My girlfriend works for a nonprofit and has both received an email and had a discussion with the director of the organization in which it was "strongly suggested" that all employees donate cash money to the nonprofit before the end of the calendar year. Is it ethical, or even legal, for them to put the employees on the spot like that, especially when I know she spends money out of pocket on certain things and does not submit any of this on financial or expense reports?
It is certainly not illegal for a charity to make a general appeal for its employees to contribute to the organization and many charities do it. The ethical, and perhaps legal, issue arises if the suggestion is so strong that it amounts to coercion. In my view, it is not ethical for an employer to pressure vulnerable subordinate employees to give more than they are comfortable giving. The visceral reaction of several people with whom I have discussed the question is negative, even to the point of anger. From the organization’s point of view, without regard to the ethical issue, if the suggestion is heavy handed, it will likely make the workplace less congenial and probably less productive. These could be very costly contributions.
The pressure could be a legal issue if your girlfriend has an employment contract and this demand is tantamount to a reduction in her stated salary (although the amount is not likely to be enough to start a lawsuit). If she is an at-will employee, she probably has no legal claim if there is retaliation for her refusal to contribute.
If your girlfriend likes her job, she may not want to take this issue on directly and may be able to talk with the director about the contributions she makes during the year that don’t show up on the organization’s income statement. If that doesn’t work, she might put in for reimbursement first and then make the contribution. If she still wants to make a point of it, she will contribute less than the reimbursement.