Well-Intentioned Charity May Be Overboard

by admin on August 25, 2011

Fellow E-hellions, I feel a bit bad about calling out this faux pas (if it is one), because I know it’s essentially a well-intentioned effort by well-meaning people to garner support for a friend in tragic difficulties.  But the whole phenomenon seems to me to be just so hideously tacky on so many levels—and this is the second or third time this year that I’ve encountered it at my workplace—that I think it belongs in Ehell as a warning to other well-meaning people who may be tempted to follow the trend. If I’m wrong about that, feel free to go ahead and rip me a new one (with your customary politeness, of course).

Here’s the story.  Today I received the following (heavily censored) mass email sent to all employees at my workplace:

“Dear [Workplace] Community: “[Colleague Name,] dear friend to many of us at [Workplace], has recently been diagnosed with [Name of Serious Illness]. She is in the process of receiving treatments, which has been very difficult on both her and her husband… [Details of family connections, diagnosis and treatment suppressed]. “In the meantime, we would like to show our support. Prescriptions, medical expenses and travel costs are just a few of the expenses they are facing, and we would like to help. “Please help us in sending [Colleague and Spouse] our best wishes for a speedy recovery by signing a giant get well card. The card is located at [Workplace Location]. “In addition, please consider helping financially.  Join our very own [Other Colleague] and his band [Band Name] at [Local Music and Dining Establishment] at [Date and Time].  There will be a collection box, a 50/50 raffle and a raffle of donated items, which will be available for viewing during dinner hours.  All of the proceeds will go straight to [Colleague and Spouse] to help offset some of the medical expenses they are facing. “And if you or anyone you know would like to donate a service or merchandise to raffle, please contact [Name of Contact Person]. “So come out and have some fun.  Let’s raise the roof and raise some money to help support [Colleague and Spouse] during this difficult time in their lives. “Sincerely, [Names of Well-Meaning Co-workers]”

First of all, am I just crazy, or is there something horribly incongruous in the message “Hey everybody, [Beloved Colleague] has cancer!  Come out and have some fun!”?  I don’t happen to know this particular co-worker  personally, but if I did, finding out about her serious illness would NOT inspire me to go out to a local bar and “raise the roof”.  Heck, even without knowing her personally, I’m pretty depressed to read about her predicament.  Who on earth would enjoy the idea of using somebody else’s life-threatening health crisis as an excuse to party or as an opportunity to win a raffle item?

Secondly, while I deeply sympathize with families who are feeling the strain of a serious illness financially as well as in other aspects of their lives, aren’t colleagues and employers supposed to address this issue by means of official employee benefits rather than by randomly passing the hat?  We’re lucky enough at our workplace to have a pretty good health insurance policy for employees, and many of us have made compromises on salary levels and other employment perks in order to have a high-quality benefits package that is available to all of us.  If our employee medical coverage is massively inadequate for employees with serious illnesses (and I know that hardly any insurance policy will cover all expenses of a serious illness, which is deplorable), then by all means let’s take action to remedy that.  But the idea of trying to fill the coverage gaps for individual colleagues by soliciting cash handouts from co-workers who may never even have met them just seems really undignified. And it also seems rather unfair to other co-workers who may also be facing major expenses associated with serious illness in their families but prefer to keep it a private matter.  Should we really consider it acceptable to have our well-meaning co-workers blabbing the details of our private medical and family issues to all and sundry in our workplace, and arranging public entertainment events to spotlight our problems and our need for monetary help?  Is somebody who finds that appallingly distasteful just being a mean old unsympathetic grinch?

That said, I do think the idea of a giant get-well card that all interested co-workers can sign is nice.  Saying “Hey everybody, [Beloved Colleague] is going through tough times and needs your money!” may be tacky, but saying “Hey everybody, [Beloved Colleague] is going through tough times and needs your good wishes!” seems thoughtful and sweet.  If [Well-Meaning Co-workers] had left it at that, I wouldn’t have written this letter.    0719-11

{ 128 comments… read them below or add one }

PinkWildRose August 25, 2011 at 4:14 pm

This is reeks of emotional extortion. I certainly care about my coworkers, but it’s not my responsibility to offset their medical expenses, and I would seriously resent being asked to do so. If I privately choose to help someone with something like that, that’s my business, but to use social pressure to force me to do so is appalling. That entire office would be better off working to establish better insurance coverage for their union, rather than being expected to pay one another’s bills.

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Leslie Holman-Anderson August 25, 2011 at 4:32 pm

Depending of course on the corporate culture, I don’t think it’s tacky at all. I think it’s compassionate and a great way to raise some extra cash for someone obviously well liked who desperately needed it. And I don’t see anything wrong with making it enjoyable to give — you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

A company I once worked for once did something very similar: they announced that a co-worker who had been out caring for his terminally ill wife had run out of sick leave and vacation days, and gave us the opportunity to donate unused hours to him. Most places would have given him the alternatives of coming back to work or losing his job. Some alternatives! Almost all of us who had hours available gave him some, and he was able to stay home with his wife to the very end.

OP, it seems to me that your objection stems from two things: first, you didn’t know the person and resent feeling pressured to contribute. OK, that’s natural, but be honest with yourself and everyone else. And second, you feel that your mutual employer ought to be covering this sort of employee emergency through its benefits program. ‘Scuse me while I laugh. Have you any idea what it’s costing businesses these days to offer even token benefits? This sort of organized share-the-load campaign may be tacky in your eyes, but it gets the job done — and it makes everyone involved feel good! We rarely get the opportunity to do something altruistic for anyone we’ve ever actually met.

