United Way or the Highway
November 6, 2009 10:47 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone held their ground against a peer-pressure United Way solicitation (specifically the "100% participation" scam?) How did you do it? How did you avoid adverse consequences, particularly where very senior people are directly soliciting subordinates? What is the "polite" way to get out of this, if any?

(I don't have anything against charity or even against the UW. I'm sure they do great things. But my contributions will be donations, not bribes. I make my own decisions about where my money goes. And after a decade of this bullshit, with more than one employer, I'm putting my foot down.)
posted by Saucy Intruder to Work & Money (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I just said that I preferred to direct my own charitable donations, thanks very much. It seemed to get more respect than hassle.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 10:49 AM on November 6, 2009

"No, thanks."

If you have a spouse or partner: "My spouse/partner and I prefer to make our charitable contributions together. Yes, all of them."

If you do not have a spouse or partner: "I prefer to make my charitable contributions in consultation with my accountant."

"No, really, I'm not flexible on this at all."

"I'm sorry you feel that way."

"I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree."
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:50 AM on November 6, 2009 [8 favorites]

Charity fatigue. I deal with it by supporting, in a small way, local public radio and a couple of other local non-profits. Honestly, I would love to give more, but I only do what I can.

When I decline to donate to some cause that is soliciting, I tell them I already support other causes. No explanation needed. If they pressure you, tell them no thank you, and goodbye.

If it being run through the workplace, that is another situation. In a perfect world, it wouldn't be an issue. In the workplace, the reality is that politics plays a role. The boss's daughter always gets orders for Girl Scout Cookies. Assess the anonymity situation, and if it's not favorable, make a minimum donation, and know that you did do a good thing, even if you were cajoled by circumstances.
posted by Xoebe at 10:54 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Can't you say that it makes you uncomfortable to be questioned about something so private? That at least should be respected.

In my organization, 100% participation refers to the fact that 100% of our employees must fill out the donation form, even if on the form they choose "No donation". Is that an option in this case?
posted by muddgirl at 10:54 AM on November 6, 2009

A friend of mine had this exact problem at her company -- the pressure was so high she had to go to HR to file a complaint. HR actually put a stop to this within the company after the complaint was filed.

This is one of those times when HR is really your friend.
posted by MustardTent at 10:54 AM on November 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I have the same gripe sort of. The United Way is the fast food of charities to me. I feel very pressured to give at my workplace, they (my workplace) use a strongarm approach and I hate it.

I donate directly to the charities I support, and I say that. I don't say this, but I feel more of my donation goes to the actual charity and not to the admin overhead for the United Way. I mean, I really do this, I am not just saying this. It makes my point in a way that isn't offensive or sanctimonious.
posted by chocolatetiara at 10:54 AM on November 6, 2009

(specifically the "100% participation" scam?)

It may be different where you work, but when we're told 100% participation, that means 100% of people turning in their forms, not 100% of people donating. A form can be turned in with a zero contribution and count towards that 100%. Once your form is filled in and sealed, and sent to processing/payroll, it's confidential. It shouldn't be anyone else's business how much money you chose to give or not to give - that's between you and the person who processes your form.

I have found that using "the organizations I choose to support are not ones the United Way affiliates with" works fine. (For example, animal shelters are not UW funded.)
posted by librarianamy at 10:55 AM on November 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

"I'm sorry I won't be able to help you out. I've already made my annual contributions to the charities I support."

Plus, what Sidhedevil said.
posted by faineant at 10:55 AM on November 6, 2009

Twenty years ago, or so, the United Way executives were involved in a scam that significantly affected donor loyalty. At the time, I was able to point to that as a reason for avoiding the peer participation pressure. Eventually, I was able to simply state that I had my own preferred charities and never received any grief.

If they have silly corporate contests based upon participation where all your peers have a chance to win, or lose, something based upon your participation; give them a nickel a month.
posted by netbros at 10:55 AM on November 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I feel the same way you do about the United Way's infiltrating workplaces and enlisting bosses to extort money from underlings. I never give them money and when appealed to directly, I just say that I have decided to concentrate my financial support on charities relating to animal welfare (which is actually true).
posted by Maisie at 10:57 AM on November 6, 2009

We've got the UW hustle going on at my workplace too. When people ask, I just say that I've already made all of my charitable contributions for the year. Given the economic climate, I think being clear that you've already made your allocations is sort of a full stop.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:57 AM on November 6, 2009

Once, when faced with a 100% participation goal and lowkey pressure from my partner, I asked him to borrow $10. He gave it to me. I donated it. It never came up again and there was 100% participation.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:08 AM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I always just say that I'm not able to donate at this time. Don't let them make you nervous, stick your ground and the issue will drop.

