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 Post subject: Etiquette question - what do you all think?
PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2011 12:40 pm 
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Joined: Wed Sep 23, 2009 9:01 am
Posts: 5285
Here's a question:

My wife and I give a fair amount to a couple of specific charities that we support. Part of this includes going to evening dinner fund raising events held this time of year. A couple of weeks ago we were at an event for one of these charities and they did a couple of things that we found fairly offensive. These things were annoying enough that we did not make our typical contribution this year. But there's a bit more to it than that as I'll explain in a moment.

So here are the things they did: First off, this was an upscale event, not quite black tie but definitely very formal. When we arrived They had us listed as Mr. and Mrs. "John Smith" (that is, my name instead of John Smith). What is troubling about this is that there are many people, us included, that consider calling a woman Mrs. with her husbands first name to be a very offensive anachronism. Heck, even Ms. Manners agrees with us on that part being improper these days. We are also both "Dr." so, if they want to do the formal thing they should use that, although we don't really care about that.

Then, we sat down to dinner and they served a big hunk of beef. We don't eat beef. We had requested "no red meat" when we bough the tickets. That was completely ignored. And there did not seem to be any option except to either take the meat or not eat.

Finally, when the time came to give money at the end, our table had no envelopes for doing so. That made it pretty easy at that point to just skip it. Personally I was pretty disgusted with the treatment by then and the apparent incompetence of the organizers. And I thought it was pretty bone-headed not to make the contribution envelopes available. As I looked around the room I actually did not see many people contributing.

So, here's the dilemma - should we let all of that slide and send in a check now? Should be (discreetly) let the director know that we were offended by these things? Or should be just say nothing. We've gone to this event for several years and it has never been like this. They always served chicken and had us listed by our first names as we prefer. I have no doubt that somebody planning this event thought they were making it fancy by using the (incorrect) formal titles. I hate for the charity to suffer for this. But quite honestly I would not go next year if it is like that was again and I don't feel right about donating this year after what happened.

Now here's the thing, based on the amount we give every year I would not think we are that important. But the contributions made at last year's event were published and we were the third highest contributors! We gave more than many of the sponsors. And this event had 400-500 people attending. We typically give a few hundred dollars and most people give about $100 or less.

Truthfully, am I making too much out of this? Should we say anything? I'm inclined to give them one more chance next year but not give anything this year.

I know there are a couple of people on this list that work for non-profits. I am especially interested in how you would handle this if I brought it to your attention. On the one hand I know I might sound like a whiner but on teh other, it is very important to keep donors happy.


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 Post subject: Re: Etiquette question - what do you all think?
PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2011 12:51 pm 

Joined: Wed Oct 07, 2009 4:16 pm
Posts: 959
I think you should speak up, in real life criticism can be viewed as a good thing or a bad thing.

I choose to look at it as a good thing a building block to improve upon no matter how negative it is given.

With that said there is no reason why you can not give your opinion professionally and politely without offending anyone. If anything the few suggestions you may have could be the gripes other people may have and could possibly make the fundraiser a success in the future. Go with the sandwich method of annoucing what you liked and disliked and what they could do to improve or continue doing.

_________________
Be what you want to attract.


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 Post subject: Re: Etiquette question - what do you all think?
PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2011 1:17 pm 

Joined: Fri May 04, 2007 8:14 pm
Posts: 1749
I believe that if the cause is important to you, then the incompetence of the organizer(s) should not deter you from giving.

However, a word to the director is also important, if you were offended by the practices at the fundraiser. You would certainly be justified to decline attending future events if you found them offensive. But I think you would be remiss if you didn't provide some feedback as to when the wheels came off the bus where you were concerned. Since this has never happened before, I think they should be given a chance to improve their practices, at least to the prior standards. Where you are in the contributor pecking order should bear no relevance. All participant should be treated with respect, regardless of the amount they give (which may in part be affected by their ability to give).

And in answer to your question, if I were the director, I think I'd be anxious to know if my event was falling short of it's goal, which is persuading donors to give. Offended donors tend not to give. And of course, you do have a right to attend a function without being offended by a series of faux pas.