You’re under no obligation, dear OP, to go to the dinner, contribute a dime, or even sign the card. But I hope you will, less for your coworker’s sake than yours. You’ll love the warm glow it’ll give you. And you’ll make a friend. Or several.

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Rachel August 25, 2011 at 4:34 pm

I think this all depends on the size of the office and the tact used in the e-mail. I received one just the other day regarding a co-worker who’s father is being treated for colon cancer. There can be a lot of expense involved in treatment, lost time from work, etc. I never feel any pressure to contribute if I don’t want to, and I base whether I contribute/amount on how well I know this person and how flush I’m feeling. I like working in a place where we take care of each other. If I worked in a larger office and was often getting solicited about people I don’t know, or was feeling pressured, I would feel differently about this.

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karen August 25, 2011 at 4:35 pm

The people from other countries are probably going to be shocked that Americans need to do this to pay for our health costs even when we have “health insurance”, but we do. Siigh.

While I agree this is slightly uncomfortable, it is a way that people feel they can help. When you find out that a friend or co-worker is sick, there is a feeling of helplessness and uselessness. Organizing this event is probably pretty cathartic to whoever is doing it- I would assume that person is closer to the stricken co-worker than you are.

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SV August 25, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Admin, I generally agree with you 100% but I am afraid I must (politely) disagree on this one. If the letter was soliciting cash outright, or if you had been approached personally ( making a decline uncomfortable) I would certainly agree. However, it sounds as though the letter was trying to be as polite and un-pressured as possible. Although they certainly could have been a little more circumspect regarding all the details it is likely that the letter writer felt that it was best to be as forthcoming as possible, since people were going to decide whether or not to support this fundraiser. And at least it WAS a fundraiser, which can turn this into a positive outpouring of emotional and financial support, rather than just touching someone up for money. I am never willing to support someone’s cash grab to help pay for a wedding/honeymoon/house or anything else, but to help with devastating illness is another matter. That is just how I feel personally though :)

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Carolyn August 25, 2011 at 4:54 pm

Maybe it’s me, but I see this VERY differently than the OP does.

1.) I don’t find anything incongruous about having a fun benefit to raise funds for a cancer patient. Just because someone has cancer, you don’t have to wear black and play dirges! It is very sad that she is facing a serious medical issue and I am sure that the growing medical bills and associated costs are stressful – perhaps a fun night out listening to a band is what she needs.

2.) I don’t know about you, but my health insurance certainly doesn’t pick up 100% of my medical bills, I have deductibles to meet and sometimes they deny treatments my doctor says I need. And medical insurance certainly won’t pick up the tab for travel expenses to and from treatments and some of the other expenses they are incurring. And insurance plans have “lifetime maximums”, “caps” and other caveats … I have a friend who would not be alive today if not for being accepted into a medical trial for his chemo – he could not have afforded it! And he had insurance! And he actually had some savings to dip into! Most insurance plans afford decent coverage for garden variety ills and issues, but when you are talking cancer, it is a whole different story.

3.) People are being told about the benefit and asked for donations – they are not being forced to donate or participate. If someone is having their own financial strain, they do not have to contribute – in fact, I find the request for donations very light-handed … you can sign the card no matter what, it seems, and the donation is optional.

4.) You wrote “And it also seems rather unfair to other co-workers who may also be facing major expenses associated with serious illness in their families but prefer to keep it a private matter. ”

How is this unfair? If they prefer to keep it a private matter, they can. It is their choice. They can also choose to ask for help if they need it.

5.) You wrote “Should we really consider it acceptable to have our well-meaning co-workers blabbing the details of our private medical and family issues to all and sundry in our workplace, and arranging public entertainment events to spotlight our problems and our need for monetary help? ”

I would imagine that her well meaning and caring co-workers would have asked if it was alright to mention her diagnosis. That is usually the way things like this work. If not, that is another matter entirely.

6.) You wrote “Is somebody who finds that appallingly distasteful just being a mean old unsympathetic grinch?”

IMO, yes. I fail to find anything tacky or distasteful about this! The coworker did not elect to have cancer, she did not choose to rack up insane medical bills – she is fighting a very serious illness and that can bankrupt people! She is not asking people to fund a fun vacation to Hawaii, her co-workers are asking others to contribute what they can so she can continue fighting for her life!!! Cards are lovely and good wishes can go a long way in giving someone a lift and the energy to keep fighting, but cheerful cards do not pay doctors and hospitals – that takes money.

I think your co-workers are lovely for trying to help one of their own in serious need. They sent a letter – they are not even coming around and shaming people into donating! They are not insisting you donate in order to sign the card! It seems to me that they have made every effort for others to participate (or not) at whatever level they feel comfortable with. This is not a matter of “Cindy’s TV is broken and she needs a new one – lets all help her out!” This is a matter of “Our co-worker is fighting for her life and if you are in a position to make a donation to help her continue fighting, it would be welcome and appreciated.”

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Saucygirl August 25, 2011 at 4:55 pm

The op’s letter covers a lot of issues, but as someone who is currently organizing numerous fundraisers for a friend whose husband is battling cancer and accruing tens of thousands of dollars of debt, I want to address a few of the issues:

1. Insurance does cover a lot of bills, but not until you hit your deductible, which could be very high. My friends deductible is $10000. Her husband has been sick since oct 10, which means they have $20000 just in deductibles.
2. Insurance may cover hospital bills, but if you are to sick to work you have no income. Mortgages still need to be paid, groceries need to be bought, etc
3. Why a fun event for a fundraiser? As you say, you don’t want to be asked outright for money. But chances are good you might not have a problem tagging along with a friend to an event that costs $20 if you think you are “getting value” for that money. When trying to raise money you want to interest as many people as possible, and a fun event in a public venue is a great way to do that. Additionally, when someone is going through a hard, depressing time, an evening out with friends is a great way to have fun and see how loved you are.

