Thursday, November 4, 2010

'Tis the season to give...and give.......and give.....

If you've been at a firm of more than five people since perhaps August, then you know what I mean by "giving at the office": once school is back in, colleagues with children bring in order forms for fundraisers, hitting up everyone from the firm partner to the copy room guy for cookie dough, candles, wrapping paper, and the like. This kind of fundraising is so prevalent that some companies forbid it. That seems a little extreme, but I can't say as I blame them. It gets to the point that almost every other week, there's an order form for something or other taped to a cabinet door in the office break room, and I'm practically praying for my property taxes to skyrocket so that we can fund these schools well enough that they don't have to resort to organized panhandling in order to support field trips and art supplies. That being said, I also like to support my colleagues, especially if it's something that I'm actually going to use--like cookie dough or wrapping paper. And school fundraisers aren't the only sort of giving that you see at an office; sometimes it's a colleague asking for donations as they participate in a charity event.

Charitable solicitations and sales in the workplace can be a great way to make up your sales fast--I've got twenty people in one place, and if ten of those people buy a container of cookie dough or donate $10 each to my 5K run for trichotillomania awareness, then everybody wins. But the process leaves your coworkers in an uncomfortable spot, especially in a smaller office: either I say yes to everybody's solicitations and find my pockets empty by the end of the month, or I say no to everybody and look like a total Scrooge, or worst of all, I say yes to some but not all the solicitations and look like I'm playing favorites. So, what to do?

The first thing I do is this: I actually have picked a few charities that I really like, that champion causes that I support and that are efficient with their funds, and then I support those charities by having them bill a manageable monthly amount to my credit card every month. They get regular support, I get to help a cause that I like, and I also get the cash back points by using the card. What this also does for me is it allows me to budget my charitable donations--I want to give x percent to charity each month, and I've done so. As cold-hearted as it sounds, this process can allow you to give to worthy causes and then legitimately say to your colleagues, "I wish I could help, but I've already spent my charitable donation allowance for the month." That will allow you to graciously bow out of at-work giving without looking like a jerk.

But not all giving at work is bad. Because I work in a large office and don't work with everybody all the time, I generally only buy from those people I know and work with on a regular basis. I'll look for something that isn't too pricey, for example, or even better I'll just make a donation. Some school fundraisers allow you to donate to send cookies to overseas military, and some allow you to simply donate an amount without having to accept any wrapping paper or whatever from them. I like both of these options because they sometimes allow you to name your price (which is handy if the stuff they're selling is out of an intern's price range), plus you don't have anything cluttering up your house when it's all said and done. (Just remember--if you say you'll donate and the money is due later and not now, don't back out on the person/cause.)

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