• Charity Fundraiser Etiquette: The Pleasure of Your Company Is Not Enough

    POSTED February 28, 2014

Charity fundraising events provide the grease that keeps the non-profit world’s wheels turning smoothly while keeping people entertained. They support good causes and promise the opportunity to have some fun, to meet friends old and new and to see and be seen. As with all human enterprises, there are some rules of etiquette that go with them, although you may not find them explicitly outlined by Miss Manners or Emily Post.

In my book, Rule #1 of charity fundraising is: "I’ll support your fundraiser if you’ll support mine." Some low-level examples everyone knows are Girl Scout cookies, wrapping paper and chocolate bars for schools or sports teams. Implicit in asking your friends to help you out is that, when their time comes, you’ll help them. The same principle applies at higher levels. For example, when a friend buys tickets - or even a table - at a charity event you support. It’s implied that you will reciprocate by purchasing tickets or a table for your friend’s next charity event. This is especially important if your friend is an event organizer or committee chair.

Rule #2 is a corollary: Accepting an invitation obligates you. Suppose your friend buys a table and invites you to attend as a guest. How do you respond? If you’d like to attend you should plan to make a donation to your friend’s charity. Some people might argue that the donation has already been made and that your friend is offering you a gift of the ticket. Technically that may be true, but ethically I don’t think it is. Among other things, a fair portion of the ticket price likely goes toward the cost of the event. Hark back to Rule #1: Your friend has asked for your support. A donation for the value of the ticket is appropriate, if you can afford to give it. But even if you can’t, a smaller donation will show your thanks and good faith, and secure your opportunity to call in the favor later for your own cause.

Rule #3 covers manners: Politeness is always appropriate. It’s surprising that people who strive to teach their children good manners sometimes forget their own. If you accept an invitation, it’s good manners to dress appropriately for the occasion. Listen with interest to the speaker and applaud after the speech or when people are being honored. If you attend a "meet and greet," or find yourself at the back of a group around a silent auction table, wait your turn. At a silent auction take the time to look over the auction items and consider bidding. Offer to buy a beverage for your host. If you don’t know your host’s other guests, be sure to introduce yourself and explain your connection.

Accepting an invitation to a charity event brings us to Rule #4: If you accept and invitation, show up. The success of the event is calculated primarily on the money raised, but secondarily whether the tables are full. Your host depends on you to honor your commitment; your presence - or lack thereof - reflects on him or her and on the charity, as well. So, when the event venue is jammed to the walls with chattering guests, it makes next year’s event that much more desirable and improves the charity’s future fundraising potential. Nothing succeeds like success.

It takes time, energy and money to make events work. An event’s success rubs off on everyone involved: the charity, its sponsors, hosts and of course, all of us who work behind the scenes on committees, in hospitality, catering, entertainment, photography and décor and everyone else working on that event. When we all do our part - and follow some simple rules of etiquette - it’s good for our personal relationships and for business, too.


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According to a recent survey by Bizzabo, nearly two-thirds of event marketers believe tools to engage virtual attendees will play a key role in 2021.


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(Interviews have been edited for flow and clarity.)


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