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Cindy August 25, 2011 at 5:02 pm

I think it would be tacky if the person herself was coming out and asking for money, but I don’t see how this is any different from people in an office collecting money for an office baby or wedding shower, or birthday gift. I think it’s nice they want to have actual fundraising events instead of just walking up to people asking for money and nothing more. This way, if you don’t want to contribute you don’t have to and you aren’t being put on the spot. If someone was involved in a foundation for an illness and organized a general event for the charity and told people when it as in case they wanted to contribute, versus asking for money for a specific person, would you still find it tacky? This sounds to me like someone who has some experience with organizing charity events who is trying to extend their work to a specific person. Where I’m from, people will put out jars in restaurants and stores with the names of local children who may be really sick to collect money for the families. I always put at least a little something in, even if all I have on me is just the change from my purchase, whether I know the family or not. If no one is trying to force you to do it I don’t see why it’s rude. It’s not like funding their own mission trip or asking to pay for a wedding, it’s, as you said, a well-meaning person going out of his/her way to do something nice for someone in your office who really, really needs it.

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boxy August 25, 2011 at 5:30 pm

It’s all a symptom of entitlement. I don’t mean that in nasty way, just that everyone expects others to foot the bill for, well, just about everything.

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Pandora August 25, 2011 at 5:31 pm

This seems to be a new trend, personal fundraisers for folks in all sorts of circumstances. (I want to go on a mission, I have a serious illness etc.) Personally I don’t like it. For me though the biggest faux pas is the sharing of what appears to be (or was before the editing) a ton of personal information.

I don’t participate in personal fundraisers, I find them distasteful, and as the Executive Director of a charity I find they pull money away from much needed causes. Those who are close may choose to offer financial assistance.

So I think you are right. Distasteful, and sadly makes the “beloved colleague” a public spectacle and object of pity…which they might not want to be.

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Jen a August 25, 2011 at 5:40 pm

I feel torn on this one. A similar thing happened at my work last year. The recipient was unaware that an email had been circulated on her behalf, and part of the reason money was being collected was due to personal issues, not an illness. If it were me, I’d be very uncomfortable with the whole thing. I remember a friend telling me about a similar fund at her work for abdown on her luck woman. Months later there was a major conflict at her work and people ended up using the donation against her. I suppose with an illness it’s a bit different, but I can still see a potential for awkward expectations of behavior afterwards. However, an illness can be a huge financial burden ( on top of everything else). I want to know what admin thinks!

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Catvickie August 25, 2011 at 5:51 pm

I tend to disagree with the whole party thing. We ususally set out the giant card and a small envelope people can put a couple bucks into to buy a flower arrangement, or volunteer to fix a couple of meals. Our office also has better than average insurance, so I agree with poster.

I have never seen a company’s workers do the whole party/fundraiser/ auction thing, usually that is done by a church or organization that the sick colleague or their family belongs to. This must have gotten started some time ago and sounds as if it has gotten out of hand. I simply would sign the card and not attend.

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b-rock August 25, 2011 at 6:09 pm

if the people passing the hat are in some way putting you on the spot or making you feel guilty for not contributing, then that is definitely not ok. if, however, they are just putting it out there for people who want to contribute, i have no problem with that. at my place of work, we have sold t-shirts, set up snack sales, and held “off-campus” gatherings (that were fun, not depressing) to raise money for things not covered by even the best of benefits. one that comes to mind: raising money to pay for a trip to disney world for a family and their little boy who are probably never going to have another chance to go. no one is guilted into it, someone justs posts a sign with a picture of the t-shirt or a description of the event, and a small “to benefit the so-and-so family”, and anyone who wants to contribute can.
additionally, regarding the question of whether or not anyone feels like “raising the roof,”: in the situations i have been party to the answer is “yes”. the affected party has appreciated everyone coming out, showing their support, and not just sitting in a dark room quietly murmuring “oh you poor thing”. they also appreciate a chance to get away from their troubles for a couple of hours and have a good time with friends/co-workers. again, only speaking from my own experiences, but that’s how i’ve seen it.

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Twik August 25, 2011 at 7:00 pm

I might point out that expecting the “employer benefits” to cover expenses may be unavailing, depending on the employer.

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HannaLee August 25, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Recently, the husband of a family friend was diagnosed with throat cancer. It was so severe that he had to go to New York from Texas to receive treatment. They never asked for anything except prayers and good wishes for the trip and treatment. In return, one of their friends gave them their frequent flier miles to get there and back, another friend who had friends in NY arranged for them to have a place to stay free of charge. GOOD PEOPLE ARE OUT THERE, and they don’t need to be solicited like the letter in this article.

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Raven August 25, 2011 at 7:17 pm

People have good intentions (I hope), but I personally would hate the idea of my medical information being splashed around the company email system. I have a chronic illness that has required a few surgeries over the years, and always worked very hard to keep any and all details under wraps. Like it or not, workplace people can and will use your weaknesses against you. I know, it’s disgusting to think someone would use someone’s illness as a way to get their job, their desk space, their promotion, etc, but I had it happen to me. It’s sad, but with the way things are right now, the less people know, the better.

