Monday, October 13, 2008

Should an office gift of condolence be a political donation?

Dear Diversity Diva: I work in a small department of a large, private business. A member of our team had a death in his family and the team collected money for flowers, only to find out that the wishes of our co-worker’s loved one was to donate money to one of the presidential campaigns. Our office is divided politically, so I don’t feel comfortable with that. What do you think? — Perplexed by Politics

Dear Perplexed: I understand why you would be uncomfortable. You’re trying to support a co-worker in his time of loss, honor someone’s last wishes and avoid offending co-workers.
Even though you didn’t make that last point in your question, ultimately that’s what your real concern is. If the loved one’s request was a donation to Save the Whales or the American Cancer Society, you probably wouldn’t think twice.
But donating money to a political campaign — especially in a tightly contested, extremely polarized presidential campaign — will almost definitely rub someone in the opposing camp the wrong way.
In working for many government municipalities and some private-sector jobs, collecting for a political campaign, even indirectly, would be strictly forbidden.
In a situation where a small group of personal friends at work want to donate money in this fashion in their off-work time, it’s a different issue because it ceases to be a “workplace” donation. But when the situation really is a work department coming together in this way, it’s not fair to put anyone in the position of later finding out that their generosity was used in a way they didn’t intend.
Probably the best way to address this is to convert the money raised into a money order or cashier’s check in your co-worker’s name and give it to him in a condolence card, leaving him to use his judgment in how the money will be used to honor his loved one.
That way, the people in the department have achieved their real objective of supporting their co-worker, the co-worker is touched by the gesture, and political diversity is respected with no one having to feel offended by having their money directly go to a candidate that they had no intention of supporting.

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