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Business End of the Invitation

Frequent partygoers are accustomed to them: the ubiquitous City of Los Angeles information slips that fall out of invitations just as subscription cards fall out of magazines.

The Los Angeles Social Service Department requires that every charity sponsoring an event at which donations are to be solicited provide information to the public along with the invitation. It’s a law that was passed more than 50 years ago, according to Social Service spokesman George Delianedis.

Before soliciting donations through invitations, the chairperson of a fund-raising event must first file a Notice of Intention with Social Service. The data is checked out by Delianedis and staff, and printed on information cards that are mailed out with each invitation.

Social Service stresses that the cards in no way constitute a city endorsement of any charity or event.

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“The main reason for information cards,” Delianedis says, “is full disclosure--to the extent that the law specifies.”

Besides listing the name, address and phone number of the group, the information card also spells out what will be happening and how much it will cost.

This is followed by a very general description of the event’s purpose. For instance, the information card found inside the invitation to a dinner dance held recently says that “net proceeds . . . support KCET Channel 28, Community Television of Southern California quality programming.”

Similarly, the proceeds from a food festival held at the Pacific Asia Museum were earmarked to “provide educational outreach programs and to promote understanding of Asian cultural achievements.” Delianedis emphasizes that charities are not required to be more specific.

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Financial Success

Although the law does not require it, if the charity held a similar event the year before, Delianedis includes information on the card about the financial success of the previous year’s activity. Interested donors can then check to see what the previous year’s gross receipts were, and how much of that was paid out in expenses incurred in staging the event and how much was left for the charity.

Perhaps the most useful information on the card comes under the category of expenses. On a recent card, for instance, expenses for a fund-raising dinner were estimated at $90,800. With its ticket price of $250 per person, the charity would have to sell 364 tickets merely to break even. (That figure does not take into account additional sources of income, like corporate sponsorship or underwriting.)

Each card also lists the chairperson for the event and a telephone number.

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After the event is over, the charity must file a follow-up report with Delianedis and his staff. If a disparity exists between the pre-event estimate of expenses and the amount of actual expenses stated in the charity’s follow-up report, chairpersons will be asked for an explanation.

Though it’s rare, occasionally the difference between a charity’s estimated expenses and actual expenses is so egregious that the social service department conducts an inquiry. The department’s Emma Weintraub cites a recent example. One of the 26 official charities allowed to raise funds during the recent Los Angeles Marathon had submitted a written estimate of $900 for postage, printing and refreshments. At the marathon, the group raised $4,721--but the expenses came to $4,065.

“The vast majority of follow-up reports go unchallenged,” Weintraub stresses. “But when the disparity is this large, we’ll call in a representative of the charity for counseling.”

And for those who do not get called in, if expenses are awful and the profit for the charity small, those dismal facts will be on the information card tucked into the invitation to its next fund-raiser.

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