by Natalie Rekstad, Founder & CEO of Black Fox Philanthropy, LLC, B Corp
Recognizing that less resourced NGOs can’t afford to engage our fundraising services, one of the ways Black Fox Philanthropy serves the social sector is to be open source on much of the content we’ve developed. We regularly release this content via our blog, and today is one of those days!
Jeffersonian Dinners are an excellent way to engage current and future stakeholders in your mission; however, some are executed better than others. We want to up the odds for success for you so we’ve developed this guide for the Black Fox family of NGOs.
We are big believers in Kaizen ; if you have something to add/edit from your own experience that would improve this guide, please let us know in the comments!
Black Fox Philanthropy was first introduced to Jeffersonian Dinners by Jeffrey Walker at Opportunity Collaboration a number of years ago. Our founder, Natalie Rekstad, has since produced and/or participated in several has seen them executed beautifully and fruitfully, and a couple that were more … unfortunate. To up the odds of success for a Jeffersonian Dinner, a guideline that was created by Jeffrey Walker that can be found here; however, we created a guide that goes a few layers down to be a true step-by-step guide, particularly for the moderators themselves, as this is the key to a successful dinner.
THE JEFFERSONIAN DINNER
Note: The Jeffersonian Dinner format typically has no more than 12 participants; however, we believe that multiple tables who are having similar conversations also works well, particularly as a dinner for the quiet phase or launch of a major gifts program or capital campaign.
Gain Clarity on the Objective of the Gathering
Is the goal of the event to inspire and touch people, and to generate enthusiasm and funding for your mission? Is it to deepen relationships among existing funders with the organization and each other? Overall the conversation should be about building community and connection, but also to advance your mission in a tangible way. This should map to the profile of your guests and what you want to achieve.
Jeffersonian Dinners as Fundraisers
While Jeffersonian Dinners weren’t originally designed to be fundraisers, there is no reason to not invite participants to join in your impact journey as funders. This should be a soft ask in a private conversation directly after the dinner or in a follow-up phone call. More on “the ask” at the end of the guide.
The invitation plays one of the most important roles by setting a compelling tone for the gathering. Example invitations can be found at the end of this post. We like to use Paperless Post to send out invitations, gather RSVP’s, and send reminder messages to participants.
Send a thoughtful question in advance on the invitation itself, inviting guests to share a personal reflection that allows them to be seen and heard by all guests. The question should be crafted to elicit personal stories and experiences relevant to the theme and goal of the evening. Note: Know your audience. Some people are more comfortable with “touchy-feely” than others.
The advance question should tie to the organization’s mission, but not explicitly. Examples include: “Describe a time when you were given an opportunity that enabled you to fulfill a personal or professional dream” or “What injustice have you witnessed or experienced that inspired you to action? What did you do?”
Choose a moderator with a deep knowledge of your organization, such as a board member on funder who is a strong ambassador. The moderator should have an engaging style that can stimulate discussion among the guests, keep the conversation moving with great follow-on questions if necessary, and is mindful to include everyone in the discussion.
The objective of the following guide is to give the moderator(s) who are new to Jeffersonian Dinners a sense of confidence and the tools to be successful.
Moderator(s) to anchor in responses to two of the following questions. Responses should touch you on a deep level and make you come alive when sharing. Note that the organization shouldn’t be mentioned per se, more the overall issue being addressed by the organization. These “nuggets” are great to use if the conversation wanes, and can serve as an invitation to others to chime in. In short, why is this uniquely yours to do?
- Example: Poverty alleviation is personally significant to me because… (experienced poverty first-hand, had a fortunate life & want to pay forward, etc.). Expound upon the answer in an authentic and vulnerable way – this creates sacred space for others to share their “why” they care about bringing about prosperity for those in need (or whatever org issue area is).
- (Organization issue area) is personally significant to me because… (Our deepest passions often spring from our deepest wounds; if true for you then be brave/vulnerable enough to go there).
