You are here

May charity “strongly suggest” year-end gift from employees?

Your Legal Questions Answered

May charity “strongly suggest” year-end gift from employees?

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.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sign-up for our free weekly Q&A


Many nonprofits like to show full participation in fundraising for all board and staff. However, it should not be coerced, but should be voluntary - and even $5 counts. But if the charity is one that pays very little for client support staff, it seems out of line to even ask. My concern is that this person has put out money from her own pocket for certain things and she doesn't ask for reimbursement. She should! Or she could keep the receipts and later submit them as her donation.

We initiated a staff campaign about 8 years ago and created it with a staff committee representing a cross section of the agency. This committee did not want a dollar goal--thinking that would cause undue pressure--but did set a 100% participation goal. Some people give substantial amounts and others give $1. We don't hit quite 100% participation but still present that goal, noting that it was developed by their fellow staff members. We keep it pretty low-key too with a staff meeting announcement, written communication and just a few gentle email reminders. Some who complained about the very issue noted here--buying things out of pocket--are now among our best supporters. (It also may have helped that our very well respected Dir of Finance strongly discouraged that practice when it was launched, recognizing that reimbursement is just the cost of doing business.) One thought is to encourage her to have a private conversation with development staff about her concerns. They should ethically would keep the conversation confidential. Maybe it is time for development to convene a committee to look at how the campaign is presented and the goals. She's probably not the only one who feels pressured by the tactics being used.

Add new comment

Sign-up for our weekly Q&A; get a free report on electioneering