The question is: are we obligated to tell people where their money is going? The entertainment alone makes for a fun night but, unfortunately, a few regulars — maybe four out of 250 — question us. We have given left over money to a local pantry and to a few people who had family situations requiring financial help. We don’t advertise this get-together as a non-profit party, and we have expenses as I mentioned that we need help paying for. Are we okay in what we are doing? — Party Organizer
I have so many questions for you! Like: do you actually get repeat guests year after year? Do people really pay $10 a pop AND bring food AND pay for their own drinks at this get-together and still come back the following year? That seems kind of nuts! Let’s say you’re a family of four — two adults and two kids — and you go to this party and the adults have two drinks each, which maybe run an average of $5 (and that’s a conservative estimate) and the kids each have a soda at $2.50 a pop. That’s $55 for a Bring-Your-Own-Food party! No wonder people are asking where their entrance fee is going.
You ask if what you’re doing is “ok,” and that depends entirely on how you define “ok.” Is it “ok” legally? I’m not sure (maybe one of our lawyer readers can weigh in). It seems to me that if your party can potentially net $1500 ($10 per adult at a max of 250, minus the $1000 overhead expenses), then you should be letting participants know that this is a for-profit affair. And if I were you, I’d talk to a lawyer to make sure all your I’s are dotted and your T’s are crossed.
If you’re asking whether what you’re doing is “ok” in terms of etiquette or social appropriateness, then my answer is a much easier NO. Now, admittedly, I’m of the mind that if you can’t afford to throw a party, you don’t throw one. And unless something is advertised as a for-profit party or a fund-raiser with a clear explanation of where the funds will be going, you simply don’t charge your friends to come to a party that you’re throwing. It’s in bad taste.
I know I’m not going to change your mind on this matter; if you’ve been counting on your guests to foot the bill of a $1000 party this long — how many years have you been doing this? — then I hardly expect you’re going to start paying for it yourself now, or that you’ll stop throwing a party people have theoretically enjoyed attending simply because some internet advice columnist called you tacky. (By the way, I’m calling you tacky; I mean, charging people for the decorations at your party??). However! I would urge you to do one or a mix — or, preferably, all — of the following: 1) make the party donation-based with a suggested donation subtly posted somewhere near the entrance; 2) Supply alcohol and other beverages at no extra cost to the participants; 3) Post a flyer by the entrance or direct participants to a website where you say something along the lines of: “Thank you for your donation which covers the overhead costs of the party. Any extra funds left over will go to our local food pantry or will be dispersed to families in need, at our discretion.
*Overhead costs include: Venue, entertainment, plates, utensils, and heat for food.”
Again, I’d highly recommend you speak to a lawyer before throwing your next party and make sure your ass is covered, particularly since some of the “regulars” are beginning to question things. If you’re pocketing any of the money you make from this party — even with the intention of doling it out to people “in situations” as you see fit, I would think you have a legal responsibility to let people know that. You may also be responsible for obtaining a permit. Any time there’s an exchange of money for goods or services (including entertainment) — especially when a couple hundred people are involved — you need to make sure you’re on the right side of the law. And if you want to be on the right side of etiquette, stop charging your guests to come to your party.
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