‘Will you sponsor me?’

A good policy can help with delicacies of inter-office fundraising etiquette

Fundraising in the workplace has become as commonplace as water cooler gossip, but employees asking colleagues to open their wallets in support of a charity run or their child’s sports team can be met with hostility by staff who may feel harassed.

Before taking fundraising efforts to work, employees should check the company handbook for regulations. In the absence of formal guidelines, they should obtain permission from their supervisor before approaching co-workers.

And if an office is overwhelmed with do-gooders seeking donations, it may be time for human resources to implement a fundraising policy. A good policy will include:

• the types of organizations employees are allowed to fundraise for

• procedures that tell employees how to conduct their fundraising efforts

• guidelines as to who can fundraise in the office.

Not all fundraising policies are designed to discourage fundraising behaviour but simply to give employees direction as to how they can conduct fundraising efforts in a way that fits within the organization’s culture.

Summerhill Group embraces fundraising efforts

Summerhill Group implemented an inter-office fundraising policy in January 2012 that actively encourages employees to fundraise for charitable endeavours.

“Giving back to the community is part of the mandate of our organization. Many of our staff members are actively involved in their communities and we found there was a great deal of personal fundraising taking place at work,” says Colleen Colman, director of talent management at Summerhill Group in Toronto, a company focused on environmental sustainability.

“The policy wasn’t created to stem any of this behaviour — it was more about how can the organization support employees getting out into the community and getting engaged.”

The company’s fundraising policy excludes political parties, religious organizations and professional associations and includes an employee-matching program that promotes friendly competition and provides an outlet for the organization to contribute to charities supported by staff.

“Once a month, an employee can make an application to the leadership team for the matching program in which the company will match employee donations of up to $400,” says Colman.

Summerhill Group also encourages people to make use of a company-wide, informal Friday email that goes out to the organization’s three offices.

“The email gives employees an opportunity to add personal content such as a call for fundraising with a link to a website to donate,” says Colman.

It’s not advisable to go desk- to-desk asking for donations but, if someone chooses to go that route, he should be sure to ask politely and expect rejection, says Jodi Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting in Marblehead, Mass.

“If they say no, thank them and move on. At work is not the right place for guilt or hard sell.”

Managers should also never be allowed to solicit from subordinates, says Smith.

“Employees should feel safe at work. That includes being safe from unsolicited asks for random charities (from management),” she says.

Official charities only

When crafting a fundraising policy, it’s recommended only official charities recognized by the government are included and employees should solicit a group rather than going from desk-to-desk.

And it’s a good idea to encourage general soliciting rather than a direct ask, says Smith.

“Mention the fundraiser during a staff meeting, put up a flyer in the break room or send out a single email letting others know what you are doing. Then, if they are interested they can approach you,” she says, noting that one followup email is appropriate but more than two emails about your cause can be viewed by co-workers as harassment.

“People will resent being pressured to donate to your cause-of-the-week.”

But stepping out onto the fundraising floor opens a person up to a quid pro quo situation.

“It’s simply disrespectful to solicit from co-workers and then to decline when they attempt to solicit from you,” says Smith.

If employees want to be creative — and encourage co-workers to support their cause without feeling harassed — they can sell tickets to a dinner at a local restaurant where the profit is contributed to the charity or bake a batch of cookies and invite staff to leave whatever change they have on hand.

Lisa Evans is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

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