Invitations to Fund-Raisers, Vol. 14, Issue 33

September 9th, 2015 . by Etiquetteer

Dear Etiquetteer:

I understand that replying to invitations is Perfectly Proper. But I receive a number of invitations to fund-raising events, some from organizations I strongly support and some from organizations I rarely or never support. Do I need to RSVP when I’m not going to an event?

Dear Invited:

There’s a difference between a strictly social invitation and an invitation to a fund-raiser. One is invited to the first solely for the pleasure of one’s company, but to the latter for the potential of one’s largesse. Other etiquette writers have suggested that one need not respond to invitations for gallery openings or for Home Retail Opportunities – to buy, for instance, jewelry or kitchen supplies – from a friend who facilitates buying parties in private homes. No matter how sociable the event, its real purpose is for one to spend money. Etiquetteer would suggest that this, too, applies to fund-raising events, though their sociability becomes more and more impacted with the accretion of speeches and live auctions.

But as with everything else, there are exceptions. If you are invited personally by a friend to buy tickets to fill a table at some big affair, a Gentle Decline after the first appeal will save you from second, third, and fourth appeals.

You may wish to use the reply card to send a request to be dropped from their invitation lists (as opposed to their mailing lists altogether), writing “I prefer to support your organization in absentia.”

Teacup


How to Respond to Hospitality, Vol. 14, Issue 25

June 11th, 2015 . by Etiquetteer

Dear Etiquetteer:

Can you tell me whether you think people who have been good guests at a dinner party or cocktail party (separate answers I think) – brought a hostess gift, behaved well, etc. – should also email or call the next day to say thanks? If they don’t, were they unhappy with the party?

Dear Hosting:

When a Lovely Note of Thanks has not been received, it’s always more charitable to assume Incompetence rather than Malice. Possibly your guests were taken ill, swept up in current events, anxious at the thought of finding something original to say about your party (which is completely unnecessary), or just too lazy to find your zip code. Regardless, their failure to express gratitude for your hospitality is no reflection on the hospitality you provided.

Etiquetteer may be the Lone Holdout in considering the Lovely Note more important than the hostess gift, but the expression of thanks afterward means ten times as much as the “payment for services rendered” sometimes implied by that bottle of wine. Few things reassure a host or hostess as much as the confirmation from guests of a “job well done,” that one’s efforts have not only been recognized, but appreciated. Too many people, Etiquetteer would suggest, feel daunted by the need to express themselves originally. But writing a Lovely Note certainly doesn’t take as much effort as picking out a bottle of wine. (Etiquetteer can just hear the oenophiles shuddering as they read this.)

You are more accommodating than Etiquetteer is in terms of how you’d allow these Lovely Notes to be delivered, suggesting email and telephone as options without even considering a handwritten note – which even today Etiquetteer is loath to refer to as “old-fashioned.” Communications unavoidably evolve with technology; this is not necessarily bad, but it’s made many people careless. While it was once the only way to communicate at all, now – with the near-universal adoption of the Internet – handwritten correspondence now signifies a special effort to express sincerity and appreciation. This is why Etiquetteer continues to think it’s the best way to convey thanks for hospitality received.

Etiquetteer hopes that you will not let the neglect of your guests cause you further anxiety, and that you’ll set them a good example with your own Lovely Notes after they entertain you in turn.

Penpoint


Thoughts on Fund-Raising Events, Vol. 14, Issue 18

March 23rd, 2015 . by Etiquetteer

Earlier this winter the Boston Globe published a piece on “gala fatigue,” the weariness faced by members of the business community at having to attend night after night of fund-raising dinners that blur into similarity. Etiquetteer, who has both planned and attended his share of fund-raisers, read it with interest, and considered what might be done to Put the Fun Back in Fund-Raising.

Most fund-raising organizations planning events operate on the mistaken notion that people attend them because they want to support and learn more about their cause. Etiquetteer, perhaps cynically, would suggest that people attend them because they want to get a tax deduction for having a good time with their friends and, incidentally, support something worthy. All the speeches – the endless, endless speeches – get in the way of that good time. The growing number of “set-piece” remarks has seen the podium colonize every aspect of a dinner, from dessert (where they belong) through every course of the meal, starting with the salad. This effectively eliminates any opportunity to converse with fellow diners, and more often than not leads guests to leave the table to seek refuge among the silent auction items. Not only does this make table talk difficult for those who remain, it also creates difficulties for the waiters, whose already difficult task of nimbly weaving among tables with heavy trays becomes more complicated when having to dodge oblivious guests standing in the way and chairs that have been left out as obstacles.

