Why I will never go to a charity lunch again

GiveI discovered this week that I am not a lady who lunches. I’ve had limited opportunities to lunch over the last seven years as lunch time is kids’ nap time in our house – which means it’s my only writing time. But a friend invited me to come with her to a  charity lunch and the stars of babysitting aligned for once and so I thought – well, that sounds more civilised than trying to convince a child that sultanas dipped in milk are not a delicacy, so why not?

I want to say from the start that, in the story I am about to tell you, I am in no way maligning the charity involved. The charity was the only one to come out of this experience with its reputation intact. The charity does good work. It’s worth giving money to. But I’m not going to name them because I don’t want them to be tarred with the brush I am about to wield.

I paid my money, quite a lot of money, for my ticket to the lunch. I didn’t mind paying the money because it was for the charity. I got dressed, even put on some high heels and headed out the door. The sun was shining, the lunch was by the river, it should have been lovely. This is what happened.

I started to chat to the lady sitting beside me at the table. In the first minute of conversation she thought it was relevant and interesting to let me know how much her dress had cost and who had designed it. I thought that was a strange thing to tell someone you barely knew but I decided to let it slide. In the next minute of conversation she pointed to another dress worn by someone else in the room and told me who had designed that dress and how much it had cost and that she had one just like it and that she had worn it to a Fashion Week event and 3 other people were all wearing the same dress and that one of them had been really annoyed to see so many other people wearing the same dress and blah blah blah on it went about dresses and their designers and their prices.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like clothes. I like nice clothes. I do treat myself occasionally. I have nothing against others who do the same. But I would never talk about the labels on my dresses, the prices of my dresses or the prices of the dresses of the other people in the room ever, especially at a CHARITY LUNCH!  I just don’t care. If you like it, wear it. Enough said. At no point did this lady ask me anything about myself. This was not a conversation. This was a monologue that I was very afraid would go on and on. Until the lady on the other side of the table told everyone about her recent boob job and that she was there to meet someone who could put her in touch with a nice elderly man with a lot of money who liked a good sized chest.

I began to think I’d landed in an alternate world. Where was the charity in this luncheon? Did these people spare a single thought for the families of the sick children who we were ostensibly there to support?

Then it was time for the charity auction. I couldn’t help but squirm in my chair for the entire time. It all felt so show-offy. Everyone was sitting in a room in chairs lined up like a school room watching people bid thousands of dollars. Everyone could see who was bidding and how much they were bidding and yes, I know that is the point of an auction. But why does giving money to a charity have to be a spectator sport?

It really opened my eyes to how difficult it must be for charities. At this event, everyone was given champagne as they came in the door. The champagne had been donated by a winemaker. Why couldn’t the winemaker have just donated the equivalent amount of money direct to the charity? Is it too cynical to think it was because the winemaker wanted, in return for their generosity, people to sample their wines and to then buy them in the future? Why couldn’t the people who donated the auction gifts have simply given money to the charity? Is it because they wouldn’t receive the same marketing exposure? Why couldn’t the people who bid for the auction items have given their money directly to the charity? Why did our giving have to be tied in to a big gala lunch?

It made me remember what giving really is. I had paid for the lunch ticket without thinking too much about it. I thought I was supporting the charity. But after having seen the lunch, I will no longer support a charity in that way; I will donate money to them directly. The lunch was such a waste of time and resources that could have been so much better spent, from the money people had spent to buy their dresses to attend the lunch, to the three hours we sat there watching people spend money on designer dresses in the auction. I understand though, that this must be the most successful way for the charity to raise money, that people obviously mustn’t simply give quietly, privately and without fanfare anymore. And that is what saddens me the most. It seemed as though, at this luncheon, we had lost the ability to give without also wanting to receive.

So, my rant is done. The trouble is I don’t really know how to make this situation better. I can change my own behaviour and ensure I only ever give money directly to charities, rather than through the medium of a lunch or a dinner. But I suspect that without these lunches and dinners, many charities would not meet their financial requirements. It really is a double edged sword.

