Lots of things have gotten more casual over the years. People used to dress up to take an airplane. Not a lot of us have calling cards and silver trays. That makes lots of things more comfortable. Technology has made a big difference in the casualness and immediacy of communications. One of the social niceties that has gotten more casual are invitations and how you respond.
Everyone agrees it is usually helpful to know how many are coming to an event, whether it’s a big cocktail party, intimate dinner or your 5-year-old’s birthday party. A lot of people handle this by using online invitations many that are free, such as Evite, Smilebox or Eventbrite, to name a few. There are lots to choose from and they let you customize your invitations appropriate to the event. These don’t seem to have caught on in the elementary school set as much as elsewhere. If you scan the mom blogs across the Internet, it seems that the response rate for RSVPs of kid’s parties is down in the gutter and a lot of people are frustrated and even a bit angry at the perception of others’ thoughtlessness.
There are a few common reasons why people don’t RSVP. For example, they:
- Didn’t get the invitation
- Don’t understand what RSVP means
- Don’t understand the importance of RSVP for the host
- Didn’t know if their kid could come or not
- Have so much going on that an RSVP didn’t make the short list
- Have bad manners
- Didn’t have their kid that weekend and didn’t bother to tell the other parent
- Have a different life view of invitations, responses and gatherings in general
The truth is, who knows? What you know as the party-giver, though, is that from a practical side, you’d like to have the right number of goody bags ready when kids come streaming through your door. More importantly, you’d like to avoid having your kid feel hurt and rejected because only two people showed up to the megapalooza you planned.
Here are a few solutions if you find yourself pondering with trepidation the emotional and physical logistics of your kid’s birthday party.
Card designs from Eventbrite.com
Be kind to yourself
Don’t have a party that’s so much work for you that you can’t have fun with your child.
Be realistic. Don’t have parties in places where the head count matters when it’s a group of kids you don’t know well (like an entire class). Save the Disneyland trip or the fun park for a small group of good friends where you know and can talk directly to the parents. The best solutions will be found in what you can control--not what you can’t. Let’s face it, for whatever reason, times and attitudes have changed and you’re not going to change the behaviors of the parents of 20 kids.
One useful approach is to ask your child what he or she wants to do for a party. If it’s something that involves needing to know how many are coming, then say “That’s a great idea. Do you want to pick 5 (or 3) special friends to go to Disneyland or go ice skating OR invite your class to the park for a picnic?” (If you phrase it right, you may never have to worry about all those RSVPs. I am a master of making persuasive arguments for special friend parties.) When you are including an entire class, there will be many parents you don’t know so you can’t predict their behavior, BUT you can and should include neighbors, family, club friends, team friends, etc. to ensure critical mass.
Think like a marketer
Marketers make their living convincing people to do stuff. You too can use psychology in your invitations to increase the probability of getting a response from your invitees.
Important note to the party-giver: always remember, it’s not the child’s fault. It’s the parent’s job to RSVP when a child is small. Don’t take it out on the kid by being snarky when they arrive or withholding treats, goody bags or other party favors.
Here’s what a marketer would do:
- Make it super easy to respond. Include a stamped reply postcard with check boxes. Follow up with an e-vite by email with a subject line – “For those of you who haven’t heard or had time to get back to us, Susie is having …. “ If not knowing who’s coming truly makes you nuts and the paper invitation and e-vite combo don’t work, then call everyone personally.
- Offer a reward - Link the RSVP to a prize. Everyone who RSVP’s receives a ticket for the prize bag. Or make it appealing to the parents – every RSVP is entered in a raffle for a bottle of wine.
- Our brains respond to scarcity – include the lines “please RSVP so that there will be a gift bag waiting for your Sandy” OR “please RSVP so we can personalize the gift we have for your Sandy” (i.e. write their names in puff paint on a frame)
- Reciprocity is a powerful persuader. Send something with the invitation. For example, include a pack of post-it notes or some balloons in the envelope). Research shows people respond more when you have given them something, even something small. That’s why car salesman offer you a cup of coffee.
- Make it personal. Instead of sending a generic invitation, handwrite a note on it – “We’re so looking forward to having Sean join us for Sandy’s party! He’s such a ______________(fill in the blank, great athlete, great joke teller, good friend, etc.). Make sure you tell us the flavor of ice cream Sean likes best!”
- Make it a school policy. Some schools have an “include everyone” rule when it comes to birthday parties—in other words, if you invite more than a couple of kids from the class, you have to invite all of them. Ask the administrator if that rule can include a lesson about RSVPs as well.
None of these are fool-proof, though, and it never hurts to double up with your tactics and follow-up with an email.
Know your audience
At the end of the day, make sure you are celebrating with your child, doing something he or she really wants, not something you think he or she wants or something you always wanted when you were a child. Sometimes a special outing with one or both parents is the most fun for both the parents and the child.
Remember the Rules of Nature
The Golden Rule. I heard this a million times from my grandmother “treat others as you with to be treated.” It’s the best advice you can give or get.
Don’t throw incoming party invitations into the junk drawer or junk mail never to be seen again. RSVP promptly and, if you change your plans, notify the host.
Don’t take uninvited children along and assume you can leave them there too. Call first and ask if it’s okay. Be prepared to stay with your uninvited children IF and only if, the hostess invites you to do so. If the event is held at a restaurant, fun zone, water park, amusement park, theater, zoo, jumping/bouncing zone, paintball park or ANY other place where there is a cost per child, be prepared to pay for your extra child and yourself if you stay.
Simple Epidemiology (the science of health and disease). Don’t send you child to a party if they are sick, no matter how much your child wants to go or you wanted a free afternoon.
See Parents Magazine “How to Make Them RSVP” for some more ideas.
Example of online invitations: Evite.com http://www.evite.com/static/gallery/kids_birthday/1