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Malignant Thank Yous

A year or two ago, my husband and I were invited to our neighbor’s son’s wedding. This neighbor also happened to be one of my husband’s work supervisors.  We bought a nice gift from their registry and brought it with us to the reception.  Yes, I know it’s proper ettiquette to ship it before the wedding, but in our area, all the gift are brought to the reception.

During the wedding, I notice a message from the bride and groom on the back of the program.  Basically it said, “We have many friends and family whose lives have been touched by cancer.  In honor of those friends and family, we will be foregoing sending thank you notes and donating the cost of thank you notes and postage to the American Cancer Society.”  We saw a sign with this same message on the gift table.

So basically, for approximately 250 people at the wedding, they are donating less than $100 to the American Cancer Society and using it as a way to get out of writing thank you notes!  Of course, if anybody had not been able to come to the wedding and shipped their gifts, they would not have received any acknowledgement and would not have known the lame excuse that the couple was using to not write thank you notes.

If the groom had not been the son of my husband’s supervisor, we probably would have left the gift in the car and written in the card, “We are so happy that you support such a wonderful organization.  In honor of your support and your nuptials, we have made a donation in your name to the American Cancer Society.”   0221-11

Scuttling out of the obligation to write thank you notes by attaching the deed to some charitable cause is a clever use of alleged altruism to replace appropriate expressions of gratitude to giftgivers.

Weddings are not fundraisers for yourself or any other charitable associations.   Why?

1) Because it’s crass to link the solemnity and serious of a lifelong commitment ceremony to the acquisition of money, material assets, etc.    Yes, we all know weddings generate lots of gifts but the newlyweds in the above story committed the etiquette faux pas of assuming guests will give them gifts and that by doing so, their guests will happily desire to donate to newlywed’s pet charity by means of foregoing a written thank you note.

2)  Your charity may not be my charity.  In this story, there was no way the giftbearing guests could opt out of the plan to substitute thank you notes for charitable donation to the American Cancer Society. And before anyone reads too much into this and declares me to be a cancer hater, I’ve had cancer, my father and SIL recently died of cancer.   But I may have reasons why I would choose to not donate to a particular charity or organization.  Switch “American Cancer Society” with “Carry Nation’s Association For The Prohibition of Alcohol” or “Ku Klux Klan Senior Citizens Home” and you can start to see that maybe not everyone shares your same charitable convictions.

If the newlyweds were that concerned about honoring those in their family and friends who have been touched by cancer, a short note in the ceremony program such as,  “In honor of those friends and family whose lives have been touched by cancer, Bride and Groom have made a donation to the American Cancer Society.”   And then written a thank note for every generous wedding gift they received.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • karma February 24, 2011, 6:02 pm

    Dang! They wanted to violate etiquette, but not enough to request donations in lieu of presents. LOL!!!

  • Cooler Becky February 24, 2011, 7:20 pm

    @Irish In regards to your response to the piano teaching gig. If the school sets fees at a certain rate and pays their teachers at a certain rate, that’s up to the school. The coordinators also have to eat. If you weren’t happy with the rate, then don’t teach at that school, or set up private lessons instead.

    I just think that your attitude towards your pay is really odd.

  • Kelly February 24, 2011, 7:29 pm

    I have to say I’m stunned by the people who say they don’t write thank you notes. Nobody enjoys it, especially when there are many to be written, but this isn’t a negotiable part of polite behavior.

    As for the “charitable” contribution, when the giver goes out of his/her way to proclaim their generosity, to me it’s not even remotely admirable. It’s showcasing and it’s “all about me”. I’d almost be tempted to ask to see the receipt. (Thought, not action!). I just hate rudeness and this qualifies.

  • Kelly February 24, 2011, 7:31 pm

    PS – I forgot to add that I’m in the US. Obviously, if other cultures have different traditions, I’m not speaking of those.

  • Guinevere February 24, 2011, 7:42 pm

    I was at a wedding last September and on each plate there was a “thank you for sharing our day with us” note. I didn’t realize until three months had gone by that that was our thank you note. Is this a new thing? I personally enjoyed writing my thank you notes; although admittedly I only had 70 guests. But to hide it behind a fake “donate to cancer” cause is distasteful. And weird.

