I'm paying $300 a head. Now what?
September 9, 2013 2:00 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever attended a really high-ticket (as in hundreds of dollars per person) fund-raising banquet? What's it like?

For a design project, I need to plan a (fictional) high-class charity fund-raising banquet, but I've never attended one. Maybe you have. I've figured out that there has to be dinner, guest speakers, live music and a silent auction, but I'm kind of hazy on the details. What usually happens at these sorts of things? Super mega bonus points if you actually have an event program that I could look at.
posted by Faint of Butt to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: What it was like for me was "Why on earth did I just spend $1,000 on that?" There's nothing special about these events except that the attenders have an excess of disposable income. Organizers will try to make the event as special as possible by having special stuff there (there could be ice sculptures containing jumbo shrimp, to name one thing I vaguely recall) but it's not any different from any other event that involves conspicuous consumption -- e.g., a wedding reception. Typically, the event has several phases, with the first phase involving drinking and mingling of the kind you'd see at any cocktail party, and the second phase involving a more formal program where everyone sits and eats and listens to speakers. Sometimes there are gifts/party favors at everyone's chair. A political candidate at a fundraising event for him/her might have staff leave a copy of his/her book at everyone's chair. Often there are informational brochures that explain the good that your donation does. There's often a menu a choice of very frou-frou entrees and desserts. The modern trend is to show a movie or pictures via a big screen as part of the presentation and/or to have a closeup of the speakers' face onscreen so that those who are not in the very front row can see the speaker easily. Sometimes there's a raffle with some kind of prize. Sometimes there's dancing. Sometimes someone receives an award. Sometimes there are event tiers, with the real high-rollers getting invited to a private pre-event cocktail party held in an adjoining room. Et cetera et cetera. I hope I am not sounding too cynical, but now that I have some understanding of how fundraising works, I don't find this stuff anywhere near as magical as I used to.
posted by Mr. Justice at 2:15 PM on September 9, 2013 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I have!

Usually held at a largish venue. Hotel ballrooms. Tables of 8 or 10, anchored by a large centerpiece and/or balloons.

You get dressed up and valet park at the venue. You check in and are given a table assignment, sometimes you'll get a raffle ticket.

It starts with cocktail hour. Usually a cash bar, which is fine. A smallish selection of medium shelf liquors. The safe thing to drink is a Rum and Coke or a glass of wine. There may be passed hors d'oeuvres, most likely not though. If there are, it's a sticky meat on a skewer, a mini quiche, etc.

Then you mill about chitting and chatting with folks. If there's a silent auction, the stuff is on a table in the corner. You sign your name on the list with your bid, and as the evening progresses, you'll check it. There's usually a cut off point for bids.

There will be music playing during cocktail hour. A quartet, piano player or an iPod of tinkling music or sleeper jazz.

Then you go to your table. Dinner will be served. A bread basket of stale rolls and frozen butter curls will be at your elbow. Water glasses will be dripping with condensation. A wait-person will come around with wine, red or white.

A salad will be served. Field greens, a grape tomato and your choice of dressing, in gravy boats on the table, vinagrette or ranch.

Then the dinner, rubber chicken is the norm because it's the least objectionable. Sometimes you'll have a choice of fish or steak. Your chances of having these proteins being over-cooked, 98%.

This will be accompanied by a baby carrot with a wee bit of the green on top, a baby pattypan squash and a baby zucchini. Glistening with oil/butter. A puff of whipped potatoes. Eat another roll.

Then dessert and coffee with that really thick hotel cream. Dessert will be a tart, a piece of thin sheet cake, usually not chocolate.

As dessert is served, someone will go up to a podium and start thanking folks. Whomever organized the thing will be recognized, etc. If it's a medical something, the eminant doctors who treat that disease in your community will have purchased tables and they and their wives will be introduced (as they are usually large and frequent contributors.)

There may be a speaker, if so the speach will be short and mostly on topic of the event. Once my union bought a table at a Democratic fund-raiser and the speaker was Governor Lawton Chiles. He spoke for about 10-15 minutes, mostly about how awesome we all were for being active democrats. I got to shake his hand on his way to some other function.

Then, as the evening winds down, someone will say, "the silent auction is closing so get your final bids in!"

If there's something big, like a paintning, the winner will be announced so he/she can take the object away with him/her. It will be hideous. Otherwise it sort of takes place in a shuffle in the back of the room. One item will be so horrible no one will bid on it. The organizers will draw straws for who has to buy it so as not to hurt the feelings of the person who donated it.