The charity did highlight their planned giving program, which is a program by which you sign up to contribute an amount on a monthly or yearly basis, and which gives them certainty about their long term financial future. And again, by highlighting this, I realised that the one-off sporadic donations I might make here and there are not as effective as a commitment over a certain time period. If only everyone at the lunch had signed up to this program, imagine how much good we could have done? And if we had all donated the time we spent at the lunch to telling people about the planned giving program, we would certainly have changed the lives of many more families.


  1. Sandra Carr

    Bless you for ‘ranting’ abou this, I couldn’t agree more 🙂

  2. OK, this is my image of hell. I agree with all your points. I remember some friends of a guy I went out with for 5 minutes stopping in to his place on their way to a charity ball. They just loved the excuse to get all dolled and suited up. When asked what the charity was, they actually didn’t know, nor did they care!

    • Hi Cindy – now that I’ve had my eyes opened to what happens at a charity lunch, I just can’t believe there are so many of them. The West is full of photos of people at charity balls and dinners and other events so they must be successful vehicles for charities to raise money but I just can’t help but think what a waste of time and resources it all is. Surely there must be a better way!

  3. I totally agree Natasha. I recently was nabbed at the shops by a young fellow trying to get people to donate regularly to a very worthy charity. I understand that having a known and regular income stream is important for charities to plan their programs so I signed up. It was only when I got home, turned my copy of the form over and read the fine print, that I discovered that the worthy charity was going to give the equivalent of 97% of the first TWELVE MONTHS of my donation to an intermediary firm (who put the young bloke in the middle of the shopping centre to nab people like me). So I had basically handed over hundreds of dollars to a consulting firm, and it would effectively be a full year before the charity got any money. I was shocked. I am still debating whether to pull my support and write a cheque directly to a charity. What do I do?

    • Whoever thought giving money to charity could be so fraught? It seems incredible to me, as it does to you, that 97% of your money would go elsewhere for as long as 12 months. But I’ve never worked for a charity and, like you, I hate to judge without knowing the full story. The big problem it seems to me is that people obviously don’t give enough money without a great deal of prompting, hence the need for charities to have lunches and to have men in shopping centres and to hire consulting firms. The question is, how do we encourage people to be more benevolent, more often, so that charities don’t have to go to all this extra expense to raise money? I really understand the importance now of teaching my children about making commitments to give and I’m going to be focussing a lot of my efforts on that so we don’t have another generation of people whose only commitment is to the charity lunch.

      • In my ESL teaching days some of my foreign students worked for these charities and warned me never to donate to the people at the shopping centres as they get paid a percentage of what they collect – I think it was around 40% – so that comes off before the money even gets to the charity. Now when I see those people I always check before I donate if they are volunteers or that’s their job. I was shocked!

  4. Applause for your rant, but sadly I doubt it will change much. My husband used to belong to a very well known ‘mens’ club here in Perth, as a way of networking business’s, and as his wife I would get invited to these ‘charity’ do’s. Like you, I went to one only – it was embarrassing and so far removed from any charity. I could almost feel sorry for these women and their hollow lives. Give me a good old fashioned lamington drive any day 🙂

    • Thanks for your comments Jodie. The shame of it is that the charity showed a video of the work they do that moved me to tears – it was such an effective way for people to see the difference they could make and I wish they had some other way of rolling the video out to hundreds of people, rather than having to organise a lunch to generate an audience.

  5. It pains me deeply that these are the ways that charities raise money. Maybe they raise more money this way yes, but when they are asking really for people to donate to their cause and the people attending may spend more on their outfit for the night than they plan to give to the charity, it all seems a little pointless.
    But then that’s my cynical side showing, although I completely agree that people seem to want a lot of recognition for simple charitable acts. We should just all just be a little more modest and help others because we want too, not because we want others to notice us.

