I 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.