Give ’til it hurts

Financial decisions are a personal matter, so pressure to contribute to worthy causes has no place in any staff member’s day-to-day work experience.

Give 'til it hurts by Nancy Knowlton

Starting out as an articling student in a chartered accounting firm a number of years ago, I struggled to make ends meet. Not only was I living off an entry-level salary, I had to pay for multiple courses toward my CA designation and take unpaid time away from work for some of those courses during the summer. I was barely keeping my head above water financially for the two years of my articling program, even with a raise after my first year.

One day in my first year a partner came to speak to some of us articling students, proudly declaring that the firm supported a particular charity and that he expected we would contribute as well. He didn’t stop there – he told us how much some of the partners and managers contributed so that we could have a sense as to how much we should contribute. And then he stood there, awaiting confirmation that we would follow his direction. I could tell that no one else was going to speak up so I did, explaining that I had nothing to give, that I was barely able to look after myself on my salary and that making a donation would put me into a world of hurt. I know that the message was heard – I just don’t think that it was well-received.

Private financial matters

That incident taught me several things that remain with me to this day. No one can ever appreciate the financial position of others – their commitments, their debts, their pressures. Expecting someone to make a donation, just because it is company practice to donate, can put a staff member into a very difficult, if not impossible, position. Most people want to conform and participate, but as I experienced, there simply may be no ability in a tight budget to do so. There is no mileage in embarrassing people or making them feel inadequate when others tout their donation levels.

Nobody, particularly a manager, director or CEO, should have any ability or opportunity to strong-arm another individual, particularly a subordinate, into making a donation. The goodness of a cause is irrelevant when a person in a position of power pressures another. There needs to be a clear line between work responsibility and expectations and things that need to remain a personal decision and left outside the workplace.

For a good cause

Too often these days the lines blur and people at all levels in a company feel that they can bring their pet projects and themes to work. They want to raise money for their children’s sports team or school. People ask coworkers for donations to all manner of causes. CEOs urge staff on to reach higher and higher contribution levels for well-known community building foundations or causes. Who would quarrel with most, if not all, of the good causes to which we could give?

Giving at the office shouldn’t hurt

With all of the pressures and intensity of life today, work needs to be a place that is preserved for work, where the rules are understood and accepted. No one should try to wrap up other causes and activities in work if there is a chance that it can make people feel uncomfortable.

Giving needs to be a personal decision, something that brings pleasure and gratification from doing good. We all should have the latitude to support those entities that we choose, not what an employer, manager or CEO directs. Giving at the office shouldn’t hurt.

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Nancy Knowlton
Nancy Knowlton is co-founder and CEO of Nureva Inc. and previously the co-founder and CEO of SMART Technologies. She writes about education, entrepreneurship, business management, technology, innovation and other passions.