Another aspect is the “rubber chicken” problem, the assumptions that chicken is the most universally accepted entr√©e protein, and that hotel kitchens routinely produce bland, uninspired menus. Both are untrue. Etiquetteer will never forget attending a black-tie dinner for 1,000 people several years ago at which brisket was served as the main course. Brisket. Brisket! Savory in presentation and delightful in its novelty, Etiquetteer thinks more gala committees should look beyond chicken to the unexpected. And while hotel kitchens have a bland reputation for a reason, that’s mostly history. Great strides are made at every event to get guests to realize they’re facing something delicious.

Of course these days too many people are too fussy about their food. While Etiquetteer certainly appreciates modern medicine – even the late Diana Vreeland acknowledged the benefits of penicillin, as other writers have pointed out – it’s allowed too many people to disguise mere preferences as “allergies.” Etiquetteer wants to serve them all a heaping helping of Shut Up and Eat.

It’s interesting to note how, in the moment, some sort of souvenir of the evening becomes meaningful. It’s not always what it is, but how¬†it’s presented that makes it stand out. At one black-tie evening, Etiquetteer noticed a run on thematic charms that had been used to tie the napkins as part of the table setting. One lady commandeered those of her dinner companions to make a necklace. One another occasion, guests were each offered a small black velvet bag with a surprise inside on leaving the dining room. Etiquetteer will confess to not being a fan of the “swag bag” at formal events – especially when they turn out to be almost all promotional literature – but admits that that’s a case of Personal Preference, not Perfect Propriety.

So, what does Etiquetteer recommend?

  • In addition to a dollar goal, make creating positive memories for your guests a priority.
  • Preserve time in the evening for guests to talk to each other.
  • Halve the spoken program. Halve it. Create other ways to communicate your story. Be ruthless.
  • Reconsider the menu and serve something other than chicken.
  • Inject the unexpected. Whether it’s a surprise guest, an unusual trinket, a special performance, or a big announcement for your organization, let Astonishment take a role in your evening.

Have fun, and best wishes for a successful event!

champersinvite

Etiquetteer’s Spring Madness of Pet Peeves is still on! Voting for Round III ends this weekend, and the champion pet peeves in each division have yet to be named. Join the fun and vote here!


The Price of Hospitality, Vol. 14, Issue 3

January 19th, 2015 . by Etiquetteer

It’s one thing to dream idly of exacting vengeance on Those Who Have Wronged One, but it is never Perfectly Proper to follow through, as Julie Lawrence of Cornwall is discovering, Etiquetteer hopes to her sorrow.

Ms. Lawrence held a birthday party for her child. And just as at parties for grownups, someone who said he was coming didn’t come after all. In this case it was five-year-old Alex Nash, who was already scheduled to spend time with his grandparents that day. Now double bookings happen, and when discovered they involve a certain amount of groveling from the Absentee Guest and tolerant understanding from the Neglected Host (who may choose to use caution when issuing any future invitations), if the social relationship is to continue.

Ms. Lawrence, for whatever reason, chose instead of send an invoice for the cost of entertaining Young Master Nash to his parents. You will not be surprised to learn that Etiquetteer has a Big Problem with this, for a few reasons. First of all, how on earth is this going to affect the ongoing social relationship of Young Master Nash and the Unnamed Birthday Child? How embarrassing for both of them, especially since they will continue to have to see each other at school whether or not their friendship has survived this Social Mishap. For Heaven’s sake, won’t someone think of the children?!

Second, hospitality is supposed to be freely given, without expectation of reciprocity. Though recipients of hospitality are moved by Perfect Propriety to reciprocate, this should not be expected. For hospitality to be freely given, in this case, means accepting the expense of Absent Guests with Good Humor. Etiquetteer understands how frustrating it is spending money on guests who don’t show up, but if one is not willing and able to suffer absentees more gracefully, one should not be entertaining socially. And to describe oneself as “out of pocket” suggests that one is Entertaining Beyond One’s Means.

And lastly, for this to be paraded so publicly – well, Etiquetteer can see the entire community questioning Ms. Lawrence’s judgement and ability to raise a child by behaving this way.

The Nash family, however, comes in for its share of disapproval, since it appears they didn’t try to contact Ms. Lawrence before the party to say that Young Master Nash would be unable to attend.

Under the circumstances, it doesn’t look like these families have any interest in Social Reconciliation, but if they do it will involve Lovely Notes of Contrition on both sides.

Long story short, don’t make a scene.


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