One of my favorites of these was a library gala. It started at the Ft. Lauderdale main branch library. Authors were there at tables with their autographed books for sale. There were nibblies and a bar and we were meant to mill about for about 40 minutes.

Then we were assigned to go to the gorgeous home of a socialite in groups of about 20. I ended up at the home of the doctor who brought MRI to South Florida and his lovely wife. They set up tables on the balcony of their penthouse on the beach. We sat at a table of 6, with 5 civilians and an author.

The menu was a fennel salad, fish/veggies/rice and a raspberry mousse. With wine and champagne.

The house was all white, including a grand piano. Also, the bathroom was all in mirrors. Very weird.

Is this the sort of thing?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:22 PM on September 9, 2013 [16 favorites]

I've been to political fundraisers before: you usually eat the bad food and listen to the stump speech with the expectation of getting a few seconds with the candidate during the receiving line, a photo op, or some actual facetime, all depending on how much you've donated.
posted by Oktober at 2:22 PM on September 9, 2013

Best answer: In my experience, the non-profit frequently stages the fundraiser as an event honoring someone for their contribution to the non-profit or for exemplifying the non-profit's ideals. In reality, the honoree is chosen mainly for his/her draw -- i.e., their ability to round up tables and tables of people willing to pony up and/or attract others who don't know them but would like the opportunity to perhaps meet them.

Law firms (for example) will buy a table (or two, if the honoree is affiliated with the firm) and then send out emails to everyone in the vicinity inviting them to attend. Some law firms really twist your arm, others don't.

The dinner normally starts with a salad on the table as one enters. The MC makes a very short introductory speech telling everyone what the non-profit does, then everyone digs in and eats their way through an okay but not amazing meal. (Remember that your $300 is going mostly to the non-profit not for good food or wine). When dessert and coffee are served, a much longer presentation begins, which recognizes everyone on the non-profit's list of honored guests, and often includes testimonials from or about people who have been assisted by the non-profit. Lastly, the guest of honor is recognized, and they give an impassioned speech about why the non-profit is a good choice for contributions. Occasionally, people wander the aisles with pledge cards. I've been to more than one in which pledges were obtained verbally, as if by auctioneer.

Sometimes you learn a lot. Sometimes you're bored to tears. Sometimes it's fun. Usually it's a bit of a chore.
posted by janey47 at 2:23 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've never attended one of these as a guest, but I have been to two or three as volunteer/staff. Fund-raisers for a political candidate. The big draw was, it seems, the opportunity to meet with the candidate and/or some famous political folks who supported the candidate. And when I say "meet with," I mean that it was basically a photo op. No attendees, save for the really high rollers, actually got much of a chance to speak with the famous folks.

The drinks were great, though.
posted by troika at 2:23 PM on September 9, 2013

I've been to dozens, and my wife puts on such events professionally. (In fact, she's doing one for Diane Rehm in a few days.)

Sometimes there are name tags, sometimes not. If it's black-tie, name tags aren't appropriate. Sometimes there's a silent auction, but usually not. The time it's held dictates what kind of food is served and how fancy one must dress. If it's immediately after the end of the work day, and only an hour or so, then it's less expensive, the food is closer to snacks, and one dresses business casual. If it's later (say, 7 PM), then dinner is expected, and one should probably dress up more.

If it's a large dinner, then most of the fundraising is likely to be done by selling tables, rather than tickets. The tables will be 6-, 8-, or 10-seat round tables (e.g., "rounds of 8," in event parlance), and the organization will sell a table of 10 for, say, $1,200, rather than selling 10 seats for $100 apiece. These are called "table sponsors," and generally the sponsor gets their name in the program, and quite often on a placard on the table, too. Then the sponsor doles out their seats to whomever they want.

Remember these are fund-raising events—you're not paying $300 to have a $300 experience, you're paying $300 to have a $100 experience, with the balance benefiting the charity.
posted by waldo at 2:25 PM on September 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

It's also not uncommon for these kinds of events to have tables that end up partially empty. Often individuals or corporations will buy a table and then fail to fill it with attendees (because when you're the kind of person who goes to these sorts of things, often you're the kind of person who goes to a lot of them, and they get old really, really fast).

The venue varies depending on size and what the event is for, so it might be at a board member's elegant mansion or it might be in a cheesy hotel ballroom, but the food is basically always terrible and what you might expect at a lousy wedding. Good banquets only have a couple of speakers and a decent MC. Bad banquets feature a never-ending line up of blowhards and poor, well-meaning souls who are criminally bad at public speaking.

