Beat Bureaucracy

Case Study 4   Use the 4 Simple Rules for Beating Bureaucracy        30 minutes

Scenario: A charity refuses to issue a tax receipt for a $1200 donation

A young woman decided to hold a concert to raise money for cancer research at the North American Cancer Institute. She asked local musicians to perform and local artists to donate paintings to be sold during an auction at the concert. She notified the North American Cancer Institute, which thanked her for her efforts.

The concert did not raise any money because the turnout was small and the organizer had to pay for a sound system and auditorium rental. Afterwards one of the artists contacted the Institute, asking for a tax receipt for a painting of his that was auctioned off during the concert. He placed a value of $1200 on the painting in accordance with a gallery’s written evaluation.

The Institute’s fund-raiser explained that she could not issue a receipt because the Institute did not receive any money from the concert. She said that the federal income tax department had strict rules about this, and that violating federal regulations might jeopardize the Institute’s tax-exempt status as a charity. That would harm the Institute’s ability to help people with cancer.

The artist cries foul

The artist said this was unfair, and that the Institute should have given the concert organizer information about tax receipts for distribution to artists. He pointed out that it would have taken the Institute very little time to write up this information, and that he had voluntarily given up the $1200 sale price of the painting to help cancer research.

Two days later the artist sent an email reiterating his request for a tax receipt and providing his rationale in detail. He included a copy of the art gallery’s evaluation of his painting. He followed up with a phone call to ask the fund-raiser if she had reconsidered. She said no.

The artist then called the director of the Institute and explained his position. The director told the artist he supported the fundraiser's decision. The artist then sent an email and made a follow-up phone call to the director, saying he was finding the Institute’s position extremely frustrating, and surprising considering its excellent reputation. He said he had spoken to a tax accountant who said he thought the Institute would not be in jeopardy with the Tax Department if it issued a receipt in this situation.

The director called the National Manager of Accounting who, after hearing about the phone calls and reading the emails, said: “Give him the damn receipt.”

Exercise

How did the artist follow on his road to success? Beside each rule below, write down what the artist did.

Who's in charge? Don’t complain to employees who have no authority to solve problems. Ask for a supervisor and don't take no for an answer. If necessary go all the way to the top.

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Be persuasive. Explain in detail why you should receive assistance. Be reasonable rather than cranky or accusing. You may wish to begin with a phone call, but always put your appeal in writing and attach evidence — bureaucracies run on paper. If there is an official appeal process, use it.

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Be persistent. Don’t let the system wear you down. Wear it down. Don’t give up because you’re tired or frustrated — friends, family and support organizations can bring fresh ideas and energy to the battle.

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Push back, hard. If your appeal is rejected, call the bureaucracy to account. Bureaucracies try to look invulnerable. Find their weaknesses. They may fear bad news coverage or phone calls to government ministers or a web campaign against them.

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Feedback on your work

After you finish the exercise, compare your ideas to the recommendations of the Bureaucracy Navigator.