Employee Giving: The Pressure To Give

By Ephraim Gopin

“Employee giving: It’s not giving, it’s forced. Giving implies choice.” – Helen Rippon, CEO of Worldwide Cancer Research

The joy of participating in philanthropic giving. The ideal that anyone and everyone can be a donor. If you’re gonna talk the talk, better walk the walk.

Those are just some of the reasons why nonprofit pros are in favor of employee giving programs- asking employees to donate to the organization they work for.

Last week I posted four reasons why employees should be asked. But as I mentioned, this is a very complicated topic and nonprofit experts are divided on the matter.

No matter where you stand, it’s worthwhile to understand both sides of the issue. In this post, let’s explore four reasons why employees should not be asked to become donors to the nonprofit they work for.

  1. I Give My Time

Many nonprofit employees work a LOT of unpaid overtime hours. If time equals money, they are already donating quite a fair amount to their organization.

From the 2020 Global Trends in Giving Report: 22% of donors surveyed globally had not donated. Why? They volunteer in lieu of donating. Why are employees any different? Their extra time should be like volunteering (i.e. a donation) because they don’t get paid for overtime.

As one member of a development team told me during follow up interviews I conducted after a survey on the topic: “If employee giving was mandated, I’d start looking for another job. To me, forcing your employees to give to your organization is forcing them to take pay cuts. I give to my organization through my skills, experience, and time, which no monetary value could make up that amount of goods they receive.”

Asking overworked workers to donate is just piling on.

  1. How Much Is Enough

One person I interviewed said that at a previous workplace they HAD to give. When asked how much to give, a superior told them, “Enough to have skin in the game.”

What if a manager has access to the organization’s fundraising database? They’ll see who didn’t donate and who did- and how much they gave. The manager might assume that those who gave “lower” amounts are stingy and that could hurt or jeopardize the relationship between manager and employee (and fundraising is all about creating strong, lasting relationships rather than the opposite!).

We can all make assumptions but we really don’t know our colleague’s personal financial status. Asking them to give based on our impressions of their capability might mean asking for an amount they can’t afford. Now that employee is in a major bind. Exactly where they shouldn’t be.

  1. Pressure To Give

Pressure can be overt (“everyone has to give”) or it can be subtle (“it would be nice if everyone gave but if you can’t we understand, wink wink”). The fact is that just asking, even if the campaign is voluntary, puts pressure on employees to consider giving. Which means an employee giving campaign can never be considered voluntary.

There’s enough frustration to go around in nonprofit offices. Do we really need bitter employees because they’re being told to donate back to their workplace?!

  1. Power Dynamic

What if a culture of fear is dominant at your organization? If your manager asks you to consider giving, can you say no?

Consider younger or new employees who may sense they HAVE to give, even if it’s totally voluntary. They may feel it’s a way to keep their job and/or fit in with the staff.

Even if unintended, it’s all about how the receiver feels about the campaign (just like every fundraising campaign!). If the power imbalance- real or perceived- is the reason employees are giving, shut it down.

Is It Really Philanthropy?

Based on the above, employees may feel like it’s a transaction- taking off a portion of their paycheck- rather than an act of philanthropy. That’s not how philanthropy should work.

If the Executive Director (ED) were to tell employees “Join me in giving!” well, if the ED is giving, I have to give. That doesn’t feel good! That’s not how philanthropy should work.

Philanthropic giving should be something people want to do. An act of a person aspiring to help and impact their environment, their community.

Look at all the reasons listed above and ask yourself: Can employee giving be considered philanthropic?

Like I said at the outset, it’s a complicated topic.

Ephraim Gopin is the founder of 1832 Communications, an agency which helps your nonprofit build relationships and raise more money through smart and effective marketing. You can download his free Employee Giving ebook which looks at all sides of the issue, including Board and C-level giving, how overtime affects giving and much more. The ebook is based on a survey Ephraim conducted and follow-up interviews with over 50 sector experts.