Ken Goldstein, MPPA

Ken Goldstein has been working in nonprofits and local government agencies from Santa Cruz, to Sacramento, and back to Silicon Valley, since 1989. He's been staff, volunteer, board member, executive director, and, since 2003, a consultant to local nonprofit organizations. For more on Ken's background, click here. If you are interested in retaining Ken's services, you may contact him at ken at

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Staff giving requirements

I subscribe to a number of e-newsletters and discussion lists, including the Consultants Forum at Charity Channel. One conversation currently raging on that list is whether or not nonprofit staff should be (or can be) required to donate back to their organization.

I will try to summarize the main points of the discussion here for you to mull over...

The arguments for such a policy are to create a "culture of philanthropy" where all staff are involved in, and fully understand, what it takes to run the organization. Staff giving ensures that they are involved in, and believe in, the mission of the agency, and do not simply consider this "just another job." Moreover, it is impressive when you go to other funders to say that you have 100% staff participation in your annual campaign.

The arguments against the policy range from the personal ("We already give by working for 25-40% less than we'd earn in the corporate sector") to the legal (if giving is mandatory, it could be seen as a kickback, and potentially a rouse to get around minimum wage laws). Even "voluntary" giving can get you into potential legal trouble with employees if the ask is made in a way that creates implied pressure ("Will my next review be poor if I don't give?" "Will I be passed up for promotion?").

Certainly, employees should not be overlooked when building your prospect lists. They should receive the same newsletters and mailings that any other prospect receives. And - like any other prospect - if they ask to be removed from the list, that request should be honored. There should also be a strict policy of not linking an employee's giving habits with his or her personnel file in any way.

I have never worked in, or knowingly consulted to, an organization that required all employees to give. I have worked in, and directed, organizations where all management and supervisors were required to be a part of the development process. That meant they were encouraged to give, and required to find and cultivate other prospects.

I have involved staff at lower pay levels in development through other types of fundraising activities. An example would be the selling of raffle or event tickets. We have had success by offering prizes to the employees who sell the most tickets. In this friendly competition, employees who we would never make a direct ask to - and who would never consider themselves "fundraisers" - wind up raising plenty of money selling tickets to their families and friends, and buying tickets themselves.

So... my take on employee giving... Be extremely careful of even implying that giving is a job requirement, but don't give up on it either. Involve middle managers and supervisors in planning and strategy, and mentor them in prospecting. Involve line staff through voluntary activities and competition.

In this way, you will achieve broad employee participation in your campaign, without any of the ill-will, poor morale, or legal troubles that a more heavy-handed approach can bring.

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  1. How about when employees are asked to solicit donations from their personal friends and results are competitive??

    1. Thanks for your question. Looking over this post (I wrote it 11 years ago, needed to refresh my memory!), my opinion now is basically the same: There's nothing wrong with asking employees to be part of fundraising, and nothing wrong with some incentives to make it fun.

      Where it goes wrong is when it loops back to the area of employee evaluation, whether explicit or implied.

      If the pressure to get donations from family/friends is such that a staff person feels their job is in jeopardy if they don't, you've got trouble. At worst, a potential lawsuit that this is a scheme to get around labor laws (either minimum wage or a kickback). At best, it's a morale killer - Nobody who's been working their tale off for sub-standard wages wants to be told, "If you really cared about your job you'd bring in more donations."

      Involve staff in fundraising, and provide opportunities to help out, but anything that looks or smells like a requirement is bad news.