DEAR MISS MANNERS: On a wonderful weekend in New York City with a friend and our two daughters, ages 9 and 12, we enjoyed a Broadway show, dinners out, sightseeing and crowd watching. At the theater, after the show was over, we were told that cast members would be at the exits collecting donations for a charity supported by the members.
As we exited, sure enough, actors were holding buckets just waiting for our cash. At the restaurant that night, the singing waiters came around and asked for donations to help them attend acting and singing classes so that they, too, could become Broadway stars.
Both situations made me feel pressured to donate to their causes, which aren’t necessarily on my philanthropic list. My daughter also dug into her wallet to donate, but at 12, I don’t know that she really understood what she was donating to.
Is this a new trend to solicit donations from captive audiences? How should I politely refuse to donate as the wait staff comes by my table and holds their collection cup directly in front of me?
I also see this trend at stores. When I check out, I’m asked to donate to the “cause of the week.” I usually politely decline, but would rather not be asked in the first place.
GENTLE READER: Anyone who raises money for a living – whether as a panhandler or as a professional “development” officer – will tell you that it is hard work. It therefore amazes Miss Manners how many people voluntarily add such activities to their more immediate duties, be those serving dinner, reciting lines, or – in an extreme but also increasingly common case – getting married.
You may curtail your waiter’s side business by appealing to his supervisor, who is unlikely to be supportive of his hope of singing his way out of the restaurant. Theater troupes and newlyweds are less likely to listen to management, assuming that it is not management that put them up to it. But you may merely smile at them, say “Thank you” to confuse them, and pass by without donating.
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