Are Charity Balls Really, Y’Know, Necessary?

Stay home this season and write a check. Everyone will benefit.


For most, winter in Philadelphia means cold weather, snow, bad basketball and hot turkey bowls at Wawa, which are delicious. For many others, winter is all about balls. I’m talking about charity balls, parties and other fund raising events. There’s certainly no shortage of them this time of year.

A quick perusal of your local newspaper’s People section (or HughE Dillon’s great photo blog) will catch you up on all the recent ones.

There was the annual Lemon Ball held the other week on behalf of the Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation in support of childhood cancer.

The St. Edmond’s Women’s Auxiliary recently held their 74th Annual Cup Day to benefit a Catholic home for children with disabilities.

The Flyers wives will throw their 37th annual carnival at the end of this month that supports multiple charities.

In February, There will be a black tie event around the Philadelphia Auto Show which will benefit the Neonatology Division of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and the American Heart Association and the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalitions will also host their big events.

Rest assured, before the season is over you’ll be seeing photos from the galas that benefit the National Kidney Foundation, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the American Red Cross. When Spring comes, get ready to start walking every Sunday along the river to raise research money for combatting multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and breast cancer, among other terrible things. By the end of 2014 (at least according to this guide) more than 50 charity balls and events will have taken place in the area.

And they’re all very good charities doing very good work for very good causes. So why are we making them entertain us? Why are we forcing them to spend money on us instead of spending it on those who really need the money — like the kids with cancer or the people who suffer from kidney disease?

Have you ever been to one of the charity balls? They’re hell.

After wearing a tie all week, you’re forced to dress up again, schlep into town, battle for a parking space, munch on greasy hors d’oeuvres and drink watered down gin and tonics from the cash bar.

You’re chit-chatting with lots of people who mean nothing to you. You talk about the great work that the charity is doing. You pretend not to notice how tall/short/pretty/ugly the “D”-list celebrity (usually a reporter from the local news station) who is acting as the Master of Ceremonies that night and clearly already catching a buzz.

You place a bid at the silent auction, secretly hoping you don’t win. You share awkward hellos with that former customer of yours who stiffed you on his last payment and still badmouths your firm’s services.

You say, for the hundredth time, how cute so-and-so’s little kid looks all dressed up in her ball gown (which at this point is covered in fruit juice or torn). And then you sit down with strangers at a round table where you have to scream over the band to be heard and then suffer through an agonizingly long dinner of dried chicken and even drier speeches, a heartbreaking slide show, an even more heartbreaking testimonial given by one of the victims of the disease the charity is trying to fix and stupid jokes from that same tipsy master of ceremonies.

Then you wait in an endless line for your coat, and another endless line for your car and make your exhausted way home, gossiping about how shitty people are.

Yup, that’s the night. Why do we put ourselves and the charities through this?

Make no mistake, these events are not free. They cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases. The hotels are not doing these things out of the kindness of their hearts. The cooks, waitstaff, cleaners, parking attendants, coat-check people, bar tenders, administrators, band members, accountants, lawyers and yes, even on occasion the drunken emcee needs to get paid.

Tables, chairs, projectors, screens and special lights need to be rented. Not to mention the cost of the charities’ internal personnel who spend countless hours throughout the year organizing the event. Every piece of chicken is costing the charity. Every watered down gin and tonic at the cash bar is costing me cash. Why am I drinking that gin and tonic when I could just be giving that cash straight to the charity? Sure, there are sponsors, silent auctions and of course the fee to attend the event. And this goes to the charity. But not all of it. Only a net amount, after substantial payments are made to cover the expenses of the event. Payments that could be going to cure childhood cancer or kidney disease instead of profiting the shareholders of the Marriott Hotel chain.

Are we so low and so bored, that we force these charities into coming up with dinners, carnivals and walkathons in order to entice us to donate instead of just donating because it’s the right thing to do?

Do we have to have sites like Charity Buzz where people are actually offering $5,750 to meet Charlie Sheen (I am not joking here) or even $750 to hang out with Ron Jaworski in order to support a charity? What has the world come to? Are these events worth the public relations that the charity receives, or can the savings by not doing these events be better invested in other activities that could generate more or even better media attention for their cause.

But they’re so much fun, you may say. That’s fine. But in my opinion, let’s do these charities a favor: Have our fun on someone else’s dime. Or just stay at home. Write an even bigger check. And let them use 100 percent of it to help their cause, instead of paying the expenses of an event.

Follow @GeneMarks on Twitter.

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  • NK

    You should really listen to the TED talk given by Dan Pallotta about how publicity and spending money on things like that actually help to bring in more money for the charity. Also, some people actually like getting dressed up and going out and why not also help a good cause in the process.

  • OpenMind

    I found this to be harsh and represent a very negative outlook to say the least. This is your opinion but some people may actually enjoy these events and I do believe there is a role and value to them.

    One can spin almost anything negatively like was done here, a la we are born screaming, we struggle to survive, then we die, so, you know, why bother?


    As an avid party, ball, event & show lover; I have to agree with OpenMind’s previous comment. However as a I don my Charity Fundraising Event Coordinator hat, I must say that I somewhat agree with this articles reference to the expense of events of this caliber. I cringe when I hear about events that barely generate enough to cover the parties expenses, and this happens much more often than you can imagine. Sadly its a catch 22, because as they say- to get money, you need to spend money. In regards to charities, the money spent on these glamorous events not only covers the event expenses, but it also inevitably reaps a pay back; through the publicity, media attention, shared photos on social media and garnered attention given to the cause. What would be really awesome is a movement that would incorporate a little of both. Say an event to which an invited guest can donate his ticket(s) to the charities directly, so they can invite more beneficiaries as guests. Or the option to skip the event, after the tickets have been purchased. This would help to keep the head count lower, while still garnering the media attention and PR required to keep the buzz going. Unfortunately most of the bigger charity events have been in circulation for years, so retiring them now might leave donors with the impression that they need not donate to the cause anymore. Personally I think that if you truly dread charity galas, you should donate your ticket back to the event; because negativity is easily consumed by others, often replacing the recipients happiness and if your just going to zap the room of its positivity = then its better that you not attend. Just my two cents.

  • The Dog

    Totally agree with article. Why do people need a carrot to be dangled to donate money? HughE Dillion is an enabler by “showcasing” these Charity Whores so they can impress their other vapid Charity Whore friends. How about exercising a little humility and donate to a charity without any ulterior motive?

  • Guest

    Doesn’t Philly Magazine have something better to do other than attacking non-profits? I find it interesting that the author of this piece didn’t interview one event planner or organization to see where the proceeds go and how they benefit these charities. Have an opinion but at least get both sides before publishing one that is so misinformed…especially since this slanted opinion could result in effecting charitable giving to non-profits- many of whom depend on fundraising events as a source for additional donations that they so desperately need. I would be curious to know which charities this author gives to annually since this is apparently such a touchy subject for him.