Also, I always thought it was extremely ignorant for bosses to ask for underlings to give to charities of their choosing. At some jobs, my response to the boss was "I would if only I had your salary..." but of course that was only at jobs where I knew my boss well and knew the sense of humor they had / tolerated.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:10 AM on November 6, 2009

You used to be able to direct your donation to a specific charity through the United Way. I used to do this back in my corporate days to keep the powers that be happy while still feeling like I wasn't selling out to the man. I'd donate via the United Wat drive, but specify that 100% went to whatever charity I chose.
posted by COD at 11:14 AM on November 6, 2009

Nthing the resentment against forced United Way participation. I used to work for a company that strove for 100% employee participation. It wasn't truly "participation," per se, but coercion. If you didn't contribute, your name went on a list and you'd be denied your next salary increase. However, when X amount of employees decided they didn't care to be extorted, the pressure was upped a notch - your supervisor would be denied any future salary increases unless he had 100% participation from his department. All of a sudden, non -contributors were not allowed any "perks" like leaving 30 minutes early due to a doctor appointment, things like that. I ended up very grudgingly capitulating by giving the bare minimum. Sometimes you have to do distasteful things in a bad economy to keep your paycheck and just swallow the bile as it rises up in your throat.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:17 AM on November 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

Hustler at your desk: "So, have you made your United Way donation yet?

Saucy Intruder, with a face of shock and horror: "Oh my goodness, no!"

Hustler, confused: "But, but! If we all donate, we get to wear jeans to work on Fridays! And the bosses will take us bowling after work hours, and pay for the shoe rentals so that we only have to buy our own beer!"

Saucy Intruder: "You haven't heard? For every dollar I give United Way, my favorite charity only gets about 80 cents, and their CEO makes over $530,000 a year. I can't do that in good conscience. I choose to give directly to my favorite charity, so they get all the money."
posted by Houstonian at 11:17 AM on November 6, 2009 [12 favorites]

I consider United Way an organization that I would never donate to as I had a bad experience volunteering with them in the past. If someone asks me would I, I explain to them why I will not.

My justification on the side, I'd tell them that while you respect work for providing a convenient way to make a donation to many charitable organizations, you prefer to make donations direct to the charities of your choosing. Hustonian has it.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:26 AM on November 6, 2009

Fact is, all charities are having to step up their outreach/marketing to fight for a seeminly smaller pool of money. Frankly, I'd rather deal with the pressure from work than from the dozens of shifty charity phone calls I get weekly.

But, as others have said, simply say that you already have charities you support.

It should be noted that companies often match a portion of your donation, so by going through work, the donations is actually larger.
posted by smelvis at 11:30 AM on November 6, 2009

Response by poster: Holy crap, Oriole. That is a horrible story.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 11:32 AM on November 6, 2009

I worked for UW for a month or so in the past, dealing almost exclusively with these workplace donations. I didn't spend any time learning about how anything worked, but I did see about one zillion forms filled out with no donation on them.
Either putting a 0 on the form counts towards full participation, or else people are really weird. And you don't have to fill out your name and details, either.

To make everyone happy, you write "Barney Rubble" on the top of the paper, fold it in half, and put in it the collection envelope.
posted by Acari at 11:38 AM on November 6, 2009

If your employer matches, they'll match whether your contribution is made through them or not. If you decide not to give money through the work UW schills, there's usually just an HR form that needs to be filled out that'll make sure that your favorite charity rightfully gets their matched dollars.
posted by scarykarrey at 11:46 AM on November 6, 2009

I used to work for a company that strove for 100% employee participation.

