What Would You Do?: Kid’s Fundraisers & Charity Donations at the Office

I’ve worked in three different jobs since I’ve graduated from college and at every single one of them I’ve been asked to donate to a charity, PAC (political action committee) or a coworker’s kid’s fundraiser. These interactions always make me feel awkward and pressured to buy something or donate when I wouldn’t otherwise do so.

My Experience with These Requests

My first job had a couple charity events. Hardly anyone had kids so there were no Girl Scout Cookie fundraisers. There were, however, lots of charity fundraisers. They often asked you to come to an event or pay $5 to be able to wear jeans to work on a day other than Friday. I personally didn’t care to wear jeans for $5 so I never contributed.

We did have food drive and I was actually on the team for gathering the food. I could get behind it because I believed there plenty of people who needed food for the holidays and no food would be taken out by middlemen unlike the monetary contributions. We didn’t pressure people but had a large turn out because most people believed in the cause.

In my current job we have an annual charity drive for a charity that doles money out to many other charities. I don’t donate to it because if I want a charity to get my money I’ll donate it directly instead of going through a middle man.

More recently I had a coworker come around asking us to buy Boy Scouts popcorn. The cheapest popcorn was $10 for a pretty small box and it got up to $50 for a big tin. Popcorn is dirt cheap to make. I know it is a fundraiser but I won’t pay those prices. I said I didn’t have any cash and he continued on to the next person.

Why Do I Feel Awkward in These Situations?

It seems that coworkers almost expect you to buy something or donate like it is an unwritten rule. Was I not informed of this rule? I also feel a bit of pressure because I know I tried to sell these fundraisers when I was a kid. My dad would always take them to work and people would normally end up buying a few items so in a way I feel like I’m supposed to repay the favor. My other thought is maybe I should wait until I have a kid to purchase these items and then I won’t feel so bad for sending the sign up sheet around my office.

How Can I Get Out of These Situations?

How can I get out of these situations without feeling embarrassed or lying? I could flat out say I don’t support office fundraisers but that may turn my coworkers off. Another option would be to explain I’ve already made all of my charitable contributions for the year and I don’t have any more money in my budget. Other than those two idea my only other idea is to come up with some sort of story why I can’t which never seems to go over well.

So… What would you do in this situation if you didn’t want to support the organization, PAC, charity, kid’s fundraiser, etc.? Was I not informed of the unwritten rule that you have to support all of your coworkers’ causes?

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. We usually earmark a small amount of money each year for situations like this and consider it “social lubricant” to fit in and go with the flow a bit. Kindof the same way Mr. PoP is expected to go out on “team lunches” every so often that we’d rather not chip in for – but he would look like an a** if he backed out of. Since this kind of stuff usually isn’t deductible as a charitable donation, we just consider it part of the “shopping budget”.

    It sucks, and it tends to happen a lot more around the holidays – but $100 or so a year usually takes care of it as long as we don’t dole it out in too big of chunks.

    My office sponsors a family at Christmas, and Mr. PoP’s office does similar stuff, as do a couple social organizations that we’re a part of… so we usually give about $10 to each one, letting them know that we are spreading our donations around the multiple organizations. We’ve never had anyone complain that we’re giving too little.

    If there gets to be an unreasonable number of requests, consider bringing it up with your HR person at work. Usually there’s something in company policy that you’re not allowed to solicit donations or sales at work that goes unenforced unless someone has a problem with it.

  2. I just had this happen! Two instances: a co-worker was selling stuff for her kid but it was all over priced and horrible but she would come directly to you. I looked over the catalog and said no thank you but it was uncomfertable with her looking over my shoulder. The second instance, the coach of a team emailed some co-workers (myself included) about a fund raiser his team was doing-selling local trash bags. Price was decent and the product was worth it so I actually bought a roll. I think it was easier for him to sell stuff because he was selling stuff locally made for great prices and didn’t stand over your shoulder watching you.

  3. Luckily I’ve never come across this problem at work! I do get the phone calls from family friends all the time though.

  4. The only time this has come up at work was an email-blast about Girl Scout cookies, which my husband wanted to buy anyway. No pressure. We respond to friends’ fundraising requests all the time though, if it’s for a decent cause – we like giving money and supporting our friends. But I’m pretty assertive and frugal (cheap?) so I won’t BUY products I don’t need or want and I’m confident I could stand up to those requests if they came at my workplace. I think your second excuse of already making all your charitable contributions is a good one.

  5. I like giving to coworkers fundraisers, I think it’s cool. But we never really ask eachother direclty. You just put whatever sign up sheet or whatever it is on the counter in the break kitchen, and when guys are coming in and out, going to and from jobs, they’ll sign up or pay if they want. It’s cool.

  6. There was a lot of pressure at my last job to give for a worker’s charity, and also for those who had babies or retired. I felt awkward and usually gave a little something just to get rid of the pressure. I would never ask anything by forcing someone.

  7. I think there is some unwritten rule that you have to give to whatever it is. I always hated being in these situations as it sucked being the “bad guy” because I would not give to everything. I just would say that I had given the amount I had budgeted for and would not be able to give. In the end, you have to life for yourself and not to make others happy.