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 Post subject: Re: Etiquette question - what do you all think?
PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2011 1:23 pm 

Joined: Fri Sep 12, 2008 12:29 pm
Posts: 1592
Location: Seattle, WA
Since they didn't address either of you correctly as "Dr" then you should feel equally insulted (or not). How do they address other communication to either or both of you? If it's always to Mr and/or Mrs then let them know, they probably have a field in their contact/donor management software for "salutation" they can update. If it's normally correct, then this one time was probably a snafu; let them know about the mistake but don't take it personally.

I think it is definitely appropriate to send your comments to the director. For every person that complains there are a dozen who stay silent but never come back. If you stay polite, treating the mistakes as oversights, rather than whiney I'm sure your comments would be appreciated.


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 Post subject: Re: Etiquette question - what do you all think?
PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2011 1:49 pm 
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Joined: Wed Sep 23, 2009 9:01 am
Posts: 5285
fantasma wrote:
I think you should speak up, in real life criticism can be viewed as a good thing or a bad thing.

I choose to look at it as a good thing a building block to improve upon no matter how negative it is given.

With that said there is no reason why you can not give your opinion professionally and politely without offending anyone. If anything the few suggestions you may have could be the gripes other people may have and could possibly make the fundraiser a success in the future. Go with the sandwich method of annoucing what you liked and disliked and what they could do to improve or continue doing.


Thanks.

I know the beef thing is something we might be a little unusual about. If it were a wedding or something it would not be a big deal. But this was supposed to be something the please donors. I was thinking about what you said about others likely feeling the same way. We were at another event a few years ago. We were at a table with 8 people. 3 others, not including us, just happened to not eat beef or were vegetarians. So, 5 out of 8 people at the table did not eat. I would be embarrassed if I had been in charge of the menu for that function. I realize it is difficult to satisfy everyone when feeding a few hundred people. But it is also successfully done every day by some venues.


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 Post subject: Re: Etiquette question - what do you all think?
PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2011 1:59 pm 
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Joined: Wed Sep 23, 2009 9:01 am
Posts: 5285
Thanks for the comments so far. You are all making me lean now toward saying something discreetly to the director.

As for the Dr. thing, we don't actually care much about that. It's not that we want them to call us Dr. and Dr. We are fine with just first names. We just find the Mrs. John Smith thing kind of offensive these days. John and Joan Smith, Mr. John and Ms. Joan Smith, and even Mr. John and Mrs. Joan Smith in some cases. But Mrs. John Smith is only acceptable if the woman's name is John.

Another big faux pas though was a few years ago when my wife had her PhD and I did not. We routinely got stuff addressed to Dr. and Mrs. John Smith. I'm not sure if they though I was a Mrs. or what but it seemed to me to be a particular example of ignorance. But that was not done by the same organization.

Though by far the biggest was when my wife's employer, a university, sent invitations to a formal event. The male faculty were all addressed as Dr. and Mrs. X (even the few without PhDs). The female faculty were addressed as Mr. and Mrs X. The uproar was so intense that they ended up sending out an apology and a new set of invitations.


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 Post subject: Re: Etiquette question - what do you all think?
PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2011 4:45 pm 

Joined: Tue Mar 23, 2010 3:31 pm
Posts: 405
Hmm...

My gut reaction was that its not that big of a deal, but I wasnt there and to be honest I was raised in an environment that could be described as hick meets hillbilly, so I have a natural bias towards not being offended.

Along the same lines, if it bothered you then there isnt any reason not to contact the organizers and voice your complaints. If you tell them your concerns, and are ignored, then maybe look for a "competing" charity. If instead they agree to do things differently next year, then all is well.

I also liked the story about Dr and Mrs X for male doctors, but just Mr and Mrs X for female doctors. :lol:


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 Post subject: Re: Etiquette question - what do you all think?
PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2011 5:52 pm 

Joined: Mon Nov 01, 2010 5:15 pm
Posts: 1119
VinTek wrote:
I believe that if the cause is important to you, then the incompetence of the organizer(s) should not deter you from giving.

This what I say too.