Also, I sincerely hope this wasn’t being done behind the ill person’s back, but with their blessing and appreciation.

I think it comes down to a few things:
1 – What’s the workplace environment like? Is it one of those “family” environments where everyone gets invited to the weddings, the birthdays, the housewarmings, etc?

2 – Is the ill person usually a private person?

3 – How will such a fundraiser affect the workplace environment? Will those who choose not to participate be shunned or judged?

Tough situation.

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Balletmom August 25, 2011 at 7:58 pm

If the employee didn’t know about it, or wasn’t asked, that would be wrong. If they saw this a sign of support and agreed, it was fine.

Just being asked to attend is not improper. Health insurance is not intended to cover all costs. A major medical issue can tax anyone. There are a lot of incidental costs that are not covered by insurance.

This was an invitation for a fundraiser. It’s no different than many others held in any community. Sometimes it’s an organization, sometimes it’s just friends and family. As with any invitation, one is free to give or not give, go or not, but not gripe about the invitation.

We have a similar situation at my workplace. Frankly, I was glad to show up for a few minutes and be strong. It could be my child or my spouse. Yes, I’d find a way to handle it on my own–but yes, I’d also be grateful for people who gave time or money to support me.

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shm August 25, 2011 at 8:30 pm

I’m glad and feel blessed to live in a country where such monetary issues don’t arise with medical emergencies. Cancer, organ transplants, ongoing prescription medications are covered. All of which are ongoing in my immediate family. I sympathize with the family in question, and (as I am to my fellow citizens who contribute to my family’s treatment and care) am glad s/he has co-workers who are willing to assist in costs and other challenges.

The fundraising (so long as it doesn’t make the recipient uncomfortable) is a good thing if only as a stress reliever (who needs to think about money at a time like this?) – having a party can be a celebration of hope and life and friendship and not necessarily a forgetfulness of what the event is intended to achieve – $$$. As someone pointed out previously, this is not planned, it’s not a “money grab” it’s a community reaching out to community members in compassion and caring. If not, why contribute to the various organizations that research cancer or any other disease – after all, you don’t have it (yet).

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Toni August 25, 2011 at 8:45 pm

I had a sort of similar thing done for me, which I will never be able to thank the people involved enough for. My mom was in intensive care in AZ, I live in CO. I was working at a nursing home and had no money to go see her and a very un-cooperative brother who was down there to get my info on mom through. I was asking one of the nurses what she thought of my mom’s condition (as much as I knew) while cutting her hair. She said “So you’re going down there, right?” I told her that I had no money to go. Four hours later I was called into the Social Services office and informed I had $400 my co-workers had chipped in and I needed to book my flight. I got to see my mom before she passed. I will never be able to adequately express my gratitude.

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Molly August 25, 2011 at 9:29 pm

I don’t think it is fair to compare fundraising for a serious illness to fundraising for a new baby or wedding. People choose to have babies or get married, and have the option to spend a minimum amount of money. People do not choose to get cancer or other illnesses, nor can they opt to “do cancer on the cheap.”

I can understand not feeling the need to contribute if you don’t know the person, but frankly, empathy towards others is something that makes us human. On some level, if someone is in trouble, you should consider it your responsibility to help them, even if they are a stranger and even if your contribution is tiny. If you don’t want to spend money, I think it is absolutely fine. However, you may consider giving a kind word, sending good thoughts/prayers, or even just holding your tongue about things that annoy you.

As for the idea that this fundraiser is meant to guilt us into giving money, it may be so. However, when I feel guilt, I view it as a warning signal that I am doing something wrong. If you are confident that your actions or lack of actions are justifiable, I don’t think you will feel much guilt. Therefore, if you do feel guilt, you may want to reflect on why you feel that way rather than complaining about the source that caused your guilt.

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Elephantschild August 25, 2011 at 9:33 pm

POD to Carolyn and others. (Assuming the person in question knew about it and was OK with it, of course.)

If you don’t want to help … well, don’t.

(And we don’t all have a union to lobby when benefits stink, either. That’s an interesting assumption.)

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Marna August 25, 2011 at 9:42 pm

The only thing(s) that I could find faut with here are that (1) the request came through official channels and (2) the amount of specific health information disclosed to all and sundry. Simply wanting to help financially bothers me not at all. It doesn’t sound like anyone is being strong-armed into donating. If the company is arge enough to support an actual fund-raising event (and large enough that the OP doesn’t even KNOW the recipient), it probably is large enough that his or her lack of participation won’t be noticed.

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KitKat August 25, 2011 at 9:45 pm

Question: why does no one ever think to donate a dish? Maybe it’s where I’m from but when something big happens (pregnant mothers on bed rest, family death, etc….), people bring a dish one night a week until the person gets into the swing of things. I understand that many treatments are expensive but I think I’d rather not have to worry about dinner on top of everything else.

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MidoriBird August 25, 2011 at 11:13 pm

I live in a section of the country hit very hard by economic depression. Seeing this sort of thing is not new to me in the slightest when a family is trying to make every effort possible to raise money for medical bills, by holding cook-offs, raffles, coin collection from stores, etc.

Imagine what must go on in one’s mind as they see their medical bills pile up into the tens of thousands, and then the hundreds of thousands?

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LBC August 25, 2011 at 11:21 pm

Pandora: No, it’s not new. Barbecue lunches are the common thing down here in Texas when somebody needs chemo or a kidney transplant or whatever and their insurance doesn’t cover enough of it. Sometimes they do a blood drive at the same time–give blood, get pecan pie! (The blood isn’t necessarily specifically for the ill person, of course.)

