Americans donated more than $370 billion to charities last year. Almost $18.5 billion came from corporate giving, and more than $57 billion came via foundations, meaning that the largest source of charitable giving in 2015, by far, was the individual. Contributing a donation to an organization or toward a cause that you care about can make a real difference, but it can still be hard to decide when and where to direct your attention, and your funds.
Warren Buffett, whose famous giving pledge has inspired dozens of billionaires to make extraordinary contributions, says he knows that it can be difficult to evaluate charitable organizations. In a recent MOOC about giving with purpose, he explained why this might be the case.
“The important thing is that you feel good about it when you’ve done it,” he said. “Business is easy, because the market tells you whether you’re right or wrong. But with philanthropy, you can keep doing something that doesn’t make any sense and there’s no playback from the market.”
Giving to charity can make a tremendous difference, and it’s a wonderful thing to do. But, that doesn’t make the actual process of deciding when and where to give any easier. And, this type of decision is further complicated when it gets tangled up in our working lives. So, let’s take a look at a few common types of charitable giving requests that occur in and around the office and think about how to address them.
- Employees being asked to give to the organization where they work.
Nonprofit organizations sometimes hold campaigns where employees are asked to make a donation (not always anonymously, either) to show their support. Sometimes, employers state that they would like to see 100 percent employee participation in these campaigns. It can feel like a lot of pressure. And, that’s where the organization has gone wrong. You might want to give at least a little something in order to not make waves, but it might also be a good idea to talk with some people about how this donation didn’t really feel totally voluntary, and remind them that this isn’t the spirit you’d like to summon forth when giving, in any way, to your organization.
“As nobody should need reminding,” wrote Kwame Anthony Appiah in his piece for The New York Times Magazine on this topic, “the best indicator of a university employee’s support for the institution is her commitment to her job.”
- A coworker is soliciting for a charity that they care about.
Sometimes coworkers use the office as a place to solicit donations for a charity that they, or their children, are involved with. They might ask you to buy something for a school fundraiser, or sponsor them in their run for a cause, as examples. In these cases, try to remember to take a beat before responding. Sometimes, our knee-jerk reaction to being asked to give to something like this is to say yes, and then we feel funny about it later.
Only give if you feel like it’s something you really want to do. You don’t need a long-winded excuse either. It’s unlikely that anyone will ask you why you didn’t contribute, but if they do, there are a few different ways you could respond. Try explaining that you don’t donate to organizations that you haven’t researched yourself, or just say, “No, thank you.” No matter what you do, only give if you actually want to. Chances are, enough of those opportunities come your way, and you’ll likely be stretched beyond your comfort zone if you say yes to everything and everyone.
- A manager is soliciting for an outside cause.
Many people, understandably, feel a little more pressure when the boss is the one asking for the donation. If your manager is passing around a wrapping-paper order form or asking for your contribution to an outside cause in any way, resist thinking of this ask any differently than you would if it was coming from a coworker.
A small contribution isn’t a big deal, as long as it’s not a big deal to you. If you really feel like there could be professional consequences for opting out, you might decide to give, as long as it doesn’t sting your own wallet too badly. At the same time, simply ignoring requests to donate will probably go over just fine, even if your manager is the one doing the asking.
Don’t let the pressure get to you. Giving is supposed to make you feel good, and it will if you commit to doing it in the way that’s best for you.
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