- What originally drew me to (organization issue area) was a deep frustration around…
- What was most exciting/interesting for me in the early days of my journey in this work is….. What’s most exciting/interesting now is…
- The stories (or story) of our impact and/or hope that most touch my heart are…
- What I feel is at stake if we don’t address (organization issue area) is …
Setting the Stage
The moderator sets the tone for the table through modeling behaviors such as active listening, relaxed manner, eager attention to each guest, demonstrating vulnerability making it safe for all to go to deeper levels. Above all, be your authentic self and have fun! This is a night of connection, conversation, and community, and serves the powerful mission of your organization.
The conversation can unfold in thoughtful ways through a series of questions that encourages the participants to share their hearts, minds, and visions around creating a world they’d like to see in the future. Everything that is said should be directed to the entire group; no 1:1 side conversations. Not everyone needs to respond to each question – some may chime in, others may choose not to. The style of conversation should be organic, and “popcorn” style, with the Moderator inviting input from those who are quieter. It’s about connection so everyone should have a chance to be seen and heard. The conversation can be dynamic through asking the questions in a “leaning in” way and with “active listening”. The conversation should move at a nice clip but in a relaxed way and should follow the passion of participants while utilizing the following examples questions to keep the conversation on point.
Chances are high that the conversation will flow freely and energetically, and you won’t get to ask all questions; in fact, you may only get to two or three! Determine in advance which questions you most want to cover during the dinner, being sure to tie in at least one about the organization at the end. Try to keep the conversation on track with the questions, but if the conversation is on fire and is on point (tying in organization/issue area/philanthropy in some way) then use your judgement on keeping it on a set track with questions or to let the conversation flow as is as long as it relates to the organization enough to flow easily into the closing remarks. The questions are meant to keep the conversation flowing and keep participants on point.
Let the Jeffersonian Dinner Begin!
Host Opening Remarks
The host may be the person in whose home the Jeffersonian Dinner is taking place or other location such as a restaurant. The host should be someone other than the organization leader who will be making any unifying closing remarks and/or an ask.
The host should share that a core theme of Jeffersonian Dinners is coming together as people (not partisan, with an agenda, etc.), discovering our common humanity, and building community over a meal, lovely wines, and a shared interest or passion.
While you may choose to describe what a Jeffersonian Dinner is on the invitation, you can also pull in fun facts about the original dinners hosted by Thomas Jefferson, invoking the man himself. More information can be found in this link.
We also suggest setting the stage for the conversation around your mission with a quote by Jefferson: “I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.”
At the Table
Moderator to welcome everyone, share their name, where they are from — and share your response from one of the questions above around why supporting the mission of the organization is uniquely yours to do.
Then clockwise ask that all introduce themselves briefly and say where they grew up.
From there – counterclockwise – have everyone share their story based upon the advance question. Example advance questions shared above under “Advance Question.”
All questions after this initial one are to be responded to organically, not in turns.
Questions to Keep Conversation Moving
(Select at least 3 that you are most curious about, including either 5 or 6 which ties in your organization at the end.)
- The host spoke of building community being core to Jeffersonian Dinners, which is thrilling because (organization) is focused upon building community in Africa and here in the US. When you think of the word “community,” what comes to mind for you?
- Each of us is philanthropic in the true sense of the word “love of humankind” (from Greek philanthropos) — what are the stories of hope that most touch your heart and inspire you to action?”
- Our deepest passions often spring from our deepest wounds. Is there something in your personal story that would lead you to care about poverty alleviation/creating prosperity? (Only ask this question if Moderator has a personal story and he/she starts off first. Note it doesn’t have to be a wound; gratitude is a motivator for giving also.)
- We’ve all invested in various ways – time, talent, treasure – in solving issues we care about. What is your ultimate vision for your role in creating the world you’d like to see? Or similarly: Tell us about a world in which you would like to see your kids or grandkids come of age?
