While networking at events, social gatherings and conferences is an important part of business, there are times when you won’t be able to attend certain get-togethers. When this happens, it’s important to RSVP and provide the sender with a polite note saying you won’t be able to make it. Check to see how the sender has asked for RSVPs and follow those guidelines. If he has requested that responses be sent to an email address, use that to send your letter. If he has enclosed an RSVP card, fill it out and write a short note with your explanation.

Thank the Person for the Invitation

The tone and language of your letter should align with your relationship to the person who invited you. For example, the way you write a letter to your friend declining an invitation will be different than if you were writing to your boss. Use formal language for business relationships to show professionalism and courtesy. Your letter should be short and direct, using polite and civil language.

Start your letter by thanking your contact for the invitation. Express gratitude or honor for being invited. Be genuine without using too much flowery language. For example, you could say, “Thanks so much for inviting me to the grand opening of your store. It sounds like an exciting time for your company!

Be Honest and Clear

The refusing invitation conversation can be a difficult one to have. However, it’s important to be honest and clear without hurting the other person’s feelings.

Don’t make up excuses or provide complex reasons for why you aren’t able to attend. You don’t need to justify your absence in this letter. If you create an elaborate story about why you’re not able to go to the event, you may end up getting caught in a lie. This is an extremely unprofessional and embarrassing situation and should be avoided at all costs.

If you have a reason for not attending that you can share, do so. For example, you could say, “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony, as I’m already committed to another event.” If you don’t want to tell why you’re not going to the event, you don’t need to provide an excuse. You can simply say, “_Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it to the even_t.”

Offer an Olive Branch

When you write a letter to refuse an invitation, offer your contact a few positive words as a parting gesture. Since you’re not able to be there for the event, it’s nice to show the person who invited you that you understand her excitement. For example, you could say, “This conference sounds like it will reshape the way we think about how technology interacts with business. I’m sure the attendees will all gain valuable knowledge from it. Best of luck with everything.

If you’re invited somewhere that requires a gift or token of appreciation, it’s polite to send something even if you’re not able to go to the event. For example, if you’re invited to a colleague’s wedding, send a gift from the registry. If you’re invited to a dinner at an industry peer’s home, send flowers or a bottle of wine with your note.

Sample Refusing Invitation Conversation Letter

Dear Jon,

Thank you so much for inviting me to the annual marketing think tank. It sounds like a really valuable discussion. Unfortunately, I am already committed elsewhere and won’t be able to attend this year. Your seminars always touch on topics that are so relevant to our everyday lives. I’m sure the attendees will take back actionable insights they can apply at work.

All the best with the event. I’d love to hear how it goes.