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My kids are beginning that stage in schooling where we get fundraiser candy/candy bars to sell. I'm being asked to "take these to work" but I'm the lead of a team of six. Would it be appropriate for me to bring the box in and leave it in the break room? Does anyone have suggestions for making sure my team doesn't feel obligated to buy any?

To make things more complicated, I'm currently writing my team's yearly performance reviews.

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    Has anyone else in the company done this? Some company cultures are ok with this and others have a strict policy against it. You may want to check with HR if your not sure or haven't seen it before. – Mister Positive Sep 23 at 14:43
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    Could you clarify what exactly "fundraiser candy/candy bars" are for those of us not in the US? – Ilakoni Sep 24 at 19:44
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    “Conscientious and willing to learn, but frequently looks like they have low blood sugar.” – Paul D. Waite Sep 25 at 10:59
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    as a side note, who is supposed to sell the candies? i don't know how it works with schools, but when scouts have fundraisers, a part of the point is that the kids do the work to raise their own funds, and not let the parents do it. so i would refuse and explain why it's important that the kids sell the candies themselves. – eMBee Sep 25 at 12:33
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    @Ilakoni : Candy, possibly of somewhat higher than average quality, sold for a notably higher price. Customers typically know that they are overpaying, but are satisfied to do so because they know the profits are funding something good, so customers feel somewhat charitable. Girl Scouts is famous for doing this, not with candy, but with cookies. – TOOGAM Sep 25 at 12:56

12 Answers 12

105

I believe this is a bad idea. A team leader should not put members of their team in a situation to even have to think about this scenario.

If even one person on your team feels compelled to donate (and you may never know this was the case), then you may have harmed the relationship with that employee. Is the amount of money your candy fundraiser generates worth the impact on that relationship?

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    @LouFancy, I've been down that path myself, unfortunately, there's not much more I can help with that but I'll let you blame me if that will help – cdkMoose Sep 23 at 18:29
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    @LouFancy: You don't "refuse" the request. You explain that it is not appropriate for your particular work environment, and that you are not in a position where you can change that. For a larger company, that could translate to "not allowed by HR". The key is to shift the blame. – MSalters Sep 24 at 11:00
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    Not only harmed the relationship, but failed as a leader independently of the relationship. You have authority, don't misuse it nor through ignorance let it be misapplied, especially when you or your family stand to gain... – Stian Yttervik Sep 24 at 18:04
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    @cdkMoose I took this option and explained to my wife why it might seen inappropriate to do this. She was awesome like always and I feel a little silly for worrying about this. – Lou Fancy Sep 24 at 20:08
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    I would put it somewhere where people can donate or not donate if they want anonymously. I've seen this in a couple of offices and it worked well. – user10399 Sep 25 at 10:11
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Make sure it's okay per company policy and HR. (It would be wise to give HR the heads up that you're putting it in the break room in any case).

Then leave the fundraiser box in the break room, with an indication on what organisation the fundraising is for. (But not you or your children's names).

If you're concerned about your reports feeling pressure to "donate", don't mention it's yours, and don't mention it to your reports. Then nobody feels compelled to buy any.

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    If you're concerned about your reports feeling pressure to "donate", don't mention it's yours, and don't mention it to your reports. Then nobody feels compelled to buy any. -- perfect. – Mister Positive Sep 23 at 15:00
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    Yet fundraisers only work because personal attachment. I don't donate anything to a random person coming to me. But I'd gladly give something to children of colleagues and friends. - So not saying that it's yours defeats the whole point of a fundraiser. – paul23 Sep 23 at 20:11
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    @paul23 You're not being asked to donate. They are fundraiser chocolates. – Gregory Currie Sep 23 at 23:07
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    @paul23 Note also that at the places I've worked, people usually chuck the fundraiser box in the break room without anything other than the recipient organisation written on the box. Usually by the end of the first week, all the chocolates are gone. So while it doesn't work in your workplace culture (or you specifically), it is not the same for all workplace cultures. – Gregory Currie Sep 24 at 1:50
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    @paul23 While you may not know which colleague's children are involved, it's a pretty good guess that a box appearing in the break room comes from a colleague and not from a random stranger. – Reinstate Monica Sep 24 at 7:44
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I agree with cdkMoose and would add another choice: buy the candy yourself and anonymously put it in the break room for others to take at no cost.

