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Office gift fund: Good idea or bad idea?

by on
in Your Office Coach

Question: “Our work group plans to start a “Sunshine Fund” to buy gifts for special occasions, like birthdays, weddings and baby showers. One person wants to post a list showing the dollar amount contributed by each employee, but I think that’s a horrible idea.  How can we do this so that people who can’t afford to contribute won’t feel obligated or uncomfortable?” —  Fair-Minded

Marie’s Answer: Publicizing contribution levels would obviously be a huge mistake, but let me go one step further. Despite your good intentions, I think you should ditch the whole idea.  Here’s why:

•    Presumably, the purpose of the Sunshine Fund is to enhance team spirit and boost morale, but publicly embarrassing those who have tight budgets will have the opposite effect. If you already know that some people can’t afford to participate, then this clearly cannot be a group activity.

•    Buying gifts should not appear to be a job requirement, even for people who are financially comfortable. Close colleagues are always free to give presents privately, just as they would with any other friend.

•    Instead of soliciting payments for obligatory gifts, mark special events with group celebrations. For example, everyone could buy funny cards or split the cost of a cake. The goal is to recognize an important moment in someone’s life, not pile on the loot.

•    For occasions when a collective gift seems appropriate, everyone should agree on an affordable purchase.  Unless this is an unusually greedy group, the sentiment behind the present will be valued more than the cost.

For suggestions on making decisions like this as a team, see How to Make Good Group Decisions.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Marcia April 28, 2010 at 2:35 pm

In our office, if there’s something like a retirement or wedding, we just ask if anyone is interested in contributing whatever amount they feel comfortable with. If they do not wish to contribute, they do not have to. We usually pass around a card for everyone to sign – it’s purchased by 1 person in the office but no is expected to chip in for the card. Individuals make cookies or cake or something & sometimes or we decided to have a pot luck lunch for the whole office but no one is expected to contribute & no one except the person collecting knows who has & hasn’t & they don’t disclose who contributes & who doesn’t.

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Gin April 28, 2010 at 1:30 pm

We too have a Sunshine Fund which I feel has been quite successful. We never let it get too large. Only when it has been drawn down below a certain level, maybe $30, do we ask for contributions. Then, the contributions are strictly voluntary. We generally remind employees on pay day for a few weeks of a need and suggest the amount of $2 per person. No one knows who does and doesn’t give except me as the custodian, but I do keep records of contributions and the receipts to show any expenditures to keep it on the up and up. The money then is used to buy items not purchased by the employer (any “odd” items for the benefit of the employees which are not normal purchases by the business, i.e., sympathy cards, memorial gifts, going away gifts.)

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Renaldo April 28, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Donating my money to a charity in another’s name wouldn’t work for me… but the company I worked for used to have a fund where we’d all donate $15-$20/month and have a lunch each month, as well as a $25 gift card for whosever birthday was at the time in addition to a birthday card. It got quite spendy after a while and was a hassle. I wouldnt recommend doing this. I would suggest that the manager/owner/supervisor provide any type of lunch/gift card, etc if they are the ones who are coordinating this or would like to have an organization such as this.

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Lisa P April 28, 2010 at 12:58 pm

My company has an employee fund that is funded by the proceeds we get from recycling paper, cardboard, aluminum cans, etc. The money is used to pay for birthday cakes, a monthly cookout during the spring and summer months (the supervisors cook for the employees), and our holiday party. It works great, and we have a very successful recycling program because we like to eat and party!

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kathy April 28, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Why not ask each “recipient” for the name of their favorite charity and then donate an amount in honor of that person.

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nancy coffey April 28, 2010 at 8:15 am

I work for a medium sized family owned manufacturing company. Our Sunshine Fund is funded by bottle redemption (.05 per bottle in our state) and ad hoc bake sales designated as Sunshine Fund benefits, and anonomous coffee can contributions. The funds are distributed in $25 increments for personal crisis, illness or death of a family member. It has been in existance for over 15 years and is successful.

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Elizabeth April 27, 2010 at 1:50 pm

A number of years ago, I did work with a smaller, close knit company (think about 20 employees) that had a Sunshine Fund. We had the following rules: It was all voluntary. It was organized and managed by lower-level employees, not by managers. There was a list of qualifying events and set available funds (example: wedding = $20-$25 gift). The card was always signed from the group in general (Your Friends at XYZ).

When it came time to replenish the funds, word was simply spread that the funds were running low, and if employees were interested in contributing, a gift of $5 would be appreciated, but not required. Personal gifts were of course always accepted as well if someone chose to do something different.

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