Also, $300 a head isn't a really high-ticket event. Your average local Rotary club might put on a dinner with $200 tickets, so for the really deep pockets, it's definitely more in the $1000+ range.
posted by Diagonalize at 2:40 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've been to a bunch. I've planned a bunch. Three hundred bucks? That's a modest amount.

Ruthless Bunny has it. There's a mix of venue, food, drinks, valet parking, there might be entertainment. The event chair will try mightily to differentiate this event from every other event this season, but they're all pretty similar.

You can count on a lot of overly thin, aggressively blonde women. Unless it's a Ball or a Gala, it's probably cocktail dress and not full gowns. There's sometimes a photographer of the local paper or magazine. If you're not sure on dress and there's no one to ask see if you can look up an old photo from the event.

Be aware, there is always, always additional fundraising at the event. Probably an auction, but usually people roving around talking up the charity.

Best bet? Arrive in time for cocktail hour (which is the most fun). Make your auction bids. Stay for the dinner if you must, but bail before the line at the valet gets out of hand. They'll call you Monday if you won any auctions.
posted by 26.2 at 3:01 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have attended a bunch of these; I have family connections to two different charities (one is an religious-based charity set up by an organization of corporate lawyers; the other is for a cancer program at a specific hospital) and am thus obligated to attend what we privately refer to as The Most Boring Dinner In The World at least yearly. Political fundraisers may be completely different, I've never been to one of those.

The corporate-lawyer event is attended by, well, corporate lawyers. A few wives and husbands but not many. No children. Everyone's coming straight from work. Age range is younger than you'd expect, I'd say 30-50; majority but not overwhelmingly male. The hospital event skews older (probably 40-70), dressier, wealthier (I'd guess roughly evenly split between ostentatiously wealthy and seriously wealthy) and majority female: the "ladies who lunch" demographic is basically the core.

I'm not the one writing the checks so I'm not certain, but I have the impression that $300 is very low for this sort of thing -- for a lot of these folks that's just what dinner at a restaurant costs. I'm pretty sure we're talking more like $5000.

The ones I've attended follow a consistent structure: they are scheduled to start as soon after 5pm as plausible, and to end in time for everyone to still catch the train home and maybe get to see their kids. Dress code is sometimes formal attire, but in recent years more often seems to be standard expensive-suit office wear, because that is what everyone is already wearing.

You show up at the hotel conference center, and find the greeter table where you give your name, confirm that you're not just there looking for free canapes, get your name tag, program, and sometimes a bag of advertising/schwag provided by the primary sponsor of that year's event*. Young PR types with clipboards will be fluttering around near this table watching for VIP attendees: big donors, the 'honoree' (janey47 does a good job explaining this above), etc, to do a bit of extra schmoozing. If you are one of those people, these handlers will introduce themselves, thank you, ask if you need anything, then will linger near you throughout the drinks-and-hors-d'oeuvres portion of the evening so they can give (sometimes not-nearly-subtle-enough) cues to the organizers who are making the rounds to personally thank and handshake the VIPs yet again.

Next comes drinks (open bar) and hors d'oeuvres (on caterer trays), standing, which gives everyone time to arrive late and gives the caterers time to set up the dinner room. This always takes far, far longer than expected. There may be a piano player or the like in the corner, but more often it's just people talking to each other too loudly for that to be audible anyway.

Then they open the doors and herd everyone into the dinner room. If you are smart you will have your drink refilled before you go into the dining room, because there's a long way to go yet before they're going to pour the wine. Based on the line that immediately forms at the bar, these events are attended by some smart cookies indeed.

You've been assigned a seat at a numbered table; there is some sort of pecking order around who gets assigned to sit closest to the podium. Think upscale hotel wedding reception minus the cake, bride and music, and you're pretty close to what this looks like.

There is a series of speeches -- first an intro from the organizer, thank you all for coming yada yada, then a few minutes from someone else talking about how great the organization is and here's what we're going to do with your money and isn't that wonderful; then someone else comes on to introduce the honoree and a list of his accomplishments. There have occasionally been short video presentations. Finally the honoree makes a speech which depending on the speaking ability of the honoree can be excruciatingly dull or actually rather entertaining, and ranges from "obviously written for and tailored to this specific event" to "this is the same speech I make every time I am asked to make a speech anywhere for any reason". Then they give the honoree something made out of lucite or cut crystal and finally they stop talking and let everyone eat.

