Monday, June 29, 2009

Dinner is What I Eat at My Kitchen Table

If you are really looking for something that needs to be done away with, which would result in untold savings, monetary and otherwise, then look no further than the ubiquitous Dinner. Every school has one, every shul has one, every organization has one.

I decided this year to keep track of how many of these dinner invitations I personally would receive. Keep in mind that I no longer have children in yeshiva. From September to now my total number of dinner invitations was "only" 14. And those are the dinners to which invitations actually arrived at the house. Read any of the Jewish newspapers and you're bombarded with ads for many, many more dinners. The cheapest of the dinners would only have cost us $150 per couple. And that's not the total cost yet. There are the Dinner Journals. Sizes of ads have gone down as the price has gone up. The cheapest "greetings" ad, which would only list Mr. and Mrs. K, was $54. The most expensive? Sky is the limit.

It would seem that a whole lot of people are getting something out of these dinners, but it isn't the schools, shuls and organizations. The caterers are doing well. The printers are doing well. And yes, some silver and gift stores are doing well also. At one dinner I read how the guest of honor received an 18" high solid silver megillah case with the megillah included.

So let me ask you: are you thrilled and joyful when you get one of these dinner invitations? Do you run to put the date on your calendar and spend the time until the dinner impatiently waiting for it to arrive? Do you have a great time at these dinners? I won't speak for anyone else but my answers are no, no and no.

If the purpose of a dinner is to pay tribute to someone who has worked hard for the organization or who has donated a large sum of money then a far simpler gathering than a full-blown Dinner would be just as appropriate. What, you can only say "thanks for all you have done for us" at a five-course meal in a catering hall?! Nothing wrong with a melave malka held in a school cafeteria or gym with cake, fruit and soda as the menu. When I mentioned this in a conversation with a group of friends, one said that it would be self defeating to go the melava malka/simple refreshment route. Those who still give big donations, or what passes for big in today's economic climate, also seem to have big appetites for public kovod. Granted, it's not everyone who donates who does so to bask in the public limelight, but my friend is not wrong in a whole lot of cases.

At a time when so many people are having to tighten their belts and forgo a lot of things, eliminating most of these dinners would help to save some money on both sides. No, I cannot afford or just plain won't give you the $150 right now. But since about $100+ of that is going to pay for the affair itself, how about if I send you a check for $50, we don't have the dinner, and we both win?


Allen said...

I can't stand the dinners personally and avoid them whenever I can, which is most of the time. I send in a check if I support what the organization is doing. But you are right that some people who can give the large amounts of money that a group needs are going to expect to be publicly honored for that. Sort of like what happens in Megillas Esther when the King decrees that Mordechai should be all dressed up and on the King's horse and led through the streets with Haman proclaiming "this is what happens to a man that the King chooses to honor."

mother in israel said...

Growing up "out of town," we organized an annual NCSY installation dinner. People came because there were few opportunities to eat out. And it was reasonably priced, cooked by the NCSYers and advisers/parents. No professional caterer.
Very few dinners in Israel, just loads of huge weddings.

Anonymous said...

Good posting - I certainly agree with you, and the minimum prie for a dinner in London is at last £90 per person these days, which equates to your $150; where often 80% or more of the cost is absorbed by the costs of hosting the event.
However, one point which you have not addressed is that the dinner event is still the best way for organisations to raise significant amounts at a single event, as a result of the combination of brochure, sponsorship and the 'public kovod' to which you have referred.
I await the day when an alternative even is devised which is as effective in fundraising terms, but without the boredom effect...

Marsha said...

I HATE the dinners!! Especially the ones that come out in middle of the week. We have to pay babysitting on top of the crazy prices. The food is only so so unless they are charging huge money for the dinner. And the speeches go on and on and on. Then on top of what you have already paid for the dinner there are donation cards at every plate asking you for even more money.

JS said...

Don't get me started on these dinners where the biggest concern is that people may break their arms patting themselves on the back. I'd really like to know how much is actually raised from these events.

Recently, the rabbi made an appeal from the pulpit on Shabbat for a local organization that was having a dinner fundraiser in which he insisted it was everyone's duty to attend the dinner and help the organization because of the various services they provide. The incredible irony? He did it right after talking about how the economy is terrible, money is tight, people have lost their jobs, and we need to be sensitive to that and help out others however we can.

Miami Al said...

They don't raise much money. The "raise" is the amount given by the honoree and their friends. The dinner itself at best breaks even.

They are popular because for the socialite crew, this is what socialites do, get dressed up and go out for charity. The fact that the events are Kosher makes it one of the few times that an observant socialite can eat and go out to be seen.

I think that encouraging people to go that don't want to go is counter productive, but for those that like to get dressed up for an event, they are fun.

They are for the benefit of the wealthy socialites whose parents foot the bill in the community, not for the organization.

Trudy said...

here's the problem though. How are tzedakas supposed to raise their funds? You and others have posted about how you hate the phone calls (me too) and most of the letters get thrown into the garbage. Shuls can only hold so many appeals. No one seems to like the collectors who come to the door. Lots of people think the auctions aren't a good idea because they're just another form of gambling. Parents object to their kids having to sell something for schools or to having to sell the things themselves. A lot of the dinners, most of them, are just a chance to crow about the rich person that got snagged to give a big donation. So how should charitable organizations and shuls and schools raise money?

Lion of Zion said...

annual fundraising dinners have a long history dating back into the medieval age, as i allude to in the middle of this post:

personally, i boycotted my son's school dinner this year. it's just so damn boring.

Anonymously said...

I think Trudy raised a good point. Most of us don't seem to like any of the ways that are used to raise tzedaka money. I also don't like the dinners and we've just stopped going to any of them. (Yes Lion they are soooo boring.) Yet I know that tzedakas have to raise money to fulfill their purpose. Is there a better way?

tnspr569 said...

That's why "un-dinners" are so well-received by the average people!

Unfortunately, very few organizations utilize this method...

rejewvenator said...

1. Some dinners make a LOT of money, particularly those held by large institutions, like universities. I've known dinners to take in six- and seven-figures, net. Reputable charities will always tell you how much of your ticket covers costs, and is not tax-deductible, so you can do the math and figure out how much a dinner costs and how much it raises.

2. Dinners are a social event where supporters of an organization or cause can meet one another. For shuls and schools this isn't such a big deal since most of the people involved know one another anyway, but for most other causes this is an important part of the relationship-building between donors and orgs.

3. I'm sensing a lot of populist anger against the ba'al tzedaka being honored. Personally, I think that a fancy affair raises the profile of an organization, and does appropriate honor to its supporters. If all you can muster up is fruit juice and cake in a school gym, you're not making your cause seem particularly important or noble. Let's also remember the the very wealth ba'al tzedaka being honored has hit up all his friends to make contributions, and at least wants them to show up for a nice evening for their troubles.

4. Many dinners honor not just a big donor, but also give out a service award, reinforcing the idea, publicly, that tzedaka isn't just about money

Allen said...

If all you can muster up is fruit juice and cake in a school gym, you're not making your cause seem particularly important or noble.

I think that's the point Rejewvenator. We're tying the idea of how important or noble your cause is to how much money you are willing to shell out to show the world that you're important. It should be based on what you do and spend on your projects, not on how much you spend in projecting an image.

Would anyone object if they ended up in that gym and the head of the tzedaka started out by thanking them for coming and then telling them that because they are "only" eating fruit juice and cake the organization fed an extra 680 poor people for a week. Shouldn't a pat on the back for doing good be better then pigging out (when the meal is piggable) yet one more time?