In our company, when one of the colleagues (or a spouse of a colleague) gives a birth to a child, others are typically gathering money for a present for a new-born child and a birthday card. The contribution is small (up to $5). This is organized by a secretary.

On the particular case, the colleague who is about to receive such a present is not well-known to me personally. She has intentionally and professionally kept her colleagues out of her private life and at a distance. I know nothing about her except her name, how she looks (yes, we physically work on the same floor), her working area, and the name of the child. She hasn't even communicated the name of the father. I don't mind that at all - such a distance is ok with me as long as this distance is also maintained in all areas consistently. In effect, there is nothing personal.

Moreover, several months before the birth, while still working, she declined my help request on a project issue, despite being reservedly helpful earlier. Servicing the particular request would have cost her 5-10 minutes. To do the job, I needed to invest several hours, since I had no background in the issue, and she knew that. That was hard to take (and, due to the amount of time spent and a suboptimal result affecting my work till now, I do remember that very well), but, formally speaking, she had a right to decline the request. I have no right whatsoever to reproach her. However, declining this request alienated us even further.

Finally, my contract with the company terminates in a few months anyway, before she returns from her parental leave, and then I'm on the job market without funding; so I'm in an expense-calculation mode now. Of course, some savings exist, but they have all been allocated for the purposes of my family. E.g., I take food from home instead of going to the canteen. Moreover, I'm earning less than my colleagues, working half-time now. (The secretary, the boss, and 1-2 people more know my half-time status, but not more.)

How to decline contributing to a gift politely?

Yes, I've read How can I politely decline collecting donations for birthday presents? (The two situtations are partially overlapping but different. E.g., the current situation is very concrete and may be gender-specific in addition. Moreover, the birth of a child happens much more rarely than a birthday celebration.)

  • 8
    You're not contributing to a present, you're buying goodwill from your peers. $5 is a darn good price for that particular commodity, too. I'd contribute and be seen doing it. Office politics is a real thing whether you want to play or not.
    – acpilot
    Jun 13, 2017 at 4:25
  • 4
    Maybe she declined you request because she could not put up with the additional work, being pregnant and all? 5$ should not be too bad, even when in "expenses-calculation mode".
    – skymningen
    Jun 13, 2017 at 6:42
  • 3
    I think there's a difference with the linked question in that a colleague having a baby is a far rarer and more noteworthy event than having a birthday - and therefore the risk of looking churlish is proportionately larger... Jun 13, 2017 at 6:51
  • 5
    I think there really is no way to decline the offer without looking at least petty. And even if you leave the company in a few months, I would recommend to avoid that impression.
    – Thern
    Jun 13, 2017 at 7:38
  • 2
    If you decided not to contribute, don't say anything. Do not explicitly say in writing or even verbally that you don't want to. Just don't contribute. Don't reply to the email. As others have said, I would "suck it up" and put in the five dollars.
    – Fattie
    Jun 13, 2017 at 12:39

3 Answers 3


Moreover, she declined my latest help request on some working issue, despite being reservedly helpful earlier.

Definitely do not escalate your grievance into a feud. Put in the money.

In fact, this would be a great occasion for you to set aside your complaint against her. This is by far the most professional thing to do. This would be a uniquely bad time to start a countertradition of declining to put in $5 for a gift for an agreed upon occasion.

You also have to deal with fallout from others. If you decline now the secretary trusts you less, due to your unusual decline of a token charity for mysterious reasons. Does the secretary now need to keep track of who has donated to know who to omit from joyous traditions in the future? Why go there at all for $5 and a grudge?

  • 2
    @LeonMeier Which will only make her less reluctant to share with her successor the information about that guy that really declined the contribution for the baby of that nice colleague...
    – Thern
    Jun 13, 2017 at 10:04
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    @LeonMeier I contributed several times to a birthday present for a colleague I didn't even really know (it would have been hard to bring name and face together). So what? It is a minor and very common request, you could give 2$, nobody will really be settled with the argument that you have to cut expenses. Be honest to yourself: This isn't about the money. You feel mistreated by her, now you retaliate. You can do this, but there is no polite, acceptable way to do it. Anything you could do to explain it would make things worse, so if you want to go on, be as silent about this as possible.
    – Thern
    Jun 13, 2017 at 10:15
  • @LeonMeier so be nice to the secretary for her going away. It speaks of nothing other than your personal values if she's leaving so you feel you can get away with being rude to her. The world is more complex than this vendetta you have going on.
    – user42272
    Jun 13, 2017 at 14:56
  1. Why are you declining in an email? That would create a paper trail of you declining, which is probably not what you want. But more obviously...

  2. Walk up to the secretary and apologise - say that your contract is ending and it is hard to make ends meet. That you want to contribute, but you need to save money. Do this honestly.

Nobody will mind if you cannot afford an expense because of future hardships. This would, of course, seem odd if your income is above average, or if you order food at lunch time.

You've made this question a hard one to answer, however, because you seem so petty. It appears that the main reason you don't want to pay is because someone didn't help you in the past - despite the fact that prior to that they had helped you. (It appears this way due to your use of the word "moreover", and the order of you listing items).

If this truly is the reason, if you had some grudge that made sense, then aside from suggesting you think on djechlin's advice to simply pay up - it is good advice - you can either simply not respond to the email and not talk about it, or you can tell the secretary that you cannot afford it.

Absolutely don't publicly use the reason that at some past point in time you weren't given help as a reason to not pay $5.

  • 1
    I am also very much certain that OP reasoning is mainly being anti-social and/or grief-based against that particular employee. People pay that money (keep in mind its up to 5$ not even the full 5$) for a coffee and don't blink an eye.
    – Leon
    Jun 13, 2017 at 8:48

You don't have to contribute if you don't want to. Reasons not to contribute are: Bad financial situation, being tight with money and/or antisocial, having no relation to the person whatsoever, or disliking the person. The first and last are good reasons not to contribute.

In the last case, there's no reason to refuse "politely". but you want to do it without repercussions. So: Nothing in writing, and if you are directly asked for a contribution, say that there are private reasons why you don't want to contribute. If someone insists on more information, tell them "I said it is private, and you wouldn't want to know".

  • 1
    Are you sure disliking the person is a GOOD reason to not contribute?
    – Erik
    Jun 13, 2017 at 10:58
  • 1
    Disliking a person is a terrible reason to refuse to contribute. It just makes the workplace nastier. If you work somewhere, it is your professional obligation to try to get along with everyone whether you like them or not. To refuse a gift of this nature because you dislike someone makes you look bad not them. It is counterproductive and stupid to do that.
    – HLGEM
    Jun 13, 2017 at 14:44

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