(One year they served the salad before the speeches but the sound of knives and forks clinking against plates pretty much drowned out the speaker. They never did that again).

Reading the above comments it sounds like I've been pretty lucky as far as food goes; it has to be served to ~500 people simultaneously so there's a limit on how fancy it can get, but we're not talking rubber chicken either. Hotel salad, choice of two entrées plus a secret vegetarian option if you ask or have arranged ahead of time, red or white whine, rolls, dessert, coffee, and out. Nobody lingers long after the coffee is served, because nobody wanted to be there in the first place AFAICT.

None of the events I've attended have had a silent auction or have pushed for (or even had a mechanism to accept) additional donations at the event itself.

I've never saved a program, but they're usually thick booklets with a page or two listing the speeches and the dinner options, plus a couple hundred pages of advertisements purchased by attendees ("XYZ Law Firm is Proud to support _______") as an additional fundraising path.

* The best was the year that Pfizer sponsored, and gave everyone computer mice, shaped like race cars, in race-car-themed cardboard boxes with VIAGRA RACE CAR MOUSE printed all over them. I shit you not.

My wife, my mother-in-law and I took the subway home from our $1000-a-plate dinner in our formal attire with lunchbox-size boxes of VIAGRA RACE CAR MOUSE on our laps and thoroughly enjoyed watching people's reactions.

posted by ook at 3:31 PM on September 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

All of the above, but I'd also say it's a good chance to meet people. You can call on them later down the road for some networking.

And don't be surprised about the additional fundraising activities. I was caught off guard at my first rodeo but it was fine. If you paid $300 a ticket, the followup ask might be another $300 (or easily more). I suggest you get your spouse/date/other on the same page so there is no shock on the drive home.
posted by 99percentfake at 3:35 PM on September 9, 2013

Wow, this doesn't nearly sound as exciting as they always are on soap operas.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:50 PM on September 9, 2013

Response by poster: Great answers, folks. Thanks so much, and please keep your stories coming.

One question I forgot to ask: Do the guests customarily make their dinner selections in advance, when they register, or do they order from a menu at the event?

(Also, thanks for the tips about the cost. I'm just a grad student, so for me a $300 dinner is high-ticket, and $1000 is so ludicrous it might as well be on Mars. Oh, well.)
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:51 PM on September 9, 2013

The one time I got to go to one of these,(Fortune 15 company charity fundraiser) there was a Ketel One ice tube thingie that they poured your appletinis through so they arrived ice cold. For free. I had a lot of appletinis.
Which is probably why I enjoyed Earth, Wind and Fire so much.
In retrospect, it was like if my prom committee had unlimited funds, fake IDs and really loved "Shining Star."
posted by Biblio at 4:09 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

You arrive at the hotel or convention center. After drink-and-mingle time, there's a table where you get your dinner table number. (Or maybe it happened upon arrival? Sorry can't recall.) Anyway, the point is, seating is assigned.

As far as I recall, the only dinner "ordering" happened at the time of ticket purchase, and you checked a box whether you wanted vegetarian or meat entree. And, as someone pointed out above, the "meat" is usually chicken breast in some sort of camouflaging sauce.

I'm not even sure I should answer this since I am not 100% sure, but this is how I think it went down. Maybe this will spur another MeFi'er to confirm or deny...
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:16 PM on September 9, 2013

If you want to see some of these things in a fictional setting, there's an episode of Gilmore Girls (S04E13 "Nag Hammadi Is Where They Found the Gnostic Gospels") that takes place, in part, at a charity dinner. You see the stress over filling a table, the schmoozing, and the boring speaker.
posted by atropos at 4:27 PM on September 9, 2013

Most of what I would say has already been covered, but I have one positive and one negative example to add.

One of the worst of these things I ever attended was a black-tie event targeted at lawyers and corporate types. Dinner was three small courses, with close to an hour between courses plus speeches. We were expected to stay seated at our tables for the whole 3+ hours of the "meal".

Because of nights like that one, but also more generally, it can be helpful to eat before going.

I have also been to two great events run by non-profit theatre companies. At each of those, the employees of the organisation were quite enthusiastic, and the lighting and set designers, among others, went to a great deal of effort to make the venue stunning and the event a lot of fun. At one of events, attendees could even try on bits of costumes and play with props during the pre-dinner reception.