  8. We actually had a department meeting that somehow veered off into a discussion about this (well not so much a discussion as a lady complaining about it for 30 minutes). Most of the times no one actually comes to your desk to ask for anything it is done via email, and like most mass emails I just ignore it.

    The good news for me, is people around here know I am not going to buy anything so they have stopped asking. Maybe it makes me look like a dick, but hey I don’t really care, I’ll dontate money on my own terms

  9. We haven’t had that happen here yet, but I know this kind of things happens a lot around the business campus I work on. And we ALWAYS deal with this at the grocery stores. I just simply say “no thank you” and move on, but a tthe office, it would be a bit tougher.

    I like Mrs. PoP’s idea of just building it into the budget, because, whether you like it or not, it is somewhat expected by co-workers. Knowing that my little man will probably be doing the same thing at some point, I would probably oblidge and buy the cheapest thing they offer (which, unfortunately, is usually a ridiculous price).

  10. I have never had this situation, but if it’s for a charity then I would do it. It’s tax deductible.

  11. I’m glad I work from home now, because this happened all the time. As a guy with kids, I never expected people to say “yes.” I think “no thanks” is a perfectly acceptable response.

  12. Ah! Things like this are always so tricky, and you can’t just participate in one fundraiser because then everyone will expect you to participate in theirs or wonder why you didn’t. I like the whole “I don’t have any cash on me” phrase, which is also what I tell panhandlers.

    My parents NEVER let me and my brother sell to our friends and neighbors when we had fundraisers for school. We lived in a very economically underprivileged area so my parents always just paid. They didn’t want to put others out.

  13. I like the budget excuse. Nobody can really argue against that one.

  14. This is a very good question – and the answer is ‘I have absolutely no idea’. We give to charity quite a bit; in fact about ten years back I stopped sending Christmas cards (I consider these to be a very big waste of …well, everything) in favour of e-mails and donate the money to charity as well. I probably will give a to a kid fundraiser is they are doing something, a feat like running or jumping or spelling. But buying cr*p is an entirely different matter.

  15. I despise fundraisers. I’d rather give to the cause, if it were actually something I was interested in. If a kid asks me, I generally say no to fundraising requests like these unless it is something I would have bought anyways. For example, my youngest sister (14 years younger than me!) was selling coupon books at one point. I would have bought one anyways, so I in that case I was happy to buy it. If a parents asks me on behalf of their kid, I will almost always say no – I hate being made to feel obligated to buy something.

  16. Frankly, I hate being put on the spot. In schools, the students are doing something all the time. I choose not to buy in because where do I stop. It would be unfair to buy from one and not another. I did sponsor an adult for an AIDS run though. You could approach it with a limit. I will donate $x for the year and let them apportion it.

  17. It’s different if it’s a kid actually asking vs. their parents. If a kid is hustling they just might get my $. But a dad pushing popcorn….no way!

  18. Veronica @ Pelican on Money says:

    Wow, what an awkward situation. I’ve had this happen to me, and I’m like you – I don’t mind giving as long as the product I get is something I actually want.

    A co-worker brought in his kid, really really cute little guy selling cookies. I didn’t feel like having any cookies and most of all I had no money on me. (I purposefully leave it at home). Needless to say, everyone bought some cookies, and when he came around my desk I spoke the truth: “I’m sorry, I don’t have any money on me.”

    It was easy for me to do because it was the truth. I don’t bring cash just to avoid this sort of situation. Yup, you guessed it, I bring my own lunch too. I know it sounds terrible not not want to contribute to a fundraiser but hey… if I wanted to contribute I would do so out of my own desire.

    Do what I do, don’t bring any cash. If you go out to eat, just use debit (I know this doesn’t encourage “cash only” saving method) but it might be the only choice you have.

  19. I think it’s horrible that little kids have to peddle crap and even worse when their parents do it. We decided to maybe buy something from our daughter’s fundraiser, but not ask anyone else. I don’t want to put someone on the spot. It is that time of year, isn’t it?

  20. I’ve actually used the “no cash” excuse and it backfired. My coworker told me that she could lend me the money and I could pay her back. *shakes head*

  21. I used to get hit up at work every time someone’s kid or grandkid was selling something but since I went on a very special diet which doesn’t allow any processed foods everyone understands and pass right by my office. Sometimes I’ll just give the local Girl Scout troop at my local grocery store a $5 but don’t take any cookies. I think it’s wrong for the parents and grandparents to be selling for the children because usually there is some kind of incentive for the child to win if they sell the most, but that skews everything if sales-mode mom/dad or Grandma was the one selling…

  22. It can be awkward for sure. Fortunately the only one I’ve had to face on a regular basis is Girl Scout Cookies. I don’t think they’re amazing cookies by any means, but I end up craving them when I see all my coworkers eating them so I usually just buy one box.

  23. Adam Hathaway says:

    Oh I agree. It was awkward for me this morning. My bosses wife, who also works where I do, had a fundraiser out. She was not actively soliciting but man did I feel weird. This is more on me than it is on her though.

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