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 Post subject: Re: Etiquette question - what do you all think?
PostPosted: Mon Apr 18, 2011 6:03 pm 

Joined: Sat Dec 29, 2007 9:30 am
Posts: 576
the male vs female salutation thing is a bigger deal than it may outwardly appear in my world. i am a female who holds the title of "doctor" as well. i am often the only female in groups where introductions are going around. while everyone else (dudes) were Dr. Lastname, i was often introduced by my first name only, or as any title other than doctor. this was intentional marginalization at a former location.

while not always intentional as my former experience was, i think it's about time that organizations pay attention to this already. likewise, offering menu selections that don't offend people when hosting a sizable group of people that is not the "meat dish of the month club". as you said, it's for the donors. you don't want to be pissing people off if you're going to turn around and ask them for money.

anyway, it seems you care about the cause supported by this organization. i think it's worthwhile to provide some constructive criticism and observe their response next year. it's worth another chance if they are responsive. if not... one has to wonder how well the organization is handling your donation, in my mind.


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 Post subject: Re: Etiquette question - what do you all think?
PostPosted: Tue Apr 19, 2011 5:26 am 

Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2011 8:06 am
Posts: 17
If you skipped your donation because you didn't like the reward, it wasn't a donation in the first place, it was a purchase. A donor doesn't expect anything in return, a buyer does. If you care about the charity, next year donate but don't attend the event. If you don't, stop buying their dinners.

I do, however, you think you should talk to the director of the event (preferably in person, not in a letter) about the lack of a vegetarian entree option. That is a major oversight.

I would let the name thing slide though. It's just not something you have time to think much about when organizing a big event. If you didn't like the way you were addressed, you could have politely corrected the person who used "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith" when they said it.

Names are never easy, and how people address you or refer to you often has as much to do with them as it does with you. Sometimes you just have to accept that people are doing things because they think it's right.


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 Post subject: Re: Etiquette question - what do you all think?
PostPosted: Tue Apr 19, 2011 6:38 am 

Joined: Mon Jan 11, 2010 9:06 am
Posts: 160
Location: Texas
I serve on the Board of Directors for a small non-profit and whole heartedly recommend you drop let an organizer/director hear your feed back in an candid manner. I would just say that as a long-time supporter you found those details offputting and thought they would want to know.

I agree with you that the meal is a huge oversight that someone should have taken care of.

I find the forms of address issue interesting, because I didn't realize that this wasn't recommended anymore. Most of the etiquette guides I've found still list it as the most formal/conservative method (assuming there aren't other titles that take precedent) although point out that other forms are widely used/accepted. I'm curious as to whether my organization should ditch the "conservative" recommendation and go with the more modern to be on the safe side. (Or would conservative old money find that odd? I don't know.)

Nonetheless, just politely inform them of your preferred method of address and I'm sure they'll capture it for the future. It's the type of feedback I would definitely want from any patron of ours that we inadvertantly alienated.


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 Post subject: Re: Etiquette question - what do you all think?
PostPosted: Tue Apr 19, 2011 9:40 am 

Joined: Sat Jan 29, 2011 8:32 am
Posts: 20
I think those are some major errors, and like previous commenters, you should definitely kindly inform them so that they don't make those mistakes in the future.

At the same time, I don't see a few social faux pas as a reason not to contribute to a charity. After all, it's about the cause, not about the dinner. I would send in the check as well, mentioning that you couldn't donate the night of the dinner due to lack of envelopes.


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 Post subject: Re: Etiquette question - what do you all think?
PostPosted: Tue Apr 19, 2011 10:27 am 
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Joined: Wed Sep 23, 2009 9:01 am
Posts: 5285
Thanks to everyone and especially those who bit their tongue and did not respond with "Get over yourself you snob." Because when I reread my post I think it sounded a little snobbish. That's partly why I haven't said anything until now, because I do think being offended by the Mrs. John Smith thing sounds a little snobbish.

But as galactic noted, sexism is alive and well. I personally think it is profoundly insulting to women to strip them of their accomplishments and refer to them using a possessive form of the husband's name. I have seen similar situations to what galactic described where women are referred to only by first name while the men in the room are given a title of respect. It happens far more often than you might think and you will notice it if you tune into it.