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    Interesting compromise! I can follow my wife's request to "take this to work" but I won't risk alienating my team. I'm out a couple of bucks. Maybe I'll just keep it in my desk and make this a win/win/win. – Lou Fancy Sep 23 at 17:04
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    Please don't keep them in the fundraiser box if you do so. People know what these things look like, and will be very confused if they are meant to pay for them or not. – Gregory Currie Sep 24 at 3:06
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    @GregoryCurrie You can keep them in the box if you say to your team "There was this fundraiser going on and then I decided to help by buying you guys candy", too. – T. Sar - Reinstate Monica Sep 24 at 10:53
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    This is a terrible solution. You're just giving money to parasite candy sellers. Send that garbage back to the school and just donate the money outright. More will end up going to the school, you won't have to eat horrible chocolate, and the vampires won't make off with half of your money. If you want to give your coworkers a treat, just go buy some real chocolate and skip the fundraising candy baron tax altogether. – J... Sep 24 at 16:54
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    @J... I'm trying to work this out but have not been successful. Based on a parent's complaint the school is no longer allowed to request money from students to attend a field trip. Their only method for funding field trips now is fundraisers. To their credit they are very transparent about how much money they need and how much they have. This is brand new so it's my hope that with a little coaxing they will allow a donate option. I'd very much perfer that. – Lou Fancy Sep 24 at 20:06
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I'm going to post an auxiliary answer that might highlight why you have to be especially careful with this sort of thing.

I work for a company that has a very cozy relationship with United Way. A lot of the top executives have connections with people that serve on the United Way board. We don't merely do a pledge drive - we're given all sorts of work enticements to donate (extra paid time off, dress code perks, etc). And, a bit ominously, all our donations through the company are tracked year-by-year.

Now, imagine pledge drive comes around, and you have a desire to climb the corporate ladder. You weren't planning on donating to United Way - you feel there are a lot better charities and were planning on giving to a Meningitis vaccine charity. But... you know that the C-Suite knows whether you donate to United Way. And you're not sure whether that would be a mark against you. I mean, if you're trying to get a spot underneath a manager whose husband serves on the United Way board... how sure are you that your lack of donation wouldn't play any part in her decision? Especially if you're up against someone who does donate generously? You might decide, "You know what, it's not worth the risk. I'll give to United Way instead."

Well, you're just in a smaller version of that. You plop down a donation box or a fundraising leaflet or a volunteerism time sheet - anything not work-related. Guess what? You've put a bit of a compulsion on anyone in a subordinate position to you. Because they're going to have to make the same sorts of guesses - how likely are you going to remember whether they decided not to buy anything? Are you likely to use that at all when deciding future assignments? Raises? Promotions? Don't dismiss this lightly - not only does it put them in a bit of a tough spot, but it feels bad, like they're being extorted out of something.

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    Your work place sounds like a nightmare. – RedSonja Sep 25 at 6:25
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    Remember when donating to charity was a private affair. – Gregory Currie Sep 25 at 9:45
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    One more example of United Way being evil. – lazarusL Sep 25 at 12:41
  • This describes corruption completely. – Bae Sep 26 at 6:59
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I wouldn't do it. In fact I would not sell the candy. Typically these boxes have 30 bars, and the school makes 50% of the proceeds form the bar. Simply write a check to the school for $15, or $30 if the kids are required to sell to boxes.

Often times the school will have a "sales meeting" to hype the kids up to sell items, offering incentive prizes to the kid who sells the most. Okay, whatever buy your kid the water bottle or whatever. So for less than $40 per kid, you don't deal with the hassle.

  • This puts the onus on the kid to defend your political statement about the candy companies, though - and requires that the kid be the one to justify why they're "not participating" to teachers and peers. – Alex M Sep 25 at 18:01
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    @AlexM Depending on the age of the kid, this is a learning experience for them. At the very least, they can say "My parent said no" and leave it at that. Or, if they are older, they can learn your reasoning to where they can explain it to others, if they desire. Learning to say "no" to inappropriate requests is important, and learning to say "no" to inappropriate marketing requests may equip the student for later in life when they encounter an MLM for the first time. – Wayne Conrad Sep 25 at 18:44
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    Pay for all the candy leave it in the break room. That's who my boss does it – Andrey Sep 25 at 19:42
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Yes, it's appropriate to do that, as long as you make it fairly obvious that the candy is there for charity reasons and that the payment box is close by.

