Heard from your favorite charity lately?
Miss Manners bets you have. And from some that aren't such favorites.
What about the people from whom you have requested donations to your favorite charity? Haven't heard from them? Or perhaps you have heard an earful instead of a pledge.
The combination of laudatory generosity and a lousy economy have produced a society in which people who have enough to live on are always asking one another for money. And that's not even counting the ones who are directing their wedding guests to pay their mortgages or the fund-drive executives who are discovered to believe that charity should end up at home. Miss Manners means the people who want to help others.
The entire enterprise has come to be characterized by good intentions and bad manners. Schooled in professional fundraising techniques, kindly people learn to embarrass and harass friends and strangers alike. Inundated with these ploys from friends and strangers, other kindly people turn resentful and sometimes rude.
Miss Manners believes that everyone involved would benefit by kicking in with a sizable amount of politeness.
She suspects that this might even produce greater benefits for the people on whose behalf charity is conducted.
Perhaps not; Miss Manners does not pretend to be yet another expert in extracting donations, and is personally incapable of asking anyone for money. If effectiveness were the only standard that fundraising need consider, then the charitably inclined should employ the traditional way of making potential donors reach for their wallets, which is to corner them in a dark alley and intone the traditional pitch: "Stick 'em up."
Nevertheless, she cannot help thinking that strategies that are giving good works a bad name are ultimately self-defeating. Even if they fork over at the time, in the long run people turn callous under continual attack from those who embarrass them by insinuating that they look cheap if they don't give or give more; will be socially handicapped if they don't buy tickets to charity events; and are obviously callous if they don't succumb to this particular appeal.
Even the most carefully polite fundraisers are reporting being snapped at by those who don't hang up on them first. "We get responses such as 'Don't you have anything better to do?' or 'Some of us have to work for our money,' as well as a few things a Gentle Reader should not mention," reports a G.R. "We understand when someone is not able or willing to give money. However, what we don't understand is the unkind remarks thrown back at us."
Miss Manners wishes to make contributions to both the fundraisers and potential fund-givers.
For those who ask:
Difficult as this is, try to remember that it is not your money. You have no claim on it; you have no authority to say how it should be spent. You should not even know how much money people have (people who have done research on this naturally want to show off, but it is a mistake), and you cannot guess the extent of their obligations. Even when there is a past history of giving, income and expenses could fluctuate widely from one time to the next.
All you can hope to do is to interest them in your charity and tell them how the money translates into results. Everything short of disaster is being called a "good cause"; what is meaningful is what a specific contribution will help accomplish.
Say thank you. Reminding people how much they gave last year and saying that you expect more this year does not qualify as thanks.
For those who are asked: You can say, "No, thank you."
Dear Miss Manners:
Over a long period of time I have received scattered invitations to family and friends' weddings and bar mitzvahs that state BLACK TIE! I happen not to own a tuxedo, and renting one is not inexpensive. I would like to attend most of these affairs but, since I do not have a tuxedo, I have opted not to attend.
Is there an appropriate way to decline an invitation to a black-tie affair? Or, better still, is there a way to attend a black-tie affair without wearing a tuxedo and without insulting the family or friend? I never know what to do and I am losing the opportunity to share the day.
Then rent or buy the proper clothes.
If this is truly a financial hardship, Miss Manners is sure that your friends would rather see you wearing a plain dark suit than not see you at all. Just don't let her and them find out that you had no trouble investing in tennis or ski clothes that you only wear a few times a year.
Feeling incorrect? E-mail your etiquette questions to Miss Manners (who is distraught that she cannot reply personally) at MissManners@unitedmedia.com or mail to United Media, 200 Madison Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.
(c)2002, Judith Martin