Weighing In On The Staff Giving Question

Weighing In On The Staff Giving Question


By David Allen, Development for Conservation


If you haven’t seen it yet, you should.

Vu Le of Nonprofit AF is a gifted writer and humorist who blogs weekly about nonprofit work. Much of his material is related to Equity and Inclusion from the perspective of the non-white community.

The conservation sector, and the land trust community in particular, has much to learn from Mr. Le.


Claire Axelrod of Clair-ification is a gifted writer who blogs at least weekly about nonprofit work. Much of her material is related to Fundraising.

The conservation sector, and the land trust community in particular, has much to learn from Ms. Axelrod also.


Last week, Le posted about all the reasons staff should not be asked to participate in annual giving campaigns. As always, his perspective was fresh and detailed but mostly followed what many of us have concluded – that employers asking employees to give is fraught with problems, some real and others perceived.


There was a time when $1,000 could buy you a lifetime membership in The Nature Conservancy. I remember how I felt when the TNC President sent out an all-employee memo suggesting that all employees should become Life Members. He would even make payroll deduction available to those who wished to give over time!


Then Axelrod posted a response, equally fresh and detailed. In it, she took him on point-by-point and the debate got interesting.


Rather than regurgitate here what each of them said, I will simply commend their work to you and suggest you read them for yourself.

Why nonprofit staff should not be asked to donate to the organizations they work for

An Open Letter to Vu Le of Nonprofit AF


Both writers make great points, and taken separately, they are both compelling and persuasive.


Here’s my take:

Axelrod is talking about the way things SHOULD BE.

Le is talking about the way things ARE.


Asking employees to give IS fraught with ethical issues because of the way the world really works. Especially for employers and employees. Especially when you’re white and especially when you’re male.

To be joyful for the donor, in the cultural way Axelrod is endorsing, gifts must be freely given. Too often, employees feel pressured to give – with 100% campaigns, for example – and the consequences of saying NO are ambiguous. (For example, consider the United Way!)


On the other hand, the answer shouldn’t be to avoid asking. Axelrod asks: How can we ask others to give when we are not willing to give ourselves? – a point I make often.

For the record, I am white, male, privileged, and have often been on the power side of these relationships. The way I have handled it is to mostly stay out of it. If an employee is asked to give, let the request come from the organization and not from me specifically. If an employee is a member let his/her renewal letter simply go out with the rest.


Hopefully, employees who make the decision to give will feel joy in doing so. And hopefully, they will do so freely and not because they are pressured.


What do you think?


Cheers, and Have a great week!




Photo by Andrew Ridley courtesy of Stocksnap.io.


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  • Margo Copley
    Posted at 18:46h, 31 January

    I feel this discussion also applies to all-volunteer conservancies who’s board make-up is entirely based on the needs of running the organization. Many volunteer several hours a week. Board members are recruited based on skill levels for various tasks that need completion to keep our conservancy functioning. Some may be from low economic situations.

    We do ask with our general campaign and provide articles about the importance of board giving. However 100% expectation is not emphasized.

    • David Allen
      Posted at 05:31h, 01 February


      Thanks so much for the comment. You have a point and one that is shared by many land trusts regardless of whether they have staff or not. I think about this question differently, based on three premises:

      * that all Board members volunteer their time, but it’s not all Board work – some of that time is related to other activities that could be done by other volunteers;
      * that Board members should be chosen based on pre-existing support of the organization, including that expressed through their own giving; and
      * that WHAT Board members give is watched, by other Board members as well as foundations and other donors.

      Put it this way: we would not accept the opposite situation – a Board member willing to give money, but not able to make time available for the organization.

      Thank you for weighing in!


  • Abby Hade Terpstra
    Posted at 09:02h, 30 January

    David –
    I appreciate you bringing both sides of this discussion to your blog. And I don’t find it unreasonable to agree with both of them! It really is a culture issue. If someone feels forced to give to the organization they work for, that’s problematic beyond the ask to donate. I also think it’s nice for employees to be able to give to their organization discretely – for example, through payroll deduction – if it causes them discomfort to have their coworkers know their giving preferences.
    Thanks! Abby

    • David Allen
      Posted at 17:23h, 30 January


      Thank you! for your comment. I didn’t say so in the post, but I feel differently about the ED. With a foot effectively in both the Board camp and the employee camp, I think THAT the ED gives and HOW MUCH the ED gives can affect gifts from other Board members. Otherwise, I agree with you about it being nice to support the organization you work for – voluntarily.

      Nice to hear from you.