Don't be surprised if some of the candy disappears without payment being made. Generally though, it's accepted and people are fine not to participate if they don't want to.

People are (hopefully) going to be intelligent enough to separate charity from "I'm bribing you for a good review/performance".

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    I'm always up for the "check with HR" first, especially because there is no country tag. In some countries you can be in a very tight spot if you're buying and selling something in the workplace (even it is a fundraiser) – Juliana Karasawa Souza Sep 24 at 9:18
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    I think this answer misses the point a bit. If you're a worker and your boss brings in a "Donate to XYZ" box, it's not an issue of charity-vs-bribe. It's an issue where you're being compelled to give away your cash or risk getting on the bad side of your boss. It puts the worker in the situation of thinking, "Well... what are the odds that the manager will be upset? That when it comes time for raises or promotions, this might be a tipping factor? How likely is that versus the financial amount I'm being asked to part with now?" – Kevin Sep 24 at 15:41
  • Yeah, in an unequal relationship this is a quid-pro-quo conflict of interest: donate money and improve your standing with the boss; don't donate and harm your relationship. It's totally inappropriate unless the team lead can do so anonymously. – bob Sep 24 at 18:32
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This depends entirely on company policy and how informal your company is.

As mentioned in another Answer, talk to HR first. There might be a reason(s) why you can't do this.

If you are allowed, consider your relationship with your co-workers and the people you manage. Here's a few examples of a decision tree to consider and expand on for yourself.

Yes if:

  • They understand their review has nothing to do with the candy.
  • You more of a friendly manager that has social relationships outside of work with them.
  • The location of the candy wouldn't matter, including it being on your desk.

Don't if:

  • They are afraid of disagreeing with you.
  • You often imply they need to do things.
  • The location matters at all, especially if it's on your desk.

I've worked at companies where people, including the bosses, brought all kinds of things for people to buy into for their kids. Everything from school trips to dance classes to scouts, such as popcorn, magazines, chocolates, frozen treats, fruit, baked goods, and more (all from brand name suppliers, not their own kitchens, if anyone was wondering).

I've also worked where it was strictly forbidden for anyone to bring in products for others to buy. I've also heard of companies where food was prohibited from desks, even water bottles, so chocolate bars for sale wouldn't work their either, presumably even in the break room.

2

First, selling candy is stupid. As a fiduciary thing, it is total wheel-spinning, "rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic", digging holes and filling them back in, making work merely to make work. You are literally better off spending the same hours working at McDonalds going "do you want fries with that?" And giving your McDonalds paycheck to the charity. These gimmicks are not fiduciary, they are feelgood tricks designed to make people (supporters and the epsilon-minus executive director whose idea this is) feel like they are helping, and get a little (a little) publicity out for the charity.

However, if you must, then in most cases that I see of those, they are not left in a breakroom, they are actively "pushed" by a human doing sales as it were. So real simple: be selective about who you sales-job. Do not push anyone in your report chain. Your reports and bosses are off limits, as are anyone you need stuff from or who need stuff from you. Everyone else you deal with casually, fair game. Anyone in your needs chain who wants one of those candy bars will have to stick their nose in your cubicle and stick $3 in the slot.

