I recently helped to organize a “Jeffersonian Dinner”. Though dress shirts and stodgy formality might first come to mind, the essence of such a dinner is to “fast forward” through small talk and build community around shared interests. Thomas Jefferson figured out that if you picked a topic and used the dinner table to engage everyone in a single conversation, you created fun, thought-provoking conversations and meaningful connections.
To launch the conversation at a Jeffersonian Dinner, a pre-announced question is used to elicit personal feelings, stories, and experiences relevant to the evening’s theme. The most recent Jeffersonian dinner that I organized was designed to highlight the work of Social Venture Partners, which I have belonged to for several years. We chose a topic related to our social sector capacity building work. To start out, we asked our guests to share a meaningful personal experience that has shaped how they think about social change. Our follow up question was to ask what causes folks are most passionate about now. As dinner finished up, the table moderator tied the work of SVP into the conversation and invited those who are not already partners to consider working with us. When we debriefed, everyone in attendance said that they had really loved the evening. Rather than constraining us, the structure enabled everyone to have a much more personal and inspiring discussion.
Jeffersonian Dinners are a great way for any organization to engage new people and it has worked especially well for a variety of nonprofit organizations. While not a fund-raising technique, it is most definitely a “friend-raising” technique. Those who participate get involved in the topic and make connections, which often trigger actions for months to come.
Interested in hosting one? Visit this website for specific details and ideas about topics.
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This blog was shared by Betsy Densmore, Founder/Managing Director of Academies for Social Entrepreneurship, who is also a longtime devotee of dinner parties. ASE is an educational organization, which provides training, mentoring and seed capital funding guidance for social entrepreneurs.