Pressure in the Workplace to Donate to Religious Charities

pressure to donateAustin Cline (About.com) has a great post up about how atheists are often pressured to donate to religious charities at work. This is something of a pet peeve of mine, so I wanted to chime in on the subject.

Solicitations From Co-Workers

In the United States, it is simply a fact of life that one will be hit up by one's co-workers to donate to all manner of charities. Other than the annoyance factor of each co-worker thinking that his or her preferred charity is the one you should support, the problem is that many of them are for religious organizations or those with religiously-based policies of discrimination. I've been asked my co-workers to buy Girl Scout cookies, to buy raffle tickets from the Catholic school their children attend, and to contribute to the Salvation Army. I am regularly asked to buy tickets to attend various church-sponsored events in the community, mostly Southern Baptist or Catholic.

I always say no to these requests, and I sometimes explain that I budget and track my charitable contributions each year to make sure I can support the many groups and causes I believe in. I don't go into details, and this usually suffices. But I am fully aware that saying no, regardless of the reason given, may lead to hurt feelings and strained work relationships. The whole enterprise has the potential to be destructive, and employees probably shouldn't be allowed to solicit donations any more than any other prohibited waste of company time.

As unpleasant as these encounters can be, I have reached the point in my life where I am increasingly comfortable saying no and living with the consequences. Some of my co-workers have learned that there is no point in asking me to contribute. I don't enjoy some of the consequences, but I can deal with them. What I find far more objectionable is when the pressure to donate comes from the employer.

Solicitations From One's Employer

My employer regularly pressures employees to donate to our local United Way chapter. For those not familiar with the United Way, they are an umbrella organization that skims a certain percentage of donations received off the top to support their infrastructure and then distributes the rest among the various local organizations they support. My local United Way chapter supports the Salvation Army, Boy Scouts, and a local mission that promotes bible study.

My employer places considerable pressure on us to donate through payroll deductions and other regular giving plans. Each year, we are told that it is important for every single one of us to give so that we can report a 100% contribution rate. No thanks. I'd much rather choose which organizations to support via direct donations.

My refusal to donate to the United Way has led to some minor but still unpleasant consequences. Still, I have decided that I would rather live with them than with tossing aside my values and contributing to religiously-based discrimination. Even setting aside the religious aspect of this, I find it quite appalling that any employer would pressure employees to donate to a pre-selected charity. Fortunately, the pressure seems to have declined a bit with some recent personnel changes. Here's hoping it will stay that way.