What I'm unclear on is what is the motivation for companies getting 100% participation? To the point that they are strongarming employees? Is it just set as a CEO level goal and then all the VPs and managers on down have it as a goal of 100% for their direct reports and then it gets out of hand?
posted by smackfu at 12:01 PM on November 6, 2009

I'm guessing it's an easy, low-cost way for the companies to pump up their "public service" ratings.
posted by scarykarrey at 12:05 PM on November 6, 2009

Nthing just put $0 on the form, and when asked simply respond "Yes I turned in my pledge card!" with great enthusiasm.
posted by mikepop at 12:11 PM on November 6, 2009

I used to insist that whoever was pressuring me would donate to charities of MY choice. My choice tended to be leftist political causes & NPR. It changed the power dynamics to be on the asking side of things.
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:13 PM on November 6, 2009

Seconding netbros. Even though I didn't enter the workforce until the late 1990s, I refused to give to the United Way because I was disgusted by the Aramony scandal. I use that to this day as my justification for not contributing to the United Way. Many of my colleagues still remember the scandal and this explanation has always been accepted by my superiors.
posted by cheapskatebay at 12:33 PM on November 6, 2009

As long as United Way continues to support the Boy Scouts (who discriminate on the basis of religion and sexual orientation in providing services and employment), the United Way will never get a dime from me. I make this fact very public. Typically, I contact whoever is running the campaign and let them know that I believe the company's sponsorship of the United Way campaign is in violation of the company's anti-discrimination policy. We never have 100% participation any place where I have worked over the past ten years.

However, it sounds like you are looking for a less confrontational way out. I suggest writing 'no donation' on the form.
posted by hworth at 12:46 PM on November 6, 2009

When I worked at a location where the company busy body wanted everyone to donate to the United Way and the regular "I already give outside of work" didn't help I picked a relative who had died of a disease I do contribute to and then spun a tale of how my favourite relative died of such and such nasty disease and how all my donations go to that cause. Especially effective if the disease is hereditary.
posted by Mitheral at 12:56 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

100% participation is, as noted above, coercive. Therefore, in my book, it can be considered a scam. Therefore, I would feel no guilt about saying, "I don't give to United Way because they are scammers." QED. Given Oriole's story above, even more so.
posted by rhizome at 1:18 PM on November 6, 2009

Oh no! I already budgeted all of my contributions for this year, so I can only give a few dollars. Wow, that's really too bad. I wish that you would've asked sooner.
posted by kathrineg at 1:47 PM on November 6, 2009

I refuse even to turn in the form, and at least at my workplace, I've never gotten a hassle for it. Really, why should the UW be keeping records on who *didn't* contribute at a certain workplace?

Also, the form asks for your Social Security Number (unless they've changed it in the past few years), and why are they asking for that? I called the local UW office to ask about it and to complain, and was given the wishy-washy non-answer that they need it for those donors who choose payroll deduction. But that wasn't clear at all on the form -- they just had a fiend for your SSN under your name and before your address, etc. I thought it was deceptive, but then so much about what they do is deceptive.

If I had more time, I'd tell you the story of my friend, the small-business owner, whose contributions were *rejected* by the UW as being "too low for your type of business." And the story told to me by a relative who works for UW, about using a baby in a presentation so that people would be manipulated and shamed into giving. She thought this was a brilliant strategy.
posted by infodiva at 2:33 PM on November 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oops -- "had a FIELD for your SSN under your name..."
posted by infodiva at 2:34 PM on November 6, 2009

At my previous company it was supposed to be confidential as to who had donated or not donated. We gave the shpiel, and then gave them sheets so they could either donate or not donate and no one but the person putting them in the system knew which they had choose. We were not supposed to do anything more than remind employees who hadn't given an answer either yes or no.

Write "No Donation". Make sure your form cannot be altered to change it into a donation.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 4:37 PM on November 6, 2009

Echoing Oriole: "It wasn't truly "participation," per se, but coercion. If you didn't contribute, your name went on a list and you'd be denied your next salary increase."

This was absolutely the case at a former employer, who blared the messaging in every elevator bank. I hated it, but I gave the minimum after one missed salary increase and seeing what happened to those who didn't. They were Teamsters in suits -- better not to mess with them and give the minimum, IMHO, unless you don't need the job.
posted by mozhet at 6:56 PM on November 7, 2009

Can I just drop in to say that my United Way does a great job? They provide technical assistance to local charities, even the ones they don't fund. They provide funding to charities that do human service work. It costs money to do what they do. The local UW director doesn't make a ton of money. They're not perfect, but they really don't suck. My local UW no longer funds the Boy Scouts. Oriole's story is horrible, but I don't think it's typical.

I'm not saying you should have to donate. Just a response to some of the haters.
posted by theora55 at 9:44 AM on November 8, 2009

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