Dinner and an unknown donation

At this time of year a series of restaurants have a food festival where they offer patrons a

At this time of year a series of restaurants have a food festival where they offer patrons a set table d’hôte menu at a greatly reduced rate. I have been going to this event for the 10 years it’s been running and I look forward to it every year.

I recently enjoyed a lovely dinner with my friend C and when the bill came, I looked it over and noticed something odd: a $1 donation to charity XYZ.

Huh? What’s that all about , I asked C. FYI, the charity in question is reputable and very well respected in my community.

My initial reaction was indignation at the pretentiousness of the gift. We were being “billed” a donation (which by the way, was also being taxed 15% like the meal was). We were not notified this was happening. It’s important to point out that I am not – in any way – opposed to donating to that particular organization. In fact I have donated and sponsored individuals who have raised money for them.

My objection was at the “way” it was done. My freedom to choose to give was taken away, plus I had to pay provincial and federal tax on the dollar? Pffft!

A few minutes later, my indignation subsided and we decided to turn this into a teaching moment. When we questioned the manager he explained it was something new that had been implemented that same day and that the restaurant reduced the price of the meal by $1 as a way to include the gift.

After introducing ourselves as nonprofit professionals, my friend and I explained that while it is clear the restaurant owners want to do a nice gesture, unfortunately these types of things create an environment of distrust in the nonprofit sector. The general public does not usually discern the difference between the way a business chooses to manage its philanthropy and what the charity knows is fundraising and marketing best practices. In this case, a patron being offended that they are  “billed for a donation” without having a choice in the matter could be viewed as an bad fundraising tactic from the charity when it fact it was the restaurant.

The manager was extremely receptive to our feedback and promised to share our perspective with the owners. We talked for a few more minutes about how there is a different set of rules for the for profit sector and the nonprofit sector – we briefly touched on the issue of how we’ve been told that as fundraisers we should be ashamed to be paid but that’s for a whole other blog post! Basically, we jokingly said we could redo their marketing for this event if the focus was to be on their charitable work 😉

Here’s the clincher that we failed to point out. Upon review of the event’s website, it does say that $1 of every table d’hôte menu will be donated to the charity. If the restaurant wants to donate $1 of every meal, shouldn’t that come out of their profits? It seems like patrons shouldn’t be charged on the donation on their bill. Why should the restaurant look like Robin Hood when really they are charging patrons for the donation?

What are your thoughts? Should the restaurant bill patrons for the donation? Should they simply make a donation out of their profits and not bill patrons? What could the charity do about this? How would you react upon seeing that on your dinner bill?

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