- I’m curious — What is it about (organization) that inspired you to join in tonight?
- What do you find most compelling about the mission of (organization)? (have those who are already supporters answer, and others if they are so moved).
Queueing up the Crescendo
Queue up the crescendo, which is when the organization shares its powerful mission and invitation to join in the journey. Five minutes before organization leader is to make remarks, the Moderator(s) should wrap up the dinner conversation. Suggested language is:
“There is so much bad news and suffering in the world, but one of the things I love about being in the (organization) community is that I’m part of the good news. I get to be part of the solution and contribute to incredible stories of hope and impact. And while we didn’t solve (org issue area) tonight, it’s clear we all have a heart for playing our part in creating a better world. What an honor to dine with kindreds who share a passion for prosperity for all. Thank you.”
For dinners that involve more than one table, be sure to have unifying remarks at the end of the meal, either by the organization leader or by tables reporting out on the main highlight of their respective table’s conversation. We do not recommend doing both in light of time constraints and recognizing that the evening will be winding down soon. Go back to the goal of the evening to decide upon which course to take.
If you choose to have the organization leader make remarks addressed to all guests at the end of the meal, the remarks should “bring home” the reason for the dinner, either implicitly or explicitly.
Follow Up/The Ask
As previously mentioned, Jeffersonian Dinners weren’t originally designed to be fundraisers; however, there is no reason to not invite participants to join in as funders. This should be a soft ask in a private conversation. For a major gifts/multi-year pledge, an example would be: “You had a lively table! You’d clearly be a great member of this community. I’d like to invite you to join in; is there anything more you need to know to say yes?” This is an ask that can be made directly after guests get up from their table, while they are still feeling connected with each other and the organization, or in a follow-up phone call or meeting.
If you are in the midst of an ongoing campaign, such as a capital campaign or a major gifts program, an ask could be to invite some of the most enthusiastic participants to host Jeffersonian Dinners of their own and invite their networks.
It is important to follow up within 24 – 48 hours after the dinner with those who participated, either with an ask and/or to thank them for their participation, or something else that maps to the goal you had for the dinner.
For those who were invited but couldn’t attend, follow up with a call expressing that they were missed, and take the opportunity to invite them to coffee to determine if you are both aligned in your vision for your issue area, and invite them to get involved.
Note that the Jeffersonian Dinner guide by Jeffrey Walker has more to say on follow-up so refer to that guide as well.
Other Notes for Moderators
A Black Fox client had some concerns about the conversation waning or other things that could stall the flow of conversation. As a result, we wrote out a few nuggets that may be helpful in getting things flowing again.
What to Do if Someone is Dominating the Conversation
Invite someone else to chime in on the topic. For example, you can say to the person dominating: “You’re making great points, I’d love to hear from others on this — Jen, I’m curious to hear about what you think/how you feel about X.”
What to Say When No One is Speaking
Highly unlikely, but Moderator could chime in with responses they’ve anchored in, such as: “Listening to some of the things we’ve been talking about, I’m compelled to share that … (example: What originally drew me to solutions around poverty was a deep frustration around…, or What I feel is at stake if we don’t address this in Africa is …, etc.)
Addressing Awkward Situations
a) If a participant brings up something personal that makes the table uncomfortable in any way – simply say “That is courageous of you to share that – thank you.” And move on to a question that could tie in in some way. Question 4 may fit well here bridging the vulnerability into a new conversation.
b) If a participant starts crying, Moderator to go to the person and comfort them briefly and say something along the lines of: “Thank you for your vulnerability.” Then a modified question 3 could work here: “I invite others to share – what are the stories of hope or impact that most touch your heart?”
Add-On Questions to Keep the Conversation Going
Tell me more…
That’s fascinating; how did you arrive at that…
That’s interesting; what inspired you to…
Examples of Jeffersonian Dinner Invitations:
We wish you great success in producing a Jeffersonian Dinner. Let us know how it goes!