  • Ista February 24, 2011, 8:04 pm

    I’m kinda relieved to find out that I’m not the only one who wasw raised without a clue about the Importance of Thank You Notes. I’ve actually only received a handful in my life.

    That said, it’s never to late to change and I am busily putting together TY notes for those who attended my recent babyshower…it’s harder than it looks!

    I certainly wouldn’t dream of putting up a sign at my babyshower stating that the cost of postage, etc was going to March of Dimes, though; if you are raised well enough to know that TY notes are a necessity, then you should write them.

  • jenna February 24, 2011, 8:14 pm

    I know charity donations in lieu of favors are technically bad etiquette: it’s just one of those things that I don’t care enough about etiquette-wise to be bothered by it. One reason why is that since we didn’t do this at our wedding, if I were to see it done it would be by someone else, not me. I’m simply not going to stand in judgment of that person for donating to charity in lieu of favors – it would feel MORE crass to think “oh oh oh you bad etiquette follower you!”

    FWIW we’re one of those couples who did encourage people to give to a charity of their choice (we did list a few that we support on our website that they could pick if they wished) in lieu of gifts. We mostly got gifts *anyway* because that’s just what people wanted to do, but a fair number did donate. Nobody was bothered by it because they had a choice – donate to a charity we support, donate to a charity they support, give a gift if they want, or give no gift (we did add that line about “your presence is your gift to us”) and we didn’t register. We got some flak for not registering but in the end people were fine with it – it’s not required after all.

    I do agree that the best way to go about donating to a charity when one gets married is to do so discreetly: perhaps, for example, when you have worked out a final budget, lop 10% off that budget and donate it quietly to a charity of your choice? It’s not something anyone has to do, but it is a goodhearted thing to do.

    There are other ways to do good for the community when you get married: choosing an eco-friendly venue or a historic site or national park – for the latter two, the site fees usually go to preservation of the site or park (at least in New York state, the parks do charge a fee to hold an event on their grounds and specify where you can do it). Doing things locally – supporting small and independent businesses is good for the local economy – is a thoughtful plan, even though it is not “charity”. It’s still good for the community! In terms of being eco-friendly, having a locally-sourced vegetarian reception (or at least one with a high veggies to meat ratio), not giving out tchotchke favors, lessening paper waste by not having programs or inner envelopes on invitations, not using any throwaway plastic utensils or plateware that isn’t biodegradable, buying drinks (if you are supplying your own) in large containers to reduce can and bottle waste, forgoing “extra” items such as chair covers and not having fresh flowers (or having them fresh but grown locally, not imported) are all options, and in many ways are more in the spirit of Gandhi’s “be the change you want to see in the world” than giving to a charity would be. (Not that donating is bad, of course – it’s great! I have concerns about how much money goes to overhead on charities though).

    Finally, vacationing in a destination that could really use tourist dollars for the local economy, and having a locally-sourced honeymoon (ie no big resort, stay in the family-run B&B. No chain restaurant, eat in the local cafe. Hire a local guide instead of taking a tour…etc) is one way to see your money going toward a principled world.

    I don’t mean to say “you have to do these things!” of course – they’re all ideas, options, thoughts. We didn’t do all of them at our wedding. Just something to think about.

  • Jillybean February 24, 2011, 9:34 pm

    @Maitri – I wrote mine on the plane to and from my honeymoon. So, they were all mailed when I got home, which was 21 days after the wedding. Helped pass the time on the long flight, and I was happy to get them done.

  • Taylor February 25, 2011, 12:27 am

    When I got married, I initially planned to do pretty much everything by the book, including getting little keepsakes for the guests. After reading all kinds of accounts on how “nobody cares about the keepsakes anyway!” and remembering that I’ve never kept any of the crap I was given at other peoples’ weddings (a little glass bottle with a seashell in it? A program rolled up and made to look like an ancient scroll? What am I supposed to do, frame it?), I decided to forego buying junk no one would keep, and I donated the money that I would have spent on that stuff to the Humane Society (it’s my wedding, I donate to who I want!). I didn’t announce it to everyone, though, and no one ever missed those dumb keepsakes. I think they all would have noticed missed thank you notes, though.

