Sunday, December 17, 2006


According to a recent story in The Wall Street Journal, there is a growing trend among holiday-party givers to request attendees to make a donation to a specific charity, rather than bring wine, food or gifts to the party. While the motives may be well-intentioned, some have suggested that guests may feel alienated by "too much of a hard sell" or that they "don't appreciate the social pressure to give to what the host, not the guest, determines is a good cause."

Do you think it crosses an ethical line to make such requests, and to allow admission only if the attendees agree to give to a charity they might not have chosen on their own? Would you make a point of going and not giving to the charity if it wasn't one of your causes? Or should invited guests who take issue simply and politely stay home?

Send your thoughts to or post them here by clicking on "comments" below. Please include your name and your hometown. Readers' comments may appear in an upcoming column.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business" (Smith Kerr, 2006), is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics. He is also the administrator of, a Web log focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to or to "The Right Thing," New York Times Syndicate, 609 Greenwich St., 6th floor, New York, N.Y. 10014-3610.


Anonymous said...

I see no difference between charity parties and, for instance, Tupperware parties. In both instances the host is hoping to extract something from the guest under the guise of social revelry -or to make the guest feel obligated to contribute.
It is certainly not a party in the sense that the guests are invited because their presence alone will add to the general good spirits of the evening.
It seems clear to me that when scraped down to their actual intention, a charity party is little more than an attempt at a commercial transaction and should be accepted or ignored in that spirit.

Anonymous said...

Does it cross an ethical line?

When you go to a Republican fundraising dinner do they offer the opportunity to donate to the Democrats? Of course not.

If you don't want to contribute don't go.
In my office they bring food for everyone's birthday. I don't enjoy food and have a weight problem, so I've asked people to bring canned goods for 2nd Harvest instead of brownies. If someone has an ethical problem with that they probably have larger issues.

Wendy Hagmaier
Fullerton, CA

Anonymous said...

In regard to the question posed in Jeffrey Seglin's column, which I read in the Orange County Register:

Demanding that guests at a holiday party donate to a charity of the host's choice amounts to a cover charge, in my opinion. I would not attend such an event no matter what my relationship to the host(s). If a person wishes to solicit charitable donations he/she should host an event specifically dedicated to that purpose or write a sincerely worded letter describing the merits of that charity and allow the recipient to choose whether or not to donate without the writer's knowledge of their choice.

Donating to a particular charity is a highly personal choice involving many factors and should not be foisted any anyone; neither should a partygiver assume that guests will bring gifts let alone dictate what form of gift should be given.

Lori Flores
Riverside, CA

Anonymous said...

Unethical? You bet! Consider that most partygivers will choose Christian charities, what are the rest of us to do? I'd donate to a charity of my religious choice and send the acknowledgement to the party host (and stay home).

Seriously, even charities that people think of as "neutral" like the Red Cross or Salvation Army are religion-based. There is a certain arrogance in assuming that most others are also Christian, or are non-affiliated but will support your religion.

Annette Forrest
Lake Forest, CA
Orange County Register

Anonymous said...

I lose no sleep over this issue. I receive about 100 invitations to charity luncheons and dinners each year, and a "charity party" is the same thing. In either case, if the cause is not one I support, or I cannot afford the expected donation, I toss the invitation. If the cause is something I support,but I cannot attend, I often send a check and my regrets for not attending. On the other hand it is interesting, in a similar case, suggested memorials by the family when one dies, I have never had a suggested cause that I could not support.

Anonymous said...

First of all, it seems to me that if somebody is “giving a party,” the guests shouldn’t be expected to contribute anything - food, beverage, or a charitable contribution. If the host has in the past held parties where guests were expected to provide their own beverage or to bring an hors d’oeuvre, but this time feels generous enough to spring for all expenses for “the good of the cause,” more power to him. However, I would not attend a party if the stated charity was one that I would ordinarily not support under any circumstances. I would politely tell the host of my reason for declining the invitation, but would ask if I could contribute to another “neutral” charity instead, giving him a choice of several. If so, I would be happy to attend. If not, then I say he has crossed the ethical line.

Phil Clutts
Harrisburg, NC

Anonymous said...

Last year, a month after Hurrican Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, my coworker's six-year old daughter had a birthday party. In the invitations, following a thoughtful discussion with the daughter, guests were asked not to bring gifts. Instead of gifts, guests were encouraged to make a small donation to the Red Cross for the victims of Katrina. "Lola is so lucky, and already has so many wonderful toys," the invitations said. On party day a donation box was left on the front porch. About 100 dollars was collected; about the same amount of money that would've been spent on more unecessary plastic crap (a.k.a toys). It worked out very well.

Does it cross an ethical line to make such requests, and to allow admission only if attendees make a donation? No. It may mean that some people decide not to come, but parties are rarely mandatory anyway. If the request is for a cause that you stand strongly against, then you're probably not great friends with the person or group anyway.

Asking party guests to make a small donation to a specific charity is something that more people should be doing. Think how much money could be collected for needy causes, and how uncluttered our stuff-filled homes could be.

Anonymous said...

I find this topic rather funny, because the answer is so simple. If you are against charity parties, then don't attend, just make the donation. What we should ask these people is why do you go to the charity event? Of course we all know the answer. The complainers want to be seen with the in-crowd, but they don't want to pay to play :-)! That's what want-a-be's do!!!

Anonymous said...

Regarding charity "parties" and employement mandated donations. I see a big difference between parties and the original question of concern, which addressed an employer requiring donations to HIS chosen charity. I find that offensive and it could constitute a hostile work environment. No employer should require employees to contribute; suggestions, but not requirements.

I choose several charities to silently make donations and work with charities as well. My choice of when, where and how much. The "how much" is between us.

As far as charity parties, if you want to go; go, if not, don't. Simple as that. It is simply an invitation; you have a choice - don't feel guilty either way.

If I did not support the specific charity I simply would not attend nor donate. A simple, "no thanks" should suffice on the RSVP. As far as religious affiliations, don't assume certain ones are or aren't - do your research. There are many that aren't; search your local area for examples, there are plenty.

Either way, choose who you wish to give to; don't feel guilty; decline your invitations graciously.

MSC in Wisconsin.
PS -read the question online.