“I Work Here, Do I Also Have to Give Money?”: The Meaning of the Staff Contribution to the Non-Profit Organization

Many non-profit organizations have annual fundraising campaigns. The campaigns focus on the broader community’s support of the agency’s activities and its overall investment in building and strengthening the life of the community. It is not unusual for a committee of the board of directors to assume responsibility for developing the theme for the campaign and recruiting committee members who conduct the solicitation of past and potential contributors. Of course staff members of the organization provide support for the committee’s activities, and a questions often arise as to what extent the employees of the agency should participate in the campaign. Is their participation voluntary or do they have an obligation to be a donor as well as an employee of the organization?

Although the questions are often raised among staff members when they speak among themselves, it is a very sensitive subject that is avoided in discussions between superior and subordinate colleagues. There is a line demarcating what an executive or supervisor discusses with an employee so that there is no appearance of any pressure placed on the staff member to participate in contributing funds to support the agency’s fundraising campaign and in essence “giving money back to the employer.” At the same time there are a number of good reasons for the professional and administrative staff to be part of the community’s annual support of the agency’s services.

The non-profit organization, providing educational, health, and/or social services, represents the larger community’s interest in enhancing the quality of life of the people who are clients or recipients as well as the general society. The organizations broader interest is not only on the way it assists people with their challenges but also how it aims at fostering a sense of community and strengthening the social fabric of the way people live together. The staff of the agency is as much a part of the larger community as any of the clients and so it is entirely appropriate for them to join in supporting the annual campaign.

At the same time the staff members are partners with the agency’s lay leadership in promoting not only the general quality of life but also maintaining the highest professional services the agency provides to the community. As a partner in the provision of services to the community it is in keeping with their role to join with the board members and lay leaders in supporting the campaign and it is appropriate for the individual staff members to contribute to the campaign. Often staff member(s) may be part of the overall campaign committee and they may be the chairpersons for the staff campaign committee.

A staff campaign committee is composed of a number of people representing the different departments or staff groupings in the agency. It is an acceptable practice for there to be a chairperson for the group or co-chairpersons who will take responsibility for soliciting the entire staff of the organization. In smaller agencies this can be done by one or two people while in larger organizations a committee with an adequate number of people to canvass the entire staff can be constituted.

In the same way a “case for giving” is developed for the overall campaign, and strategies are developed for approaching the various segments of the community, the same should be done for the staff campaign. It is not sufficient to assume that a staff member is willing to contribute because they work for the organization and they are aware of the services provided to the community. When a contributor is solicited whether it be a member of the community, a board member of the organization or a member of the staff the person should be approached in a professional manner recognizing the importance of the process as well as the end result.

In other words, the staff members, whether they are current donors or potential donors, are solicited in the same way as anyone else in the community. The solicitation is an opportunity to educate the person about the organization and the services provided that they might not know. It is a time for solidifying their involvement in the agency beyond their professional role and their employee status. Often staff members respond with “I did not know this about the services we provide” or “I was not aware we serve that many people per year.” We can never over estimate what staff members know about the services provided and the overall impact of the agency on the community.

Inevitably the issue of the minimum or maximum staff campaign contribution comes up in a discussion between the staff solicitor and the campaign contributor. The issue is not the size of the contribution and people should be encouraged to donate what they feel represents their interest in the agency’s services, their commitment to the community, and their solidarity with the entire staff of the organization. The participation of all of the staff of the agency speaks louder than the amount raised during an annual campaign. It is a statement that communicates an important message to the board of directors and to the community when the percentage of staff supporting the campaign is announced at a campaign committee meeting or an end of the campaign event.

The next time your organization embarks upon a campaign give some thought to the role of the professional and administrative staff of the agency. They are not only partners in the delivery of services to the community but they are also part of the community in providing for the sustainability of the organization. The agency staff members are an important part of the equation of board, staff, and community, and they will make a contribution beyond the “bottom line” financial figure.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.