    I did write thank you notes, the proper way. Handwritten, individualized, mentioned the specific gift, sent on time, etc. I’m not completely etiquette-challenged. 😛

  • DocCAC February 25, 2011, 2:58 am

    What an innovative way to be crass but *seem* to be a *good guy*. I agree with administarator’s comments on “your charity may not be mine”. I have asked people what charity they prefer (although not as a wedding gift; at Christmas, for example when trying to buy for the person who has everything or a corporate type gift. I started this when I got a couple of corporate type gifts at Christmas in the form of “lieu of a gift, we have donated to X charity “. This came from a group medical practice I had referred patients to, and although I didn’t expect anything from this group or any other, my first thought was how much got donated and how many people did it cover…much like the OP (who most likely gave less than $1.00 per gift when all was said and done) and it happened to be a charity local to that practice, meaning it benefitted me or my patients little to not at all. If asked, I would have specified one of my community’s organizations. This was copied by other practices, not one donated to a charity I would have given to, although their choices were okay for where they were. I would have just preferred to have some of that charitable money go to charities that would potentially benefit my patients, not just theirs. It really stood out because I typically got about half a dozen gifts at Christmas from docs or groups I referred to (most just sent cards, which was cool) and shared with staff , in case you think I am one of those docs who gets dozens of corporate type gifts and was p.o.’d I was denied a gift from those who chose to give to a charity.

    @jenna (or anyone else) If you want to see how much your charities have in overhead costs, excess funds, etc. , my favorite site is Charity Navigator. Religious charities don’t have to open their books, but the rest do. CN gives out stars, tells why the charity got that rating, has pie charts on how money is spent (look up the Red Cross sometime! and no flames please), gives info on how the latest info compares to previous years and compares the charity you are looking up to other charities doing the same or similar work. When I was besieged by several different state police organizations, I tried to look them up and for one in particular, ended up emailing back and forth to the CFO because they weren’t in CN. I also asked a couple of police persons what they thought of the charities in question (I ask veterans–including my brother–about the different veteran’s organizations if I can’t find them on CN). CN also has comments on the charity from people who have tried to use or have used the charity.

    For anyone who gets calls from charities, I insist they contact me by mail for me to give since the callers are paid to call and the charity typically gets 10% or less of funds raised whereas they get all of the money sent into them by mail (no middle man).

  • karma February 25, 2011, 7:02 am


    Giving to charity in lieu of favors is not rude. Favors are not a part of the etiquette realm nor are they mandatory at an event. It’s any suggestion that people must mean to give you you which is poor etiquette. In truth, bringing up any charity on an invitation, website, or at the event is in poor taste. At the end of the day, it’s only when someone asks you what charity they might give to in your name that it’s okay to have an answer ready.

  • SHOEGAL February 25, 2011, 9:04 am

    I’m American – here – we write thank you notes. If I were an American living in France – I’d find out what the French did there in the same circumstances in that culture. If they didn’t write thank you notes – then I wouldn’t so as not to offend anyone. I also wouldn’t want to be labeled as a crass and overbearing American – tramping all over what people there consider the proper way to do things. America is a melting pot – but that isn’t to say we haven’t formed our own traditions and developed an individual culture. If you live here – it is the right thing to do – you write a thank you note. You don’t thank in person in lieu of the note or with a note on the table – or forego thanks under the name of charity. You handcraft a personal thank you. That is what we do.

  • irish February 25, 2011, 9:52 am

    @ SJ, I’m not surprised! It’s so common to hear ‘you get paid to do music?’ as well!

    @ Cooler Becky, it was a primary (elementary) school, not a music school. The coordinator is paid a salary by the government, and extra to coordinate music lessons (I assume; that’s how it usually works for special duties teachers). I wouldn’t ask that the coordinator make up the shortfall between what the students paid and what I got paid; I think that the school should. Also, the school doesn’t pay me, the students do. Essentially the school provides me with a premises from which to teach, and benefit themselves by being able to offer music lessons to their students. In most schools in Ireland, teachers who come in from outside set their own rates and the school doesn’t get involved. As it happens I do teach privately; I took on the extra hours as a favour to the previous teacher who had to give it up. It was my choice and I don’t resent the school setting my rate of pay; all I was saying is that the school advertised its ‘commitment to universal music education and low costs’, when in fact they didn’t lose out at all – I was the one who had to charge less.

