest and say she doesn’t have the money at this point to donate?  Fib and say she already donated elsewhere?  Put them off by saying she has to meet with an accountant?  Let’s hear it, Judges!

And if YOU have a problem for The Relationship Judge, you can email me at with the subject line “The Relationship Judge.”  Instructions for what to submit can be found here.

Happy Friday!!




  1. I have been in this situation numerous times as well. What I found works effectively is telling the people who are soliciting the donations that I have a few charities that are near and dear to my heart that I contribute to frequently which means I do not have any monies leftover for their charity unfortunately. That way I don’t look like a miser, yet it limits the unsolicited requests.

  2. If I were in Kelly’s situation, I’d probably donate $20 or $25 to each charity. I’d also contact HR about it because I think it’s inappropriate that “bosses” are asking their employees for donations. It makes it seem like a bigger donation will get you points at the office, even if that’s not really the case.

  3. Kelly with an office of about 200 people there may/should be a company policy about donations.
    I would find out what the policy is, and if what is going on is inappropriate, perhaps the home office can send around a memo.
    This situation is similar to a friend having a “party”, and you are expected to purchase whatever they are selling.
    A friend of mine once invited me to one of these things, and she was selling health products, actually vitamins. I did not buy any, and told her that “although I am your friend, I am not interested in purchasing vitamins”.
    We are still friends, and after she exhausted her friends and relatives with this stuff, she eventually ended this business.

    I am aggravated that you are put in this ridiculous situation, and I know it can be very stressful.
    Please let us know what you decided to do, as everyone would like to have an answer to your question.

  4. I completely agree with Julie C’s suggestion — this is what I do too, and I am a professional fundraiser. If I get approached for a charity that I am not interested in, I say, “Thank you for telling me about this important cause, however, I focus my charitable giving on education (or breast cancer research, or a specific charity, whichever you prefer). Good luck with your fundraising campaign!”

    As a fundraiser, though, I do recognize that simply your participation with small gift can mean a lot to an organization. They love to say they have hundreds/thousands. Even a gift of $5 will count as “participation”. In this light, I will almost always support a coworker or friend running a marathon type race–whatever the cause–but maybe with just a $10 or $25 gift.

    The exception I would make (for appropriate fundraising at the office) is if your company has some sort of team building/group goal effort for a certain charity, maybe one they have a special relationship with. More often this happens with a goal for volunteer hours or maybe a United Way campaign. In this case, I think it’s best to participate simply to be part of the team and show that you’re a team player. Again, for me the amount donated could be small. For example, schools often try to get 100% participation from their faculty & staff. I don’t care if each teacher gives just $1, their participation as a group can make a really compelling statement to other donors (like parents).

    (It sounds like your situation is different though, as Alice is involved in a charity that has no connection to your company. Is that right?)

    • Oops sorry for the typo. I meant to say “[Charities] love to say they have hundreds/thousands of DONORS.”

    • Susan Levin says:

      I agree with Guest3. Having been both a fundraiser as well as in Human Resources, giving even a token amount is appreciated by the agency and lets the organization show other funders that they have many names supporting their efforts.

      However, HR SHOULD have a policy that defines and limits fundraising within the workplace. Otherwise, the employees at the lower salary levels are actually being punished and harrassed by the upper echelon.

  5. I would simply say to anyone asking for a donation “Get me the address and I will see what I can do.” From there I would do as I pleased, donate or not donate as I decided. If someone were to ask me how much I donated, I would always say the same thing “I did what I could!” With a huge smile. If some were to insist I would say “I’m sorry I’m just not comfortable giving out that information.” Its a nice way to draw the line so you don’t become one of those in need of charity yourself!!!

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