The Etiquette for a Political Fundraiser Dinner

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Political candidates rely on fundraisers for successful campaigns.
Political candidates rely on fundraisers for successful campaigns. (Image: Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Getty Images)

Fundraisers are integral to the success of every candidate’s political campaign (see Resource 1). Sometimes, however, it is easy to be swept away in the planning of a political fundraiser dinner and forget the nuances required by etiquette. From invitations to seating arrangements, and from table decorations to donations, you can further the campaign's efforts and gratify guests by implementing simple but tasteful distinctions.

Invitations

According to "Fundraiser Insight Magazine," a fundraising dinner is a formal event that requires elegant invitations to guests. The paper for the invitations should therefore be white or ivory with centered black text. Details such as the time and location of the event, host name(s) and the RSVP deadline need to be included. Appropriate attire for the dinner should also be listed in the invitation, using such phrases as “black tie required” or “evening wear required” (all information from Reference 3).

Attire

Depending on the exact attire specified by the political fundraiser invitation, Didi Lorillard of Newport Manners recommends that men and women dress for such dinners as if going to upscale restaurants. In other words, she recommends that guests look stately enough to earn respect from the waitstaff. Men, in general, should wear khaki or dark pants with a blazer and a tie, or a business suit. Women can tailor their dresses to the weather while also remaining elegant (all information from Reference 4).

Seating Arrangements

At a political fundraising dinner, either the guest of honor or highest-ranking guest sits beside the host or hostess at the head table (see Reference 1). To keep the dinner’s focus on a political candidate and avoid seating arrangement errors, high-ranking officials can also co-host dinners (see Reference 1). It is further recommended that married couples not sit by each other (see Reference 1), although engaged couples can do so (see Reference 2). When numbers allow, seating arrangements should alternate men and women next to each other (see Reference 2), and seating cards must be used for all guests (see Reference 3). Those cards should be folded and placed on or in front of plates with names clearly visible on the outside (see Reference 3).

Tables

Political fundraising dinners should have the same table settings as formal dinners. Basic necessities thus include white or ivory plates, silver utensils and crystal glasses. Knives and salad forks should be on the outside of the cutlery pieces with water and wine glasses placed above knives (all information from Reference 3).

Table cloths are usually white or ivory, but this can be changed if the dinner will consist of an intimate group of donors. Black napkins are the norm, with decorative centerpieces that are short and compact. Such centerpieces will allow guests to comfortably eat and converse (all information from Reference 3).

Venue

The venue for a political fundraiser should be conveniently located for guests to easily attend (see Reference 5). The location should also offer ample socializing space for guests and provide the necessary audiovisual equipment for speeches or presentations (see Reference 5). Etiquette demands that expenses for the venue and dinner remain at a minimum, as donors will want to see that fundraising monies are being spent in the best manner possible for the campaign (see Reference 6). The fundraising committee should thus look for food and decorating materials that are donated and bypass extravagant menu choices like lobster tail and champagne (see Reference 6). To further reduce costs, servers should volunteer their efforts for the night if the venue allows such activities (see Reference 3). Items that cannot be donated must be factored into the overall budget (see Resource 1).

Donations

It is important that political fundraisers consider the range of donations from all guests to prevent miffed feelings and also increase the revenue generated (see Reference 6). Low, medium and high donation levels should therefore be available for guests to select (see Reference 6). Tickets, for example, might be priced at a flat rate with the option of attending a VIP reception prior to or following the actual dinner (see Resource 1). A price range might also be established for those who wish to be sponsors or host their own tables (see Reference 6). Allowing for these distinctions will ensure the dinner’s fundraising success and keep donors satisfied (see Reference 6).

After the Dinner

After the fundraising dinner, thank you notes should be sent to all people involved, including volunteers, vendors and donors (see Resource 1). This action is one of the most forgotten in political fundraising etiquette, but it is also one of the most important (see Resource 1). Donors and dinner guests should also be added to the political campaign’s mailing list to keep them informed of the candidate’s progress (see Reference 6). This is a formal courtesy, but it will also help in the future at re-election time or when additional campaign funds need to be raised (see Reference 6).

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