Community is good. Community is important. Community needs people’s support. However…
At present on the bulletin board (in Outlook) for my office for the month of November the following items have been added:
- community gift-wrapping
- parents selling chocolate bars for their kids
- parents selling raffle tickets for their kids
- parents selling batteries for their kids
- United Way
- Angel Tree
- coupon books.
Those are the “charity” or “support a worthy cause” items. Additionally, there are sales postings for Avon (x 2), buckwheat “wraps”, PartyLite, and “Home & Gift Collection” catalogues. In one month. Some months are much busier (though since December starts tomorrow, I’m sure the charities and “do your Christmas shopping” posters will ramp right up).
The United Way has been in the office this week, and, in fact, has set up a kiosk in the cafeteria. We received info packs and pledge forms on our desks. We received a company-wide email about the Angel Tree in the lounge (which, as a side note, was so embarrassingly badly written that we made fun of it for our own amusement for a good hour).
Most of these endeavours are “pull”-based. If you’re interested, you go talk to the person in charge and you buy/donate. Some, like the United Way drive, are more “push”-based. They come to you. Every week they have a “50/50 Draw” at work, and the person with the winning ticket splits the proceeds with whatever charity of the week is on the books. Two people wander around the whole office selling tickets. We have monthly campaigns all year, on behalf of everything from the Humane Society to “Send ’em Off Smiling”. And each time a campaign is run, there is pressure to “beat our record”. For things like Food Bank drives, they like to try to pit departments against each other. Raise money, have fun, boost morale. I get it.
Thing is? It’s not a right. No one has a right to my money but me. Not co-workers, not bored-looking volunteers at the mall, not homeless people on the sidewalk. How I choose to spend my money is up to me, and if I decide to donate to your “cause” or purchase your goods or services, then bully for both of us. But if I say no? Fuck off. Perhaps I have no cash on me right now. Perhaps I question whether your “charity” is legit. Perhaps I don’t support the goals of your organization. However, oftentimes, and I pick on workplaces because most of us spend the better part of our days there, the people in charge of selling or fundraising act like it is their right. Like I, or anyone else, is a bad person if I choose not to open my wallet. Often, they’ll start the hard sell. Then, you’re just going to make me angry.
This office is better than some places I’ve worked at. There are no respites from the calls for cash, but the sell is usually fairly soft. However, the campaigns are often poorly thought out. In the letter we received for the United Way campaign, it outlines what your donation can do in increasing amounts (it recommends setting up a weekly donation plan that comes off your pay automatically). I almost laughed out loud when it got to the donation it REALLY recommends, which comes to over $1000/a. Particularly since the largest group in the company is call centre associates who make so much money that I know of a number of them who have second jobs. On top of the donations and sales, chances are your work life also includes things like team lunches, bon voyage gifts, mat leave/baby shower gifts, birthday gifts, engagement/wedding gifts, funeral bouquets, etc. We determined at my last office that there is no physical way you could get married enough times, have enough children, or kill off enough relations to even break even on the gifting. Most of the time it’s not a big deal, but what about people who choose to never get married or have children? Sherry once suggested throwing her own “I am never going to have those life events” party. Hell, you can even set up a registration for anything these days…
I read a rant from a person today, who, along with her co-workers, was basically commanded to take part in selling draw tickets by her boss. The boss had even divided up who was selling how many tickets, and to which groups. My, how organized. Guess what? No. Not in my job description? Not related to team or corporate goals? Fuck you. In fact, it could be argued that such tactics (which are purely political and for good publicity and intended to make the execs feel good about themselves and their ever-so-personal generosity) are harassment and create an uncomfortable work environment, especially if you disagree not only with “donating” your time, effort and money to a charity, but also with the charity’s raison d’etre itself. Certainly, saying no would unleash a political shitstorm. (Even if 99.9% of your co-workers secretly agree with you.)
I have no problem with supporting charities and with fostering a sense of community. However, what seems to inevitably be the case is that the situations where the donors end up embittered are the situations where the organizers seem to forget the goals of the campaigns are about helping others, not themselves, and that “charity” is a synonym for “entitlement”.