It's the event of the year, and
everyone at school is talking about who's going, who's not and where the best
pre-parties and after parties are. No,
it's not prom; it's the annual school fundraiser gala.
Once an event for ritzy
private academies, this annual dinner and auction is now commonplace for many
public schools, which need more than candy bar sales to supplement tax dollars. They can be as casual as a spaghetti feed or as formal as a
black-tie ball. And for those of us who aren't part of the ladies who lunch
set, the idea of going to a formal function—at which we're expected to not
only shell out bucks for a pricey rubber chicken dinner, but then spend more
money—is kind of terrifying.
At least that's what I thought
before I ever went to a school fundraiser. The first few years my kids were at
elementary school, I avoided these functions like cult meetings. I didn't want
to spend an evening sipping Chardonnay with parents who all seemed to know each
other and all seemed to have more disposable income than my family did. Then,
the year my older son hit third grade, I decided to get over my fears and give
it a try, and guess what? It wasn't all that bad.
Here are some tips that helped me
survive the school fundraiser gala:
1. Go with a group
Just like high school dances
back in the day, the best way to avoid feeling awkward (and have more fun) is
to go with a group of friends. And if your husband is reluctant to go, try to
find another guy who doesn't know many people and introduce them ahead of time,
or at least early in the evening. If your other half really doesn't want to go,
consider going with a group of other moms. As a bonus, you'll only have to buy
one ticket, leaving more money to donate to education!
Remember, the alcohol service is often generous to get you to be generous.
2. Find out what other people are wearing
face it. One of the most nerve-racking things about a semi-formal event is
not wanting to show up under-dressed or over-dressed. The point of
asking what others are wearing is not to be competitive or judgmental, but to
find out the lay of the land. Just like you wouldn't walk into a job interview
without finding out how other people at the company dress, do a little research
about this function. Then again, I once saw a couple wearing a matching ball
gown and pirate shirt and seemed to enjoy themselves more than anyone else.
3. Work it
One secret for introverts attending
parties is to offer to help the host. If the thought of mingling and making
small talk brings back memories of not having anyone to sit with at the school
cafeteria, volunteer to help. If you have a job, such as selling raffle tickets
or even checking coats, you'll stay busy and meet people at the same time.
4. Give a little or a lot
likes to talk about money, even less so when you're bidding on big ticket items
in public. Are you in the market to spend $3000 on a week at a Maui timeshare?
Or are a handful of raffle tickets more your speed? Check with your spouse before the party and make sure you're on the same page. It's easy to get
caught up in the heat of the moment, especially if there's a live auctioneer or
if you've had a few drinks.
5. Speaking of drinks…
It's a school fundraiser,
not a fraternity party. This seems obvious, but it's worth repeating: Your kids' teachers and principal will be there, as
will the neighborhood gossipy mom. Remember, the alcohol service is often
generous to get you to be generous. Sadly, I've also seen people hitting on
other people's spouses, falling down drunk or brawling in the parking lot at
these functions. Don't be that person.
Maybe it's just my paranoid nature,
but I thought everybody would be watching how much we spent—or didn't spend—or if we showed up wearing the wrong clothes or not knowing anyone else. But
guess what? Nobody's really paying attention. And while these fundraisers are
often hyped up as the major revenue sources that will keep your school afloat
despite declining budgets, remember that part of the reasons schools throw
these galas instead of just asking for donations is that people like an excuse
to dress up and go out on the town. In many ways, the school fundraiser
gala is like prom for parents.