    • The amazing thing was that the woman I was speaking to saw no irony in telling me that her dress had cost $800 and showed no understanding of how much $800 could help the charity. Perhaps I’m misjudging her and she gave an equivalent amount to the charity – it’s just that I’m sure if she did, I would definitely have heard about that too! Here’s to modesty in the act of giving.

  6. marlish glorie

    Oh Natasha, I felt for you reading this blog. I’ve had similar experiences. Sadly, there are women in this world who appear not to give a tinkers fart about anything. They’re self-absorbed, narcissistic ninnies. My take on why women end up like this i.e. appearance is all that matters, is that it harks back to childhood and onward, where they’re taught that their intrinsic value lies in their appearance. In many ways I feel sorry for them because as they age, no amount of makeup, fine clothing or cosmetic surgery can make that much difference to the fact they’re old and lost their looks. Developing one’s character and being engaged in meaningful relationships, and believing in things more important than yourself are what stand you in good stead throughout life. But I bet you already know this. As for the charities’, I suspect they would know the kind of women who might attend these events but there’s little they can do except be grateful for the money.

    • The worst part of the day was my feeling that, for many of the women, they were not just motivated to buy their ticket because they were supporting the charity, but their equal motivation was their hope of being seen and of having their photo appear in the social pages. But perhaps I’m being cynical again!

  7. You highlighted two very important points. One, that the art of conversation has died as self indulgence in our society has grown. Two, that philanthropy is just about as dead as a good conversation.
    It is very sad, but it is tragically the reality of where you live. Imagine if all those designer dress wearing women actually used their powers for good?

    • Yes, it’s interesting about conversation isn’t it? I had never really thought about conversation as being a narcissistic habit before but it seems to be heading that way, at least at charity lunches! Anyway, the good thing about going to the lunch was that I learned a lot of lessons about many things and that is at least a good thing.

  8. Thank you Natasha. I feel normal now , because I used to think I was the only one who wanted to cringe away from these well meaning insincere types who make a song and dance about ‘giving.’ I ended up doing my own research on charities and how much goes into admin and fancy lunches and how much to the person who needs a drinking well installed in her village. And even the ones I chose to support with hundreds of dollars a year insisted on sending me glossy brochures about the good work they were doing, so no easy answers…but so important to talk about it. Great post, as always.

    • It’s fascinating isn’t it, that we have come to expect glossy brochures etc in order to be able to part with our money. Good on you for doing all the research – I think that might need to be my next step so I can make informed choices and thus help the most people with the money I give.

  9. People only like to lend a hand if they are getting something in return, such as a tax deduction. The wine maker you speak of is getting rewarded twice. One, the tax deduction for donating the wine, and two the exposure and the chance that people in attendence will purchase their wines. I have the same challeges. I am raising money for a foster child program that our ministry runs, and it is like I have to jump through hoops for donations. What I mean by this is that I have to come up with ways to get people to help these foster children by offering something in return such as a lunch, auction, dinner, etc. The true meaning of giving does not mean getting something in return but somehow we all expect it. Sorry for the rant lol I am done.

    • Yes, the lunch made me re-think everything including the much used charity raffle ticket, which is again another way of giving in the hopes of getting something in return. It’s just not the same as selfless giving is it?

      • I was thinking of throwing a charity lunch but after reading this I must say I am leaning in another direction.

        • Given that there are so many people who regard these ‘charity’ lunches with such distaste, why don’t you hold a charity lunch with the stipulation that you have to donate the same amount as the value of the outfit you’re wearing? Or auction you own outfit and give the proceeds to the charity? Could get some nice publicity.

  10. Just had to throw this out there too. It makes me angry to see these huge charities give so little to the cause. The CEO of the charity is getting a huge salary, everyone is getting paid, and a tiny percentage of your money goes toward what you donated it for. What is going on here? This type of behavior makes the average person not want to lend a hand, and you have to ask yourself… should I?

  11. A great and interesting post Natasha … I really did smile and felt your discomfort and related totally to your ‘rant’. Thanks for sharing it. Ingrid

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