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    The fact that it's stupid and inefficient is irrelevant when it's successful. It actually works, and just asking for money doesn't work. Human beings are not logical. – barbecue Sep 26 at 15:28
  • @barbecue Your "successful" bar is too low. It's not about "the project worked as designed". It's not even about gross dollars pried out of marks. It's about net dollars as ratioed against costs, time and political capital spent! It's like those people who labor to sell things on eBay or Amazon Marketplace, and when all the hours and costs are counted, they have paid themselves prison wages. What else could he have done with his time? – Harper - Reinstate Monica Sep 26 at 23:27
  • You seem to think human beings are logical and rational. That's just not true. – barbecue Sep 27 at 14:46
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Our office handled a similar case in a way I haven't seen mentioned yet. The director of engineering -- the direct or indirect manager of everybody else in our office, but still a team member and not a high-level executive -- brought in an order form for Girl Scout cookies for one of his children, with the following message: I'm going to buy some of these for the office so please vote on types, and if anybody wants to order some for yourself, fill out the form. By doing this he led with his wallet (so to speak), did something for the team, gave everyone a chance for input without spending money, and gave everyone a chance to place additional orders. He bought a generous number of boxes for the team, and people still bought a lot privately. (It looked like it was about 50-50 in the end.)

If your kid's candy bars come in different varieties, you could do something similar. Before you bring anything in, tell your team that you'll be getting some fundraiser candy for the group, they get to pick the types, and if anybody wants to order additional candy, they can do so. Then bring it in, make sure people know where the "public" candy is, and set up a separate box for purchases.

  • I suppose this works if the person is very high up, but people might feel a little obliged to do the same if it's a team leader doing it? – Gregory Currie Sep 26 at 2:59
  • @GregoryCurrie the question seems to be about the power dynamic between a team lead and subordinates. Isn't that the same dynamic as our director and his subordinates? (I guess I should have clarified that the director is still technical and very much part of the team; this isn't somebody who rarely interacts with the rest of us or something like that.) – Monica Cellio Sep 26 at 3:06
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    Ahh ok. For me the director is quite high up (almost C-level). If they can (afford) to do something like this, there isn't an expectation "rank-and-file" employees do the same. – Gregory Currie Sep 26 at 3:19
  • @GregoryCurrie thanks; I made an edit to try to clarify. – Monica Cellio Sep 26 at 3:20
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I think it kind of depends on what it's for. If it directly impacts your kids or their school, like money for the new gym or a school trip, it might be a little inappropriate.

If your kids' class is raising money to donate to some other charity, like they plan to donate to Habitat for Humanity or they're going to have a garbage clean-up in a city park, that seems more appropriate because it's not just for your own kids. People are donating more for the charity, not directly to your kids. In that case, I'd let people know because it's a good cause that you happen to be associated with.

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    Provided that the recipient of the fundraising is clear, why is it inappropriate? – Gregory Currie Sep 24 at 1:48
  • I don’t understand this question. – user70848 Sep 24 at 12:48
  • You claim that money to benefit a school is inappropriate. Are you able to clarify why? – Gregory Currie Sep 24 at 13:42
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    I dunno - I think it'd still be inappropriate even if it was Habitat for Humanity. You're basically putting your subordinates in a position of judging whether it's worth it to just give the money instead of possibly putting them on the bad side of their superior. Because there's definitely the possibility that they don't want to give to charity, but would be afraid to say no in case that decision will negatively impact them in reviews/raises/etc. – Kevin Sep 24 at 15:43
  • @GregoryCurrie I already did. Donating to his own kids’ school is a direct benefit to him and his family. – user70848 Sep 24 at 19:47
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Others have mentioned how you could leave it in the break room, but I'd bet you won't receive any donations with that set up. If there are other team leaders or your superiors who you are familiar with, you could consider approaching them for donations, as they are not managed by you. This way you can keep the personal nature of asking for donations, while avoiding the issue of putting your team in an unfair situation.

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Go discussing it with your HR. Be true and be open.

In our site there is a desk with seedlings, small box with with a hole and a paper how much each seedling is worth. Anyone can pick them and can pay for them. Someone waters them daily, grow them from seeds, bring new ones and collect money for buying new seeds. One need to stay there to see who is that someone.

Is it possible for you to bring the candies in the kitchen anonymously? Place there the box, written note with the price and who is it for (charity, school). Then collect the money in and give your kid the money.

Don't look who is picking the candy, don't look who is actually paying, don't be seen either arranging either collecting. Buy the candies as anyone else, like Joe Theaverage brought it there.

If someone traces you back with question "So it was YOU who brought it here", the appropriate answer is: "So what?" Don't overthink it.

If you are worried about the timing, you can give your kid the money now and bring the candies to the office after you submitted the reviews.

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