It’s easy to pass it off as “entitlement” but for most of us, a serious illness really is a major financial hit. If you can’t work, your insurance doesn’t pay your rent, food, gas so you can get to the hospital, etc. It’s not only the cost of treatment. And chances are you’ll owe a lot out of pocket for treatment, too, unless you have a truly phenomenal health plan.

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Leslie Holman-Anderson August 25, 2011 at 11:43 pm

Dear KitKat — a hot dish/casserole is a traditional gesture in many communities. But cancer patients are different than a pregnancy or death in the family. If they’re able to be at home, they have to have limited exposure to outsiders because their immune systems are compromised, and are also very limited as to what they can eat — if they can eat. They certainly couldn’t eat food from an unfamiliar home kitchen. If they’re hospitalized, not only do the foregoing apply, but the family is taking most of their dinners at the hospital. And frankly, when it comes to the expenses associated with cancer treatment, meals are the least of their worries. They will in most cases lose their jobs, their spouse may lose his or her job for taking so much time off, and in many cases, the combined loss of income and unpayable medical expense bankrupts them and they lose their home. $4 worth of tuna casserole isn’t much help.

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WhirlyBird August 26, 2011 at 1:37 am

Someone questioned the motivations of the band playing, because it is a co-worker. The fact is, likely in a benefit situation, the people who are most likely to donate their time/ services are people who in fact know the person who is being benefitted. Also, sadly, many people will not donate if they feel that there isn’t some return on that investment.

I guess the problem I see with benefits is that it seems that people find out there is an illness, and immediately start organizing a benefit. It’s one thing if the person/family have exhausted other means of paying for treatment, its a completely different thing if they haven’t even tried. A former co-worker, who lives in the same town I do, recently found out their daughter needs some treatment. Days later, they were holding a benefit. Big contrast to my partner’s former co-worker, who had been undergoing treatment for a couple years, and her family, including parents and siblings, were tapped out. To me, it seems as though there is a growing sense of entitlement by SOME who experience a serious illness to have a benefit thrown to pay expenses.

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Stepmomster August 26, 2011 at 2:11 am

We have a tradition for passing cards around our office for everything. Births, Deaths, in sickness and in health… but the fundraisers are incredibly quiet, word of mouth affairs. We have held 2 fundraisers this year. The first was for a cleaning lady’s family. Her minimum wage and benefits were laughable, and she passed away on the job from a sudden heart attack. My company paid the entire funeral expenses after matching what was donated through workers throughout the plant. There was no email, HR ladies walked around and quietly passed around cards and people donated as they chose. The second was for a man to fly across the country to be with his wife, who got in a car accident on a trip with her sister and was in very critical condition. He didn’t have the money to get to her, so a bunch of co-workers ran around that day gathering money for him. Sometimes politeness does take a back seat to desperate situations, in that case, nobody was offended about that money grab. She passed away a few weeks later in that same hospital.

Today, to our horror, a well meaning person realized a co-worker has been out on sick leave for a long time, and sent around a huge get well card filled with wish you were here, and “get better soon! we have a lot of work left for you!” and the worst, “get better soon slacker! JK, hope you feel better quick” Everyone who knew why he was gone cringed and signed it, we didn’t tell our co-worker that the sick man had left due to terminal illness because he wished to go without a fuss.

Sometimes, you can’t win them all. In your situation I think the letter was written with the best of intentions, and the money was better for the person than politeness. Life or death situations can’t always be covered by politeness; although we should try.

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bunnyface August 26, 2011 at 2:55 am

In response to MGB:
“I have had to be a grinch in similar circumstances twice in the last three years. Both times were very sad cases and people did die later. I felt at the time that the organizers were “highjacking” a very sad circumstance to aggrandize themselves. They were the “most” sympathetic they seemed to suggest. And, the implication that the rest of us would sit idly by and say or do nothing was insulting.”

But you just said you did nothing, so why is it insulting?

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C.M.L. August 26, 2011 at 7:49 am

I see nothing wrong with this, except perhaps the inclusion of personal medical information in the email. Recently, a co-worker of my husband’s was diganosed with brain cancer. He took a long leave of absence and eventually, once he was done with surgery and much of his rehabilitation, the office held a fund-raiser in his benefit. It was held in a local park. Everything was donated, from the food to the raffle baskets. People brought cassaroles for the sick co-worker. And, best of all, he was able to see everyone from work and interact with them again. A large part of being ill means spending time in the hospital, away from friends, family and work. It’s easy to think in this situation that you have been forgotten. Being able to attend a potluck with one’s friends is a huge step in the right direction to recovery and CAN be celebratory. Personally, I think it’s touching and appropriate to remind a sick co-worker that their colleagues wish them the best. And if people want to donate toward medical bills, why not let them? Any of us can easily be in this position.

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MellowedOne August 26, 2011 at 8:32 am

The more appropriate comparison of this case to a telethon would be if the telethon called people and asked them to give. Some people would have no problem with this. Many others take issue because they feel pressured to do something that is typically done from the heart.

Reminds me of the dreaded annual United Way campaigns they had at the company I worked for. Every year, you had to fill out a form to turn in, even if you contributed nothing. To me that was a subtle but (probably) effective pressure tactic on those who did not want not to contribute.

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WrenskiBaby August 26, 2011 at 8:56 am

Not my observation, but from a friend: What will happen when the next person in the company is ill? Will he or she get a big fundraiser, too? What about those who are more private with their illnesses, but are in similar desperate straits?

