Charity Gala Etiquette: The Do’s and Don’ts of Attending Formal Fundraisers

By Jean Shafiroff

by ELYSIAN Magazine

Serving on eight charity boards, I have had the honor to chair countless charity galas and to host dozens of parties in my homes for charity. With this in mind, I’d like to share some helpful rules on charity gala etiquette. Be mindful of these rules when attending a charity gala, as they are critical – just like the rules for attending a formal dinner party.

Charity galas are sought-out events, and many people want to attend. However, if you are planning to support or attend an event, keep these key facts in consideration. Remember, you will be attending an important event – and good manners are critical!

  1. First, to attend a charity event, you must purchase a ticket unless you are an invited guest. As an invited guest, the nice thing to do is make a donation in honor of whoever invited you or in honor of the charity. Never crash an event or call up a charity group asking for a free ticket – that is bad manners. Charities have to be run like a business. The purpose of a charity gala is to raise funds, educate people about a cause, and create visibility for the organization’s work. 
  2. Do not complain about the food, drinks, decorations, or seating arrangements. Never move around place cards. One of the most egregious things a guest or patron can do is to complain about seating or sit where they don’t belong. Complaining about the event or food is also totally inappropriate. 
  3. Make sure you follow the dress code. If the event calls for black-tie attire, do not show up in jeans or beach attire. “Black tie” means a tuxedo for men and a formal dress for women. A long dress is generally most appropriate when the invitation calls for black tie. When in doubt about the dress code, call the charity’s special events department and politely ask for clarification. 
  4. When at the dinner table, do not spend your time texting or talking on your phone. If you need to make a phone call or send a text, excuse yourself and leave the table to do so. A good guest makes conversation with other guests – but never while the speeches are taking place. 
  5. When attending an event where a seated dinner takes place, make sure you allocate enough time in your schedule to stay through the main course of the dinner. If you have to leave for any reason, make sure you politely excuse yourself at an appropriate time – not during a speech or when food is served. If you can’t stay for a served dinner and only plan to stay for the cocktail hour, inform the charity ahead of time, so they do not leave a blank place card at the seat.
  6. Remember to be polite and gracious. No one likes to be around rude or loud people. Consideration is key. Keep a smile on your face and enjoy the company that surrounds you!

Jean Shafiroff is a recognized philanthropist, author, and television host. She is the author of “Successful Philanthropy: How to Make a Life by What You Give.” She hosts the TV show “Successful Philanthropy.”

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