I wish that I were able to attend more of the latter type of event.
posted by sueinnyc at 4:42 PM on September 9, 2013

Regarding menu - usually the menu is set (the specifics may not be communicated to attendees before the event unless there's a celebrity chef involved.) I don't think I've ever ordered off a menu at the event. The food is similar to a wedding. Sometimes it's a buffet and sometimes it's a plated meal. Whatever it is, it's something that can be delivered to a herd of people in a hurry. If it's a plated meal then you're probably going to have to sit through the speeches if you want chow.

All in all, cocktails and hors d' oeuvres are the way to go!
posted by 26.2 at 5:43 PM on September 9, 2013

Depending on the venue/reason, be prepared for society ladies giving you dirty looks for your choice of footwear.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:47 PM on September 9, 2013

Do the guests customarily make their dinner selections in advance, when they register, or do they order from a menu at the event?

You're never going to see a menu as such at these events, whether in person or ahead of time; the logistics of serving dinner to that many people all at the same time pretty much rules that out. (And it has to be food that can survive some time on a steam table while they prep the other 499 plates, which is why roasts and other meats-in-sauces are so common). The ones I've been to have had a choice between two entrees, with the catering staff asking which you'd prefer while they clear out the salad plates. (Ditto for the wine; once you're at the table you're not ordering a wine, they just come around with a bottle of red in one hand and a bottle of white in the other.)

I've been trying to remember the specific food choices I've run into -- I'm drawing a blank, but the dinner menu from this randomly googled caterer is fairly representative of the sort of thing (you wouldn't get this full menu at the event of course; the event organizers would choose one or two dishes.) There's a lot more choices in the hors d'oeuvres than at the main meal, because they can make them in smaller batches -- one even had a full sushi bar alongside the more usual things-on-toothpicks, which was actually pretty awesome.
posted by ook at 6:46 PM on September 9, 2013

I run a lot of these sorts of events for work. Maybe it's specific to my field (cultural nonprofits) but one thing missing from the above descriptions is some kind of theme. There is always a theme to stuff we do - usually drawn from whatever the museum exhibition on at the moment is, but I've seen other places do totally random themes like "Evening on the Left Bank" or "Safari" or Dr. Zhivago-esque snowy Russian glitz, that sort of thing... Because big ticket donors go to a shit-ton of these events, the feeling is that originality counts and that we have to try to amuse them enough that they aren't bored out of their gourds. Therefore, wandering performers, table games, flashy/surprising/large-scale decor, novelty things like signature cocktails or elaborate photobooths, and costumed/theme-dressed staff are usually part of the deal.
posted by Miko at 7:02 PM on September 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have been to several of these and helped plan a couple. Miko is right -- there's always a theme. It's probably on the invitation ("Join us for ... A NIGHT OF ROMANCE") and dictates the table centerpieces, but maybe nothing else. Maybe it dictates how everyone dresses ("Black and Blue Ball" where everyone wears jeans and a black shirt). Music is carefully curated to match the theme for at least part of the night.

When I was planning them a few years back, signature cocktails were huge, in some sort of distinctive glass and in some bright color that would make other people go, "ooooh, pink -- where'd you get that?" Another big thing was putting a diamond pendant in one signature cocktail glass so someone would win a diamond from drinking $5 drinks, but I am not at all sure how this worked so you didn't swallow it.

In my experience, people are much more excited to attend cocktail party fundraisers at someone's home. It's tough to put on a sit-down banquet at a private home, but a cocktail party is easy, and while I have seen the inside of all the local banquet-y hotels often enough at weddings and fundraisers that I feel no particular urge to pay $500 for their chicken, I am much more curious to shell out to see the inside of a local CEO's Victorian mansion (for example). Cocktail fundraisers in someone's home tend to be cheaper (no meal, just appetizers; no facility fee (which is sometimes waived anyway); etc.), but you will almost certainly have to have valet parking if it's a party of any size, especially in the winter. 60 or 100 people can park in the neighborhood and walk (depending on the neighborhood and the timing and how much you like your neighbors), but 200 people you're going to want valets and to rent a parking lot from a country club or school nearby. It's a lot harder to do speeches at a cocktail event, however. Also people want TOURS and the more you're willing to show on the tour the better. People TOTALLY want to see the master bathroom.