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Margo August 26, 2011 at 8:57 am

I’m fortunate enough to live in a country which has universal health care so illnesses of this kind don’t have quite the same financial punch,but I don’t feel that this is rude or inppropriate.

I would be concerned,(as others have said) if the mediacl information was disclosed without the person’s knowledge or consent, but other than that, this seems to me a perfectly reasonable, and thoughtful thing to do. Well wishes (and prayers, if you believe) are all very well, but they don’t pay the bills.

No one is pressured to give money or other help, there are several options as to different ways those who wish to help, can.

Of course, there is nothing to stop any of the co-workers also using this an an opportunity to try to encourage the employer to help out, too, whether it is specific to this employee or more generally.

(And they may already have done so. We had an employee who sadly died from cancer last year. We carried on paying her sick-pay for the final three months of her life, after her days off and sick pay were all used up. It wasn’t made public and I don’t know whether any of the other employees were aware of it. )

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Chicalola August 26, 2011 at 9:08 am

I completely disagree. Coming from someone who has battled cancer, and been supported by my co-workers and friends/family, there is no greater show of support. How amazing is it that these co-workers were willing to spend their time and money to help a person who really needed it? Sometimes it isn’t even about the money. When you see others fighting for your health, it helps you to fight as well. All you have to do is say no or not attend if you feel it’s so awful. Having fun at the ill person’s expense was not the intention. A lot of events like this keep the mood up…..I think it helps to “celebrate” the person and really give motivation to help them. And I can say, having full insurance….not everything is covered. And then you take in to account traveling for appointments far away, and other things that add up.

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Angela August 26, 2011 at 9:29 am

So the co-workers organized a benefit and sent out information about it? I’m having trouble seeing why this is so terrible. Going to your office and demanding money is bad. Organizing something that is off-premises and optional and then telling people is not bad. If you don’t want to go, don’t go. And I’m in agreement with some of the others about expenses. Regardless of insurance, a person with a serious illness can end up in serious debt. Not cool.
As for the medical details, those were probably excessive but in a small or close-knit workplace, everyone knew those things anyway.

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emma August 26, 2011 at 9:31 am

Two very different circumstances: a young boy (13) is going through a second bout of cancer that I know from our church. Friends and family organized a small fund raiser and we went and donated. It made us feel good to contribute something besides prayer to their circumstance since just sending them a check in the mail would feel weird. People are also making meals, etc. since the mom and boy are spending a lot of time in the hospital and there are two other kids at home.

Second circumstance: A woman at a company with three small locations (about 30 people each location) has serious cancer (she is mid 30’s with two small children). The company formed a committee and put on a very well organized fund raiser. Similar letters to the OP were sent to ALL industry partners (hundreds) and tons of people showed up to the fund raiser. They even accepted credit cards. I hear they raised something like 50 thousand dollars. It seems almost obscene compared to the little boy’s family that I know. I did feel pressured to donate since I have a business relationship with that company. I think friends and family – fine, company donations – no way.

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Lilac August 26, 2011 at 10:14 am

I hope I never become the type of person that would be irritated about being INVITED (not strong-armed) to a fundraiser to benefit someone who is seriously ill. When I first read this post I thought, “Wow–just wow–this person must never have had any money or helath worries in their family that they could begrudge someone having a benefit held in their honor for a financially and emotionally devastating illness.” I also find it incredible that anyone could equate a fundraiser to a BABY SHOWER. Seriously?? In my neck of the woods benefits are very common. You can CHOOSE to go or to not go. In fact, a friend’s niece was the honoree at a benefit about a year ago. It was a spaghetti dinner with a raffle. She was very happy to be the focus of so much love and support from her community. Many businesses and individuals donated prizes with the proceeds helping to offset monumental health related costs. Both her parents have good jobs (with VERY good insurance) but she has had to have 4 or 5 brain surgeries for cancer at the Mayo since she was a toddler. She has to be checked every few months to make sure there is no new growth which means lots of traveling. Health insurance has covered much of it but costs for transportation, lodging, etc just keep mounting. In situations such as this, the idea that signing a card or sending flowers could in anyway be adequate or helpful is mindboggling. If you are friendly enough with the person involved to sign a card or send flowers why wouldn’t you be comfortable being INVITED to a benefit? If you are not friendly, why would you think you should sign a card for this person who is a stranger to you and vice versa? If they don’ t know you, your signature is meaningless. Seriously–sending a bouquet is nice if someone is in the hospital with a broken leg. For a family with a loved one suffering a prolonged illness? That money spent on flowers would have been better spent on a tank of gas.

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Bint August 26, 2011 at 10:16 am

I find this uncomfortable because there is far too much personal information in this email to be sent out at work. Also, I would rather keep donating to cancer charities than just help out one person’s medical bills – unless I know them. Obviously the people who sent this out mean well but if I didn’t know the woman I wouldn’t go.

It’s very sad people are in this situation, but I don’t really think this is the way to go about it in a professional setting; it’s done quite crudely. It’s way overboard to list diagnosis and treatment etc and makes it smack of emotional blackmail. If I were the woman and someone listed that on an email sent out to my work I’d be livid. There’s no way on earth I’d want them knowing that about me!

I am so grateful for the NHS and my PMI.

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--E August 26, 2011 at 10:23 am

This doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

Many communities–residents of a geographic region or the “residents” of a particular social group (e.g. “writers” or “lawyers”)–hold fundraisers to help out individuals who are faced with health-care challenges that will destroy them financially, or be impossible to address at all without financial assistance.

