Years ago, I used to work for a hotel that loved good publicity. It would volunteer for neighborhood “giving” things, and then recruits its employees to provide the ground work for what needed to happen. And then it would release a big press release about how much that hotel was doing for the community.
One of the employee “perks” of working for that large hotel chain was that on every Thanksgiving the hotel would give a turkey to each employee before that holiday. It was a nice thing, and if you had a family, or could cook a turkey, it was probably a great benefit. I worked for that company for seven years, and five years in I realized that each year they gave away a turkey, I never took one because I basically had no family and no way to actually cook it. So, it would have been a waste of food. But on that fifth year, I had a new idea. I was going to give my turkey to a food shelter so other people could benefit from the free item I was given.
As I told other people about this, I started to discover how many people didn’t have families of their own, and how many of them turned down the turkey each year on Thanksgiving because they had nothing to do with it. So, they started asking me if they could give their turkeys to me and then have me donate them to the food shelter I was going to give mine to. In a few short days, I had the promise of 25 turkeys from random people at work who told other people who then contacted me. When the givaway occurred, I realized I had a bit of a problem because I really had no ability to carry 25 turkeys home with me, or any place to store them for several days before I would be able to deliver them. So, I contacted one of the main kitchen executives, and he gave me access to a freezer for the time being so I could store this bounty.
Then I got onto the phone and started calling food banks, before realizing that unless you’re a “donor” they know, they’re sometimes not all that interested in someone giving them free food. Finally, I found a San Francisco food kitchen that was in desperate need of this sort of thing, and I arranged to deliver it to them.
The day I pulled up my station wagon to the loading dock to load all of these turkeys, I was met in the loading dock by a minion from the human resources department., She wanted to know what I was doing with all of these turkeys. After I explained it to her, she indicated that these turkeys were for employees, and that I had no permission from the hotel to be doing what I was doing. I explained that these turkeys were given to me by employees who wanted them to go to some place where they would be of use. She was adamant that this had to be approved by higher ups. The guys in the loading dock ignored her and loaded up my car with the turkeys and then allowed me to leave. When I returned to work on Monday morning, I was subsequently written up by someone in human resources for subordination, which ended up being dissolved after a union rep was brought in to dispute the charge.
The next year, no less than 40 people approached me about donating turkeys, even though I didn’t even say I was going to do it that year. As I started coordinating the activity, another person from human resources had me called into her office where she explained to me that if it wasn’t a hotel function, designed by hotel HR, then it was not my option to do. I explained that these turkeys were given to employees, which meant they could do anything they waned with them. She explained that if the hotel wasn’t getting credit for its charity, then I was to cease this activity immediately. I said no, as this wasn’t really her choice to make. We never came to an agreement.
I stopped working there the next year and went back to school, but let’s just say that it taught me an important lesson when it comes to HR and corporations. I’ll let you figure out what that lesson was.
Fast forward to now, and I now work for a hospital system that loves its publicity (sound familiar). It constantly reveals how loved it is in the community to which it serves, and it often calls on its employees to make it appear even better. An example I find eye-opening is its yearly United Way campaign. Every year, expensively produced materials are given to every employee to assist them in making the maximum contribution they can. What I find interesting is that one of the very attractive women I work with who NEVER speaks to me on a daily basis, actually starts speaking to me right before she approaches me to “give” to the United Way campaign because she is the department’s spokesperson and her success in getting signatures is part of how she is perceived to management.
Now, I have personal problems with the United Way that are irrelevant to the discussion, but let’s just say that due to my experiences with them, I do not contribute to them. I do contribute to other places. Just not them. But the place where I work feels it is important for maximum contributions and consistently overplays how important it is that each employee contribute. One such appeal came the other day from a corporate VP who felt that employees weren’t giving enough, so he was opening up the time to give for longer than originally planned. All I kept thinking was “you know, this guy makes so much money that he could probably make up the need that he wants all by himself, but I bet he’s not interested because he’s only giving a certain amount that will be represented by a certain percentage of what he can claim on his taxes this year.” Or something like that.
When this whole campaign is over, the place where I work will claim victory and won’t actually say “Our employees were so great because they gave this much money to the United Way.” Instead, the expensively printed materials will indicate that the place where I work reached its goals and provided a certain amount of money to the United Way. Again, it may just be semantics, but those semantics are why I tend to avoid corporate giving in most instances. It’s almost always about the corporation, not about the people who work for that organization. Sure, they’ll have a nice little memo that goes out to the employees, but when it comes to the real recognition, they’ll take full credit and bask in the glory.
That’s why I say it’s not really charity if you want credit for your giving. When I gave away those turkeys, the recipient who off loaded them wanted to know who she should give credit, even trying to figure out who to make out receipt, and I just stared at her dumbfounded, revealing that I did it because people were hungry and I had extra food. What more needed to be said than that?