The most entertaining one of these I went to was a black-tie cocktail fundraiser in the GIGANTIC home of a woman with a fantastic art collection that was showcased by the volunteer tour guides, and she had an indoor pool in a solarium sort of room, and a tiny little dog, and the dog was like "ALL THESE PEOPLE CAME TO SEE ME SWIM!" and kept leaping into the pool, swimming the length, shaking himself out on shrieking partygoers, and then running back to do it again, looking for guest approval the entire time. Three-quarters of the party was in the pool-solarium watching the dog do this over and over because it was hilarious and he was so proud of himself. The organizers were kind-of annoyed that the dog hadn't been sent somewhere before the party and the woman who owned the house was doing nothing about her swimming dog, but the partygoers were all charmed by him.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:17 PM on September 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

I've been to a number of these. Only one- for a Jewish charity- sticks out in my mind because the food was delicious.

Kosher food done banquet style apparently comes out better than non -kosher food. Dill, salmon, cucumbers, capers, prime rib- delicious. Banquet hall of 400 folks in NYC and damn, the food was good. It is good when you cannot mask cheap chicken in a dairy-based sauce at these things, apparently.
posted by slateyness at 10:01 PM on September 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh also? Major metropolitan areas and wealthy suburbs thereof? Probably 1k a plate.

But I have been to similar small town events where your $200-300 per plate estimate would be absolutely correct, say for an event to benefit the local hospital, humane society, rotary, etc.
posted by slateyness at 10:18 PM on September 9, 2013

Oh oh! I've actually been to one of these. I somehow landed an invite to some fundraising thing where Zach Braff was the guest of honor. It was pretty much as it was described above and this one was a silent auction. The one thing that was different was that as you entered the venue there was actually a red carpet area where you stood in front of a sponsorship wall and got your picture taken by the paps. I guess because it was in LA? Sadly my face was not seen in any magazine but it was a thrill nonetheless.
People were dressed quite fancy (I remember I bought a new dress and got my hair done) and I specifically remember being awed by the amount of bling on show.
posted by like_neon at 1:34 AM on September 10, 2013

Ooh, I have been to one of these - an AIDS fundraiser run by fashionistas. I don't know how much tickets went for - I was a guest at a table of someone who had donated one of the auction items.

Pretty much as described above but with a real auction. Additional fundraising was done by the selling of raffle tickets and red silicone wristbands.

There was ongoing entertainment in the way of shirtless beefcakes pretending to drink coffee at a table up the front (sponsored by a coffee company). Also, one of the auction items was the hire of a fancy sports car (like a Lamborghini or something) so that car was on display. The main entertainment was a fashion parade. Schwag included little bottles of vodka and vibrating condoms.

The event was probably longer than most, and went something like this:
Champagne on arrival (real champagne, from one of the sponsors, and was free flowing all evening)
Welcome & thanks
Entree (being the course before main course. We were seated at this point, it was not finger food)
Short speech
Auction (the short speech and auction may have been the other way around, if it matters).
Dessert/fashion parade.
Tea/Coffee/after dinner drinks and I think dancing but don't quote me (see above, re free flowing champagne).

re food - I don't think there's much a difference between a fundraiser and any other big banquet. Usually there is a menu on the table which tells you what they're going to serve. There might be a choice between 2 different meats for main plus a vegetarian option if you request it. Sometimes there are 2 different mains available but they just go around the table alternating each one. If you don't like what you got, you have to negotiate a swap from someone at your table.
posted by pianissimo at 4:00 AM on September 10, 2013

I went to one of these things just once, back in about 1997 in Minneapolis. No idea what the fundraiser was for. I didn't pay for it - my boss for some reason paid for everyone in the office to attend. I even took a date!

I can't add too much to what's already been said, other than a couple of data points that might be useful for your notional fundraiser:

1. To my surprise, veal - that most objectionable of all major meats - was served. My date and I puzzled over this all evening.

2. We were "treated" to third-tier musical entertainment! In this case, it was ... Melissa Manchester, belting out '80s chestnuts and looking rather haggard. I believe the accompaniment was canned, not live.

It was sort of an embarrassing event all around, really.
posted by Dr. Wu at 4:49 AM on September 10, 2013

Often the MC Is a locally known figure, such as am evening newscaster, at least around these parts. And depending on the cause, political figures may be listed as chairs or sponsors (the governor, the Chief Justice) although they don't usually attend.

I went to one where the CEO of my company was on the board of the nonprofit. Lots of wealthy people in the room and our company had two tables of mid level and senior people. As the wine flowed they got very competitive during the live auction as they outbid each other and others in the room all under the eyes of an approving boss.
posted by Sukey Says at 5:45 AM on September 11, 2013

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