Sending out such a letter in what may be a large corporation seems a little unusual, but the missive is low-pressure. It doesn’t directly ask for donations, merely notes where they can be made.

You’ll be surprised at what people will do for strangers. One of the assistants in my office lost everything she owned in a fire. I posted a paypal donation link on my blog, which often focuses on book-publishing (my field). The blog is read by, at most, 100 people a day, yet people who don’t even know ME personally came through with donations, raising several hundred dollars. I framed the request as a community request–in publishing, we all know what it was like to be earning less than minimum wage (when calculating unpaid overtime) at entry level.

As for “celebrating”–that’s an individual thing, often cultural. I’m Irish-American, and for my family at least, the stereotype is 100% accurate. I’ve never been to a wake that didn’t involve a lot of laughing. (The funerals tend to be somewhat more somber, though my sister laid out a good joke when she gave the eulogy at our father’s funeral. Dad would have laughed right along with us.)

When my family members are in the hospital, we crack jokes. It breaks the tension and brings relief to the person who may be worrying about their prospects. And heck, if it’s your last weeks on Earth, shouldn’t they be as laughter-filled as possible? YMMV, but that’s how my family rolls.

The only thing about this letter that bothers me is the medical specifics. They’ve been redacted, here, so perhaps they weren’t as bad as I’m imagining. There’s a level of “She has cancer and needs expensive chemo treatments for 12 weeks” that would be acceptable.

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--E August 26, 2011 at 10:27 am

Mellowed One: My company used to do the United Way thing, too, with the forms to turn in regardless of if you were donating.

I simply never turned in a form. One year (out of…seven?) someone from HR called me to ask where my form was. I said I wasn’t going to turn it in. She was completely flummoxed by this answer, but said, “Oh, okay,” and hung up. That was it. They still continued to promote me and give me decent raises, so I don’t think it had an deleterious effect. In a company the size of that one (600-800 people on site) it’s incredibly improbable that I was the only person who did that.

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GroceryGirl August 26, 2011 at 10:38 am

I’m sorry, I see nothing wrong with this. The letter appears to be very polite and mentions several times that there is no pressure to add money, it is purely voluntary and that is made abundantly clear. This is no Gimme Pig, this person didn’t ask to be sick and THEY aren’t even asking for money! Their well-meaning coworkers are! I find it somewhat offensive that you broke it down to be “I have cancer, let’s party” these fund raisers are a chance not just to help offset the medical costs but also to show support for the sick party. A close friend of my cousin’s was sick with a brain tumor for several years. His friends held a successful fund-raiser for him; unfortunately he passed away several months later but isn’t it nice that his family doesn’t have to deal with a great debt as well as grief?

This is no breach of etiquette, these are well-intentioned people trying to help a friend in a time of need. Well wishes are wonderful but how much good will that giant card do when they are foreclosing on this person’s house?

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lkb August 26, 2011 at 10:44 am

While I guess it could have been worded a little bit better (i.e., more compassionately for the family), I can overlook the wording here because it is a sincere effort to help someone in need. Not everyone is a professional fund-raiser but generally I think everyone wants to do something. Perhaps the co-worker who is performing really does look at offering the performance as his/her way to help. If you don’t have money, give of your time or talent. I don’t have a problem with that.

Would I attend? Depends on if I knew the person (or the people involved). But I don’t see anything here forcing anyone to attend or give.

The only possible problem I see is the amount of personal/financial information given about the patient and/or his/her family. I hope he/she/they “approved this message” as our U.S. presidential candidates say.

My vote is to give the organizers a break. “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” (I think Chesterton said that.)

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J's Mama August 26, 2011 at 10:47 am

At one of my sister’s old places of employment, a fellow co-worker was trying to raise money for a relative whose baby was stillborn. In the breakroom, there was a story about it, included with a picture of the deceased infant. They were trying to solicit donations to help pay for the burial expenses. My sister and all of her fellow workers thought this was horribly in bad taste. When she told me what happened, my jaw almost dropped to the floor. Our baby was stillborn a few months before this, and it never occurred to me to do something like that within the workplace.

I’ve given money toward various personal fundraisers at work. I base it on how well I know the person. It doesn’t bother me though, to get an email about it.

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Another Laura August 26, 2011 at 11:19 am

Maybe instead of being an email invite to everyone it could have just been a poster displayed in the breakroom announcing “Benefit concert and raffle” with date, time, location and who was being benefited as well as the name of the band, and some of the higher end raffle items. Or if an email was felt to be “neccessary” because there is no breakroom or it isn’t a very high traffic area it could be worded:
“Dear [Workplace] Community: “[Colleague Name,] dear friend to many of us at [Workplace], has recently been diagnosed with [Name of Serious Illness]. We would like to help. “Please help us in sending [Colleague and Spouse] our best wishes for a speedy recovery by signing a giant get well card. The card is located at [Workplace Location]. “In addition, please consider helping financially. Join our very own [Other Colleague] and his band [Band Name] at [Local Music and Dining Establishment] at [Date and Time]. There will be a collection box, a 50/50 raffle and a raffle of donated items, which will be available for viewing during dinner hours. All of the proceeds will go straight to [Colleague and Spouse] to help offset some of the medical expenses they are facing. If you have and questions, please contact [Name of Contact Person]. “Sincerely, [Names of Well-Meaning Co-workers]“

This is basically a careful editing of the original email with inappropriate personal info removed and nothing mentioned about what a “good time” it will be. Those were the things I found offensive about the original invitation. I personally have no problem with fundraising programs held for individuals/families if they are well worded, and seem to be a “good cause.”