  • Alexis February 25, 2011, 10:16 am

    ‘Dear Lazy Gimmie Pigs:
    Congratulations on both your wedding and your charitable efforts! I have chosen contribute to them by giving money I would have otherwise spent on a gift for you to the charity of my choice in your honor. May you both be blessed with a long, happy marriage!
    Love, Wedding Guest

    What do you want to bet they WOULD contact me to ‘thank’ me for such a generous’gift’. (And to ask when the ‘real’ gift would be coming!)

  • Snowy February 25, 2011, 11:10 am

    “your charity is still not everyone else’s charity. Donate discreetly without the pretense of attaching it to a token favor you *might* have given guests.”

    I used to work for a very large internet company (who would always tell you if you had mail), and one year, in lieu of any kind of Christmas bonus or even a token gift, everyone at my level got a card saying that a donation had been made to charity in our name. As we all worked long hours for peanuts with no overtime, that smarted a bit, not that we knew how much they’d donated.

    But the kicker was we could never even find out what charity “our” donations supposedly went to–60+ people asking, and no one seemed to know!

    Maybe it was the charity of Dodo-Feather-Stuffed Fanny Warmers For Execs.

  • Jillybean February 25, 2011, 11:44 am

    Re: Favors. Agreed, they aren’t mandatory. But, I do want to say, it’s possible to have favors without giving out useless junk. It just requires more thought and the ability to step away from the wedding machine. If you order favors from some wedding favor website you’re going to get stuff that is not particularly interesting to people. It’s funny, because as silly as the matchbooks with the bride and groom’s names and wedding dates on them are, most people will use the matches over time, and therefore they are at least a useful tidbit.

    We actually had a favor table at our wedding, which included things from both of our cultures (I’m American, he’s Indian). We had a sign there letting people know that we appreciated them coming with instructions to choose a gift. People were able to choose the items they liked, or no item at all. Nothing was at the place settings and therefore no one felt obligated to take anything at all. One of the favors was Indian bangel bracelets which my husband’s brother had brought from India. We had a huge basket full of sets of three in all sorts of colors and styles. Most of the women ended up picking them early and wearing them all night (and, of course, got to take them home). And the little girls at the wedding certainly loved them. I know at least several people still wear the bracelets they picked, plus because they were from India and were a reflection of our merging cultures, it was more meaningful than salt and pepper shackers or heart shaped measuring spoons.

  • RP February 25, 2011, 11:49 am

    Read their little note again – not a word of ‘thank you’ to their guests. Just ‘you’re not getting thanks because we’re donating the cost to charity’.

    @Bint – That is an EXCELLENT point! They couldn’t even bother throwing in a thank you on the sign at the gift table? REALLY? Not that a thank you sign would replace individual thank yous but to not even bother at all is just…ugh! It really does seem like the couple not only think this gets them out of sending thank you cards but out of thanking people at all.

    Regarding thank you cards in general: I’m another person who wasn’t raised doing this though this seemed to be mainly because there weren’t many opportunities to send any. IIRC, we wrote thank yous to my grandparents the few times they sent gifts when we were little but most gifts I ever got came from my parents. My mom tried getting an exchange of birthday cards going with our cousins but they didn’t write back and it fizzled out.

    Even now I don’t go to parties and I’ve never been invited to a wedding (I just don’t get out much socially at all) but if/when I get married I’ll send thank you cards. In general it’s most important that the person gets thanked but for the guest list size and formality of a wedding a thank you note is probably better than other means (assuming of course that you’re in a culture/region where doing so is the norm).

  • Sarah Jane February 25, 2011, 12:02 pm

    I’d rather see them hand-deliver the TY notes and donate the amount saved from postage to a charity.

  • Eisa February 25, 2011, 4:23 pm

    Truthfully, I was not really raised to write thank-you notes…but I was *always* supposed to say thank you sincerely…and promptly. I cannot imagine not even taking the time to *say* thank you, and instead going “well we WOULD send out thank you notes, but we’d rather ‘donate that money’ to a charity.” Um, no.

    [And now, of course, particularly when it comes to things like a wedding, I will definitely write thank you notes!]

  • jenna February 26, 2011, 3:40 am

    @karma – I’m writing that as per what admin wrote above about donating to charity in lieu of favors. We didn’t give out any favors at our wedding (there was a candy bowl but that hardly counts). I know quite well that they are optional. I am noting based on the admin post above that announcing to your guests that you’ve donated to a charity in lieu of gifts is technically frowned-upon (at least by many) – you can do it, but the etiquette-friendly way is to do so discreetly. (If you do wish to announce it, at least giving to a non-controversial charity is a good idea).

