Over on Sick Days, alantru complains about sponsorship blagging at work. I do feel his pain, rather. I was full of flu the last time that the Meander for Life was taking place, and was fuzzyheadedly watching people run round the University parks. When I had staggered from our picnic spot to the toilets and back, passing distance markers on the way, I calculated that my infection-ridden micturitional jaunt had taken me two fifths of the course that others were being sponsored to walk round. Where was my arts-council funding, eh?
But there’s more to sponsorship at work than the mere capitalist exchange of a suitable cash award for labour and services rendered. Sponsorship is a social lubricant. It’s like making the tea: you don’t offer a cuppa to your nearest handful of colleagues because you look from one face to the other and calculate that each person needs the specific amount of caffeine, fluid intake and milk solids that a drink of tea would provide; you do it because people make tea for other people. It’s a focal point for the most basic office relationships: chatting, caring about others, and the basic acknowledgement that your co-workers do exist.
Similarly, to sponsor someone to do something they wouldn’t otherwise do—whether running, cooking or sitting in beans—is to imply that you have an interest in helping them to develop themselves, and an interest in their interests, and an emotional attachment to the charitable causes that they have an emotional attachment to. Sponsored walks, runs, hops, cycle rides, not-using-a-damn-car-for-a-changes, and the sale of biscuits, flapjacks, tiffin, cake and disgusting home-made sweets should be seen if nothing else as a break from tedium: better, they’re an expression of initiative on the part of the person wanting to be sponsored; even better, they’re a good cause penetrating your workplace. All of this is on a very small scale—and only needs a very small donation—but each act of sponsorship is important enough that, even if you personally opt out from sponsorship at work, you need to acknowledge why the majority shouldn’t. It’s a herd immunity from the sniffling misery of an uninvolved workplace.
If someone asks you to sponsor them, you have broadly two options. These are the socially acceptable equivalent of “yes” and “no”. The “yes” is an absolute, unqualified yes. It needn’t be for a very large amount; indeed, keep the amount as small as is still respectable, as you’ll find yourself saying “yes” often. Think of a fiver as buying the person two pints at their leaving do or engagement party, grit your teeth, smile and sign. And then: pay as soon as is reasonable. Be the reliable payer. Compensate for the smallness of your donation by being the first to give it, the one they don’t have to chase for ever, and all for a miserable fucking fiver.
The “no” has to be more couched in social nicety, if not necessarily more subtle. If you genuinely don’t agree with the charity’s aims then you’re allowed to say so, but politely, and then be nice, especially to the person you’ve declined if you can, for the next day or two. If you think the event is lame, or the charity hopelessly (and especially hilariously) misguided, then you’re not allowed to say so. You have to adopt the above tactic, and if you’re being especially dismissive to ward off future events then you also have to be especially nice: make a lot of tea; bring in biscuits. At the time of going to press you’re still allowed to lie and say you’ve sponsored that event already, or you can even say you’re strapped for cash, but don’t then either (a) make fun of people with the very specific illness that that charity is fighting or (b) buy a Wii and tell everyone.
Not every supposed charitable act should be rewarded, of course, especially the ones that either the person would love to do anyway or that cause more harm than good. If someone’s asking for sponsorship to fly short-haul and wander round a particularly pretty bit of the UK, or quad-bike across a continent that’s drying up owing to climate change, then it’s socially acceptable to bellow in their face.