- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 4, 2006

My company just sent out an invitation for its annual dinner, which usually is attended by about 250 business and civic leaders from the local community. This year, however, I suspect it may have to be postponed or, perhaps, even canceled because of the declining health of our founder and chairman emeritus.

My department handles these types of affairs, and I am hoping you might be able give us a few guidelines about dealing with this hypothetical situation. The dinner is scheduled to take place in about six weeks.

A: The key element is the time factor, which unfortunately is out of your control. The worst-case scenario is that the event must be canceled on very short notice, i.e., less than a week, in which case, you will have to go into crisis mode with all department hands on deck and perhaps even a few borrowed people to assist in the lurch.

If this happens, you must contact all invited guests — whether they have accepted or not — to inform them that the dinner has been called off. The reason should be given in a straightforward manner with no mystery involved. For example, “Because of the illness/ death of our founder, Mr. John Smith … ,” etc. This should be done by telephone, with corporate staff making sure to record the result of each contact on a timed and dated master list. If the recipient of the invitation does not answer, leave a message requesting that he or she call back to confirm that the information has been received. In the rare case that no person or electronic device answers the telephone, you may have to hunt down the guest through a family member or business associate.

An e-mail is a quick and easy way to contact people as well, although even greater care must be taken to ensure that an electronic message has been received. Be sure to ask for a return acknowledgment, then keep track of it on the master list.

If time is sufficient to contact guests by mail, the event’s host and/or the company’s most senior executive can send a personal letter giving the reason for the cancellation and more information, if any, about whether the event will be rescheduled. Sending an engraved or printed announcement card is a correct alternative to convey the news if there is more than two weeks’ advance notice.

Address your questions on etiquette and protocol to Kevin Chaffee, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002 or send e-mail to civilities@washington times.com.

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