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Holiday Cocktail Party Etiquette

Is it ever appropriate to ask guests to bring something to a party? We'd like to collect toys for Toys for Tots at our party, but I'm not sure if it defies etiquette to put that on the invitation.

The party will be nice - fancy cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, etc.

And if its not an etiquette breach, how do you succinctly put it on an invitation? Having writers block on keeping it short and sweet!


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  1. It is appropriate precisely when it is for soliciting charitable donations (cans for food pantries, Toys for Tots) and not for financing the party itself.

    Why not ask the Toys for Tots people how they like to be represented on such event cards? Be prepared for the fact this cannot be readily shortened, so how about:

    This year, we are collecting toys for Toys for Tots, who provide millions of toys to underprivileged children. If you'd like to join us, please bring an unwrapped gift for children ages ?- ?).

    1 Reply
    1. re: Lizard

      Lizard, I think your wording is perfect. And succinct to boot.

    2. My kids regularly request food pantry donations instead of gifts for their birthday parties. They usually word it something like this: "No presents, please, but you are welcome to bring a canned good for the food pantry."

      And the collection is really low-key, so that those who don't bring anything don't feel bad. We usually just put a box beside the door for people to put their cans or boxes in. I've only had one mom complain that we were being self-righteous, but no one else seemed to mind, and there are plenty of other kids who do the same thing for their b-days.

      Since your party is nice, you could decorate a table or box to collect the toys, but be sure to put it in an unobtrustive spot so no one feels bad or cheap if they forget or don't support that charity.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Isolda

        I think that's a great gesture, but the difference is that a child's birthday party usually is a gift-giving event and a cocktail party is not.

        1. re: LeoLioness

          I was thinking along the lines that people usually do bring host/ess gifts to cocktail parties, so instead of the wine or snazzy little crackers, guests could bring a toy. We went to a cocktail party last summer where the host requested donations for a save the wildlife type project. It was discreetly done, so no one felt pressured.

          1. re: Isolda

            That's the way that I approached the OP's question. Since it's a Holiday cocktail party I would expect guests to bring a hostess gift or Xmas present. A toy for Toys for Tots isn't too much to ask for, and probably more fun and easier to shop for. I like Lizard's wording for invitation and your discreet box by the door idea for collection.

      2. Do you want donations for a charity, or are you talking about food items for the party (including wines)?

        We do a lot of themed parties, but are usually talking about food and wine.

        For charity events, we normally have someone speaking, and then the participants are asked for donations. With those, we ALWAYS state the thrust of the event, so that no one is blind-sided on the charity aspect.


        1. I think the OP is having a Christmas cocktail party and thought it might be a nice idea to ask guests to bring a toy so that all the toys can be donated to Toys for Tots which I'm guessing is a charity (which accepts toys for its toy bank and distributes to underprivileged children).

          1. I really do admire the spirit behind the gesture, but I think you have to be very careful with the wording so as not to make this seem "mandatory", particularly since cocktail parties aren't a gift-giving occasion to begin with.

            While it may seem like no big deal to you for a guest to bring a small item, the truth is you have no idea what people's financial situations are and what their charitable giving habits are, especially at this time of year. Your small request could be the 12th one they've had all week.

            Perhaps let your guests know that you will be making a trip to a Toys for Tots center, in case they have any toys they would like to bring? That way it sort of comes off as you doing them a favor as opposed to hitting them up for something.

            1 Reply
            1. re: LeoLioness

              I'm not crazy in favor of asking for toy donations especially if it involves a special trip to the store for some people that don't have kids or kids still at home. I might mind less if it was bring a can from your pantry for a food bank which is easier to get your hands on and doesn't involve having to go choose a toy. My kids are in their 20s so I am way out of the toy loop and would probably agonize for ages about what's appropriate and how much I should spend.

              A can of food is only a buck or less and there is no competition feeling about who spent what.

            2. No matter how you word the invite, you're asking for a "charitable contribution." For those prone to it, the potential to induce guilt is not remote.

              1. It's great that you want to collect Toys for Tots but please don't expand it to your guests. No matter how you word it, some of your guests will think it is a mandatory part of attending the party and may decline the invitation. And most likely you will also have guests who feel obligated to bring a gift so as not to be thought of as a scrooge or uncharitable for not bringing anything.

                And let's face it, aren't we already inundated with requests for money from various charities as it is? Do we have to expand it to social functions as well? Who hasn't been on a group e-mail list where a friend has asked people to sponsor them while they jog/swim/cycle etc for a charitable cause? Not to mention the co-workers collecting for their kid's school's causes or when you go to the grocery store or all the requests for donations in your mailbox from the various charities? And especially at this time of the year when charities are already racheting up their campaigns for donations I think most people hit charity fatigue pretty early on - I know I do.

                I have my charities that I donate to and I like to think that everyone else has as well. So I would just keep the cocktail party as a cocktail party. If you want to donate to Toys for Tots, then do it. But don't ask your guests to join in. If they wish donate to Toys for Tots, I'm sure they will do so in their own time.

                1. I don't know what Emily Post or Miss Manners would say on the subject, but I think it is a lovely thing to do. IMO, the spirit of generosity you are showing far outweighs any etiquette faux pas that may occur.

                  The holidays are a perfect time to reflect on our own blessings and to share with people who may not be as fortunate. Given the length and severity of our difficult economy, this is an especially good thing to do.

                  Thank you for posting this. I am going to look for ways to incorporate the idea into our holiday festivities.

                  1. Each year around the holiday season I find myself invited to just such an event. Happy to go to a festive gathering and happy to contribute to a good cause.

                    Nothing wrong with it. Go ahead and enjoy your party.

                    1. hmmm. an interesting question, and a wide range of answers. here's my two cents - since there are a lot of good reasons given for both sides - ask a couple of your trusted friends whom you'd be inviting to the party. Present it as something you've been thinking about, but haven't yet come up with a decision.

                      Personally, i think it's a nice idea. I'd be inclined to spread the word over the phone, though, rather than on the invitation. Something in my [sometimes babbling style] along the lines of 'Toys for Tots made a real difference in the lives of <personalize it here - the local flood victims, the local women's shelter, whatever> that we're going to make a run to donate on <name the date - right after the party>. If you think of anyone who might like to contribute, let them know that they can either drop an unwrapped toy off at XXX or we'll even pick it up!'