The end of the year is fast approaching. It’s money time.
One-third of all giving happens in December. And 12% of all donations happen in the last three days of December.
That means many of you reading this have a LOT riding on your year-end campaign. As a former CEO and fundraiser, I feel your pain and stress.
As if nonprofit life weren’t complicated enough, we’re in a recession so household giving is down. While overall giving is up, that’s because of extremely large gifts from wealthy benefactors that skew the numbers. My guess is that many of you are scrambling to try and meet your fundraising goals.
This can cause leaders to look for any and all sources of funding to close the hole created by a dried-up revenue stream. One of those sources might appear to be some seemingly low-hanging fruit: Nonprofit employee giving.
Employee giving is when an organization asks its staff members to make a donation to the organization. In the nonprofit world, it’s one of the most contentious and complicated topics. Everyone has an opinion, and they’re extremely vocal about it.
Should nonprofits ask their underpaid, overworked—and very often underappreciated—staff members to become financial givers to the place they sweat blood and tears for? I’ll offer you two reasons why organizations should and two reasons they shouldn’t.
The case for nonprofit employee giving
1. Never deprive someone of the chance to become a philanthropist.
Everyone is worthy of donating. Everyone should be offered—not forced!—the opportunity to experience the joy of giving.
Donating isn’t just for the 1%.
If your organization is launching a fundraising campaign, why not include employees in the ask?
They’re passionate about your cause too. They know the need. They see firsthand the impact their work is having on the community. They’re invested in the success of the organization.
Don’t not ask. Let them participate.
And if they give, they should receive the same warm, loving, heartfelt gratitude that your nonprofit showers on your regular donors.
2. Don’t judge someone else’s wallet.
My father taught me this at a very young age, and I’ve tried my best to remember it. None of us knows what goes on behind closed doors. We have no idea how much a person is really worth or has to give.
For example: You might have heard that your Executive Director makes a nice salary. He might drive around in an expensive car and have a nice house.
But do you know his actual expenses? He may be putting kids through college. He may be going through a costly divorce. He may have medical bills no one knows about, which aren’t fully covered by insurance.
Although you think someone like that should be able to donate a lot of money to your organization, their actual capability may be extremely limited.
However, the opposite is true as well.
Yes, nonprofit employees are underpaid. And if you’re a female fundraiser—like 70% of all fundraisers are—you’re earning 22% less than your male counterparts. But that shouldn’t determine their ability to give or not! We don’t know people’s personal financial status, and we all know what happens when you assume.
Don’t judge the wallets of your staff. Whether they give or not is up to them, but we shouldn’t decide for them.
As fundraising expert and coach, Beth Ann Locke says: “It’s not the size of the gift that matters (generousness), it’s the act of giving (generosity).”
Make an ask. If they don’t give, that’s okay. If they donate, make them feel as special as you would regular donors.
The case against employee giving
1. Time = money
How many of you work hours and hours of overtime for your organization and don’t get paid for it?
Many nonprofits are understaffed. Employees are already working beyond normal hours. Why should they also have to give money, especially when they’re woefully underpaid? It’s almost like having to take a pay cut.
The 2020 Global Trends in Giving Report mentions that 22% of donors surveyed had not donated. Why? They volunteer in lieu of donating.
For staff who volunteer to work overtime, shouldn’t that count as a donation?
They give their time and energy. They bring with them experience and knowledge. All of those help the organization subsist and thrive.
Why also ask them to make a monetary gift to their workplace?
2. The office environment.
Just asking employees to give puts pressure on them to do so. Your in-office campaign can be labeled ‘voluntary,’ but you can bet that everyone will be looking around to see who gave.
If most staff members give, those who did not will feel pressured to join in.
That’s not the joy of giving. That’s the stress of having to give.
And that leads to frustrated, bitter employees.
Add to that the office dynamics. If a manager asks someone beneath them to donate, can that person refuse? They’d worry about losing their job for refusing their superior.
I’d also worry about who has access to the donor database. Managers with access could easily check whether the staff in their department donated or not. The CEO could order up a donor report, and non-givers might be treated differently.
All of this could lead to a hostile work environment. Given the pressures of regular nonprofit work, does your organization really need staff members who feel pressured by the boss, forced to donate money they don’t want to, put in overtime, do the job of seven people, and etc.
You get the idea.
What say you?
This post highlights just a few of the pros and cons of nonprofit employee giving. There are many other reasons to support or reject it.
I have no idea if in 2023 there will be an uptick in Executive Directors asking staff to donate. But it wouldn’t surprise me.
In the comments let me know how you feel about nonprofit employee giving!