Imagine being invited to a dinner in 1819 with Thomas Jefferson, president, scientist and writer of the Declaration of Independence. Participating in a stimulating conversation with guests that he invited because he found them intriguing and interested in similar things as others at the table. ~ Jeffrey Walker
These dinners are not fundraising dinners, at least not in the transactional sense – nobody’s asking for a gift. These dinners bring together 10-12 people with similar interests and varied backgrounds to discuss the issues of the day.
Just imagine the possibilities that would come to light if you chose to host a Jeffersonian Dinner. Who might you invite to this dinner? Obviously the executive director would attend, perhaps a board member or two, one or two of your major donors, and others you may not know, but who have similar interests such as a professor, a business person, a poet, or a politician. Can you picture it?
It’s not one of those dinners where you will be chatting with the person next to you. In fact, a couple of days before the dinner you will send out a short bio of each attendee and a question that they will be asked to answer at the dinner. You will pick a question that anyone can answer. For example, say you run a program that helps teens with addictions, your question will not be about the root causes of addiction but something like, “When you were a teenager, which one adult ignited your passion and inspired you to dream of a better world? How did this manifest itself in your life? ”
Each person would speak to their experience. How could you not be inspired and moved by all these personal stories? A good follow-up question might then be, “How do you think we could bring that level of inspiration to kids today, what could you do to facilitate that?” Imagine the great ideas this question might reveal!
