Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Strong-arming For Charity

It's time for the yearly intimidation-fest at the workplace.

You know the drill. I've seen it at every job I have worked since 1980. It's time for the United Way drive. Time to pony up your "fair share". And if you don't know what your fair share is, they'll be happy to tell you.

What makes me characterize the drive as "strong-arming"?

Simple: they enlist the active, and at times fervent, support of your employer. Most of us need our jobs, and therefore, when your bosses "encourage" you to contribute, it is by definition intimidating.

And it doesn't stop there.

Where I work, a notice is passed out to all employees, with a deadline: "Please respond by November 1". Now, if you had already planned to risk your bosses' disapproval by not participating, does that let you off the hook? Sorry, no, you're not getting away that easily. The notice continues, "If you're not planning on giving, mark zero in the amount box and return."

So, instead of being allowed to quietly not give, you are forced to call attention to that fact.

That's an attempt to intimidate, with a side order of humiliation.

So I ask the designated collector: "Why do we have to return the form with zero on it if we're not participating? They get the same amount of money from me, either way."

The reply: "United Way wants to be assured that everyone was contacted."

Now, for all I know, this wasn't United Way's idea at all, but rather the employer's innovation. However, from my perspective, the principles are still the same. My invariable response is: "What entitles anyone to know whether I was contacted? Isn't that an invasion of privacy?"

And about this time, the collector -- a fellow employee -- starts taking it personally, and gives me that little look that says, "Grinch."

Fine. Let's concede for the sake of argument that I ought to be forced to wear the Scarlet G. Does that mean anyone has a right to demand that I respond to a solicitation for money?

So I did a Google on "united way tactics", wondering if I'm a Grinch Army of One. Apparently not. I was struck by the number of posts from folks who, apparently, feel the same way I do.

Let's stipulate that United Way does some good work. There are certainly enough charities under their umbrella that it would be hard for them not to do some good. I found an online brochure from a Virginia branch of United Way, and its roster includes such worthies as the Salvation Army, the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association. However, Planned Parenthood and the Abortion Access Project are also on the same roster, so depending on your view of abortion, your contribution might have the precise opposite effect of whatever you intended. Magnanimously, United Way permits you to specify the charities to whom they will remit your contributions, but now you have to trust their bookkeeping -- which, judging from this Wikipedia article, hasn't always been a sure bet.

But the larger issue is, why would I want to contribute money to people who make money, in part, by contributing to Planned Parenthood? Personally, I don't want those folks even within smelling distance of my money.

I'd rather give to my own church, or to the Salvation Army. I could choose to support the SA through the United Way, but, sorry, I don't need a middleman, and I'd be more comfortable if United Way were to ring bells at the local department store and leave my employer out of it.

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