It is interesting to note that all of the "employees" of the organization and 80% of the board are women and several of them have PhDs or MDs. It seems highly unlikely to me that they would have made the error in salutations. (And, educational credentials are highly relevant to this charity!)

But the organizing committee for the event were a bunch of local "socialites" - wives of the local car dealership mogul, real estate developer mogul, etc. I'm thinking their own thoughtlessness (or rather lack of thinking) was the source of the issues. I also did some looking around and noticed that the event brought in far less money this year than previous years according to their newsletter that just came out. And they had a silent auction where less than 1 in 4 items even sold. So they clearly fell short in producing an event that appealed to the type of people that support the charity. Perhaps they were trying to attract a higher class of donors and it didn't work.

What we have decided to do is to say nothing until later this year. We typically give half our donation in the spring and half in December. We will wait until December and give the whole donation we usually do along with a letter explaining our issues with the spring event. That will be at the time they are planning next year's event so hopefully it will come at an appropriate time. The amount we give then will also be exceptionally large in comparison to what most people give so it should get more attention.

And to the person who made a comment about a buyer vs. a donor, I take your point. In a sense we should be giving just to support the cause and not expect anything. But part of my motivation here is that I have considered trying to get more involved, possibly even to seek a board seat to help steer the direction of the charity. So maybe I take what I see as stumbles more seriously than I should. I don't want to move on to a competing charity, I want to help this one do the right thing so they can collect more money to expand their services. Does that make any sense?


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 Post subject: Re: Etiquette question - what do you all think?
PostPosted: Tue Apr 19, 2011 10:51 am 

Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2011 8:06 am
Posts: 17
DoingHomework wrote:
And to the person who made a comment about a buyer vs. a donor, I take your point. In a sense we should be giving just to support the cause and not expect anything. But part of my motivation here is that I have considered trying to get more involved, possibly even to seek a board seat to help steer the direction of the charity. So maybe I take what I see as stumbles more seriously than I should. I don't want to move on to a competing charity, I want to help this one do the right thing so they can collect more money to expand their services. Does that make any sense?


I would say that definitely changes the situation. You are much more invested than the normal donor would be, so that understandably changes your perspective.

As to the issue of sexism in terms of address, I'm reminded of something mostly unrelated I read the other day about avoiding litigation in business (http://philip.greenspun.com/politics/litigation/philosophy).

Excerpt:

"I guess my bottom-line proposal is near-infinite patience. Assume that the person or company with whom you're dealing has honor and integrity. Bend over backwards to hold that assumption, interpreting every ambiguous fact in their factor. For example, to adhere to my system I must assume that the slow A/C contractors were not out working on other folks' houses but were in fact waiting for parts that are in fact difficult to get. If you can possibly think of the other party as honest, then fulfill your side of the bargain as if they were 100% honest. A lot of the time you'll be wrong. The other party was in fact taking advantage of you and you're out a few $thousand. But your psychology will be healthier and your world will be a more satisfying place to live. You do not have to feel like a powerless victim. You used good manners and gave someone else the benefit of the doubt."

In this situation, that would mean assuming they just didn't have the time to figure out how to address people, or were working on bad information of what was considered correct in modern society.

I can't claim to always give the benefit of the doubt myself, but I do agree with the author that it usually works out for the best if you do. It certainly keeps you less stressed.

Either way, I hope that quote gives you something to think about. It certainly made me think.

PS: Please don't think I interpreted your post as snobbish. Perhaps I found your response somewhat out of proportion given the information I had (and based on my own reference to the quote above, I should have assumed the best intentions), but I make no assumptions about your character.


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 Post subject: Re: Etiquette question - what do you all think?
PostPosted: Tue Apr 19, 2011 2:57 pm 

Joined: Mon Feb 04, 2008 7:35 am
Posts: 1148
Location: Maryland
I don't really understand why you would wait to make your opinions known. I think the sooner you address it, while everything is fresh in the organizer's mind, the better. If you complain 6 months from now, they will think that odd, and that you're just trying to find fault and prove that you can do a better job on the board than they can. I understand that they will be planning it 6 months from now, but it may be too late.

I guess it's good that you documented it here so that 6 months from now you will remember your complaints.


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