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Hemi Halliwell August 26, 2011 at 12:13 pm

I think this is a tough one. Yes, you want to help a co-worker and it certainly seems like you would not be singled out if you chose not to participate but… sharing personal medical info? Seems like an invasion of privacy. I do sympathize with families going through something like this- it must be incredibly tough. I think I disagree with the mass email and sharing the personal details. I also think if you collect/fundraise for this co-worker, you should do it for all co-workers having hard times, medically, financially or what have you.

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Millie August 26, 2011 at 12:22 pm

I read this yesterday and went away because I was so infuriated by the lack of empathy and consideration. Is there anything more rude than a lack of compassion for others? I think not.
I am frankly flummoxed that anyone would find fund-raising to pay for necessary medical treatments so distasteful. What’s distasteful is the fact that in our country, medical care requires fund-raising far too often.

I have a relative who gave birth to a child with massive birth defects. The parents were both hard-working people with good jobs, a basic house (nothing fancy) and did not live over their means, but well within their means. They had insurance — Blue Cross/Blue Shield. It paid 80% and they paid 20%. By the time the child was 4 months old, they were in hock for over $250K. And that was just the beginning as the child was expected to have a normal life expectancy. They took out a second mortgage on the home, sold everything they could and didn’t make a dent in the logarithmically expanding bills. They were dunned by collections agents for hospital and doctors constantly. Her workplace held a fund-raiser for her that raised enough money to pay for the their mortgage for a few months, giving them a much needed cushion and some relief from stress for a short while.

So I think of my relative and how that office fund-raiser gave her room to breathe while she was dealing with the nightmare. I also think of the coworker at the child’s funeral who said to my relative — the child’s mother — “Well, at least we won’t have to do any more fund-raisers for you.” To say that I wish that person to e-hell doesn’t come close to plumbing the depths of my animosity toward him.

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Library Diva August 26, 2011 at 12:52 pm

I work for a community newspaper and process submissions like the above all the time. Sometimes, the benefit is for someone still alive to raise funds to help them. Other times, it’s in honor of someone who has died to support research or prevention of whatever killed them. I really don’t see what’s wrong with them. I don’t think everyone needs to know every gory, intimate detail of the person’s situation, as OP described, but otherwise, I think it’s nice to see a community coming together to help one of its own.

You can’t plan for every eventuality. Sometimes life just smacks someone hard. To the person who says that they save to cover their own emergencies and don’t see why other people can’t, too, you’d be suprised how fast you can run through even a considerable reserve if enough terrible things happen to you. And yes, it’s good to advocate for benefits change, but that comes at a glacial pace. Sometimes it’s not possible. I work at a small company and the large insurers just don’t offer much for us. Our benefits folks do the best they can, but it’s not very good just because of the way the system is.

Organizers also have to make the event enjoyable, or no one will come. Even if you don’t know the person and do view it as a chance to hear some music and win a prize, so what? How is that any different than those who make charitable contributions only to gain the tax write-offs? How is different than going to see friends, going because you like the band, or going because you have nothing better to do? The result is still that you help a person in need, and they make the event fun so that more people will come than just the person’s immediate circle.

It’s unfortunate that American society needs these types of events. But they do, and until that changes, I don’t see a problem with these types of events as long as there’s no pressure and the TMI is kept to a minimum.

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Serenity S. August 26, 2011 at 1:18 pm

This is quite common in my area. I have no problem with this type of benefit. One poster equated a fundraising benefit for someone with a serious illness with a person begging for money to go on a mission trip. I don’t see the similarity at all. I think there is a huge difference between potentially helping to save someone’s life, or being asked by someone who is capable of working for a free trip. I think the only way the benefit would have been rude would be if the sick person’s condition was disclosed against their wishes.

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MellowedOne August 26, 2011 at 1:28 pm

–E: And I turned in my form year after year with no amount contributed. However, I can imagine that while there are those who, as easily as you and I did, made our decision not to contribute, there are also those who felt they should contribute “at least a little something” just to avoid being thought of as stingy.

And no one should feel they “have” to give for that reason.

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Calli Arcale August 26, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Whether or not it’s tacky would depend on 1) frequency of such requests, 2) the nature of the emergencies, 3) whether or not there was pressure to contribute, and 4) whether or not the office culture is a “one big family” one or “cogs in a wheel”. If you’re all cogs, you have no incentive to help one another out unless you happen to be friends, and then a request like this is awfully presumptuous. If you’re one big family, e-mails like this can help with the problem of everybody bugging their managers and HR about how they can help.

Sometimes, even with what seems like really good insurance, a big enough disaster can overwhelm a person. I know one in particular where everyone at the company was overwhelmingly eager to help, because it was just such a massively tragic thing that happened. (No, I won’t share the story, though it was big enough to dominate local news for a while.) It’s about more than just the insurance; knowing people care for you and have got your back can be enormously moralizing in what can be a terrible slog otherwise.

In some ways, it’s almost worse when you can’t do anything for them because you don’t find out about it until it’s all over and you can’t do anything for them personally. I’ve had two coworkers who died suddenly; the mass e-mail that went out was to inform everybody why they weren’t at the office, where people could find the obituary, and what the families’ wishes were with respect to memorials. In neither case did they leave survivors in a financial pickle, fortunately, but it was hard to come to terms with the situation all the same.

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