    I personally have no problem with people who have no favors or donate to charity in lieu of favors. If you could have seen our wedding you’d have seen how deconstructed it was. We didn’t follow every last bit of advice in my previous post but we did follow quite a lot of it. Enough that I feel good about having a principled wedding, and we didn’t feel the need to announce that to guests.

    @CN – good resource, thanks! I don’t want to even get into what charities are worthy/good choices etc. but I too would encourage anyone who donates regularly to look up how their money is spent by the charity. Sometimes it’s surprising.

  • Giles February 26, 2011, 11:39 am

    We verbally requested our friends donate time or whatever money they wanted to to one of our charities or one of their choice instead of gifts at our wedding. We’d been together for over twenty years and had a pre-teen together, we didn’t need anything. Some of them had the great idea to buy standard newlywed household goods and then donate them to shelters in the area. It can be a great thing if it’s handled tastefully.

  • Nathaniel February 26, 2011, 9:56 pm

    I think it cost us more than 100$ for thank you cards, stamps, envelopes… plus all the time and carple tunnel… but we still did it, of course we told people instead of buying us an expensive congrats card to bring in canned goods so we could donate them to the local soup kitchen, we did still get some cards, but a few of our family members had handwritten notes on regular paper. we needed the gifts seeing as how we got married and moved in to an empty apartment!

  • karma February 27, 2011, 10:37 am

    ***I know charity donations in lieu of favors are technically bad etiquette: it’s just one of those things that I don’t care enough about etiquette-wise to be bothered by it***

    @Jenna: What I was referring to is your statement above. I’m meaning to point out that giving donations in lieu of favors has NOTHING to do with etiquette—bad or otherwise. It’s moot. It’s doesn’t matter whether people do or don’t, care or don’t care. It’s irrelevant.

  • Kelbel February 27, 2011, 9:20 pm

    Seriously if you have the time to send me an invite then you should make the time to send me a Thank you. I have sent out hundreds of thank yous for everything including gifts my daughter has recieved even for her 3rd birthday.
    i make handmade invitiations for weddings and the amount of time I offer to make the thank yous as part of the package to be told they bride and groom will not be sending then absolutly disgusts me. I have started turning people away telling then i am unable to take their business.
    I have attended weddings where thank yous have never been recieved, needless to say i don’t speak to some of these people and others noticed that gifts for following events were not as large as expected!
    To involve a charity in poor behaviour and even worse manners is appauling

  • Twik February 27, 2011, 9:38 pm

    I think it’s wonderful if someone says, “Instead of giving our guests relatively minor trinkets for coming, let’s put that money to better use by giving it to XXX good cause.”

    The problem is with announcing that’s what you’ve done. You’ve basically told people you were thinking of giving them a present (even one that is optional), but decided not to. And even unintentionally, it can come off as “Look at us, we’re so concerned about XXX. Don’t you wish you were generous like us?”

    I know that in most cases, that’s *not* what the HC is trying to say to their guests, but it isn’t a terribly sensitive way to handle it. If you want to give to charity by dropping something you think is optional from your wedding (favours are optional, thank yous, to most people, aren’t) do it quietly, and don’t publicly pat yourself on the back for diverting funds away from your guests.

  • Elizabeth February 28, 2011, 9:42 am

    To Snowy – that Internet company got a great big tax write-off, too.

  • Lisbeth March 3, 2011, 10:53 am

    This is something I’ve always hated, because for me, charity is personal. I prefer to decide what causes I support and how much I will donate and not have someone make this decision for me. Also, I come from a background where the second highest form of charity (after giving someone a job or otherwise enabling them to support themselves) is where the giver and recipient do not know each other. When the giver feels the need to announce their donation, it seems to me to cheapen it somehow. (Although I have no problems with a charity announcing that it received a donation from X for Y cause in honor or memory of Z).

    Nobody owes me a favor for attending their wedding, and I’d even prefer not to get them, so I don’t blame couples for not wanting to do this. But mass thank-yous or announcements in lieu of thank-yous are not appropriate.

  • Nicole May 4, 2011, 12:29 pm

    The cost of thank you notes??? I don’t think I spent more than $100, if that.