Do You Always Have To Pitch In for an Event or Gift at Work?

Small business, working at the office.
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From weddings and baby showers to charitable causes, your co-workers are constantly asking you to donate cash for events and gifts at work. In some cases, you’re probably more than happy to contribute, but other times you just feel annoyingly obligated.

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The good news is, you don’t need to open your wallet every time a colleague takes up a collection for one reason or another.

Rachel R. Wagner, a licensed corporate etiquette and international protocol consultant, trainer and speaker, said there are some situations where you should pitch in for an event or gift at work. This includes if the person works in your department, on your team or is in another department, but you’re decently acquainted with them due to work projects.

She said you should also donate if there’s a fundraiser for a dire need circumstance — i.e., a house fire.

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“Even if you don’t know the employee, every little bit of support helps,” she said.

Wagner said the same rule applies for a GoFundMe page for an employee you know.

“Do be supportive and click the anonymous button if you wish,” she said.

Additionally, she said you should contribute if a colleague is raising money for a charitable event, such as a fundraiser walk — i.e., for a cause like Alzheimer’s or breast cancer.

“Even if you don’t know the employee, or even just barely know the employee, it’s a way to show your support — if you like to walk and have the time available on your schedule,” Wagner said. “The registration, which often includes a t-shirt for the event, is usually minimal.”

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On the other hand, Jodi R.R. Smith, owner and president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, said there are many situations where you should not feel obligated to donate for an event or a gift at work.

“No matter where you are on the company org-chart, what you do with your paycheck is your own business,” she said. “When someone asks, do not feel pressured into an automatic response.”

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If you feel inclined, she said it’s fine to ask when the deadline to donate is and circle back if you decide to contribute.

“Even if you do want to donate, you get to decide on the amount,” she said. “Most places now know to ask with a suggested donation or any and all contributions are welcome so that people are able to give what they are able.”

She said there’s also no need to fret over your reasoning for not donating.

“When you decide not to contribute, you are not obligated to provide an explanation,” she said. “Unless this person is helping you pay your bills, they do not need access to your budgetary decisions.”

In some cases, the person collecting money might push back, and if this happens, Smith said to stand your ground.

“If they are nosey, a simple ‘Oh, I wish I could, but I do wish him all the best’ will do,” she said.

Jennifer Porter, an etiquette expert and founder of Satsuma Designs, agreed there’s no need to always chip in for work events or gifts. In fact, she said people should feel very comfortable opting out if they decide not to donate.

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“If it’s a gift for a co-worker that you would like to support in some way, an individual card or note is absolutely welcome,” she said.

Try not to feel bad if you are unable or unwilling to pitch in, as Porter said asking co-workers to donate money is sometimes a bit improper in the first place.

“I find that too often teams lean on members to chip in money when it might not be an appropriate ask,” she said. “You will not come off as a curmudgeon, and in my opinion the asks need to be done very carefully,” she said.

So there you have it — even etiquette experts might disagree on whether or not you need to donate to a specific cause at work. In most cases, it’s probably best to follow your instincts.

If you have the means and desire, it’s great to show your support for colleagues as they celebrate life events or raise money for causes close to their hearts. However, if doing so will seriously stretch your budget, or you truly just don’t want to contribute, don’t feel obligated to do so.

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About the Author

Jennifer Taylor is a West Coast-based freelance writer with more than a decade of experience writing about anything and everything. Since earning her MBA, personal finance has been her favorite topic, as she’s passionate about writing stories that educate, inform and empower. Specifically, she specializes in budgeting, debt repayment, savings and retirement.
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