Donation Shaming

Last week at work, my supervisor approached me with a pitch. The company donates to United Way, and I could make a regular donation through a simple payroll deduction. It bothered me. I kindly (I think) declined the offer, still having to sign a slip that explicitly stated I was donating $0.00 to United Way. This bothered me even more. Donation shaming.

It’s not that I don’t believe in giving to charity. Quite the contrary. I’m sure United Way does great things (I think). But, I believe that one’s paycheck, and one’s charity donations should be completely separate things. Again, I know many companies do this, but there is still something wrong with a company saying, “Yeah, so you earned this money fair and square, but here’s what we recommend you do with some of it.”

I worked at another company where they took up donations, and held raffles for charity. I had no problem with this. If I didn’t think my $5 would make a difference to March of Dimes, I just didn’t buy a ticket, and that was it. I didn’t have to stand in front of my supervisor and sign a slip to that effect, to be filed away in the HR Office.

I don’t have the time, or perhaps inclination, to research United Way, so I don’t know what their financial needs are. But, I know they are huge. And very very corporate. Here’s the thing. I spent five years of my life essentially volunteering full-time for a religious nonprofit. When I started, the organization was run from the director’s home office, and I watched it grow.

In that time, I saw firsthand how tight the finances can be in those small organizations. I’ve seen that sometimes a simple $100 donation, can be the difference between the driver driving 36 hours through the night, or getting hotels. I’ve been in those meetings where huge initiatives have been canceled for the lack of a couple thousand dollars, and in others where the tearful announcement was, “The money came in.” In some of these organizations, the staffers are conditioned to live so economically, that $100 can feed a single adult staffer for a month. Which, translates to that staffer staying on staff, and being able to produce for an entire month. Now, if I took that same $100, and donated to United Way, what would it buy? A printer, maybe?

As I listened to my supervisor pitch this donation, all of this went through my head. There are many, many, many worthy causes out there. So, am I somehow not capable of determining which one best touched my heart? Of course, they would say. But, I still felt like such a jackass when I signed that paper.




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