The topic of office fundraising/charity etiquette appears to be an issue worth a number of perspective articles and blog posts (e.g. here, or here).
Even if some of the situations described in these links are not applicable to this specific case, I mention them because the issue is likely to resurface in various forms, whether it's for a birth, school fundraising, retirement, or death. (It is interesting to consider that someone you know know may have given money for one or more of these events in your own life...)
Whatever the case, it appears that the answer depends on the specific workplace culture, as well as one's individual principles/values, goals, office politics (personal likes/dislikes) and budget.
The OP's question seemed relevant to me as I have come across a variety of "office donation" situations over the past year and have been wondering what approach seems most sensible. The 'fundraising events' have included:
- a death in the family of a colleague in my immediate office;
- a death in the family of an employee I never met, who worked in a different office but who apparently was well known in our larger organization;
- school fundraisers of various types for a child of a manager of another team in my office area;
- fundraising for a good cause that one of the managers I know supports.
Our behaviors communicate something to others, and make an impression which over time may grow into a 'reputation'. For this reason, consistency is an important consideration.
If you donate once or twice to a specific cause (or type of cause, or situation) you may develop the reputation as someone who cares about XYZ, and will be approached (and counted on to contribute) for the same or similar causes/situations in the future.
On the opposite, if you donate for the new baby of colleague X but not for the baby of colleague Y (and whether/to whom you have donated or not becomes known to someone else), this might send a 'message' about who you like or dislike, with potential consequences for office inter-relationships.
Donation on principle might mean you only donate to events of type X, but not of type Y. For instance, only for serious or expensive life events like births or deaths, but not for optional/non-events, like school or charity fundraisers. Or vice versa. Both approaches depend on individual value system and neither is more or less appropriate. It's a matter of personal judgment.
For what it's worth, my own approach from day one with my current employer has been to contribute to whatever I am asked to contribute to. In our organization -- and I know this by checking with colleagues who have been here a while -- the average donation considered appropriate is $5 or $10. Slightly larger donations (around $20) are also appropriate, though less common. Doesn't really matter.
I have not kept track, but a rough cost-benefit breakdown for the past year would go like this:
- Losses: about $40-50
- Gains: (a) knowing that I have responded when someone asked (or didn't); (b) a reputation of a 'team player,' someone who cares and gives freely to support causes important to one's colleagues; (c) positive impression made upon/relationships strengthened with colleagues on other teams in our office area and the larger organization; (d) ability to count on the fundraising individuals (e.g. moms soliciting for their kids' school fundraisers) for calling small favors, such as valuable advice in situations where I might need a second opinion on career or workplace dynamics.
Whether the trade-off is worth it is a matter of individual decision-making. One bonus associated with the approach I have taken is that I don't need to think too long and hard about each occurrence, but instead give my $5-$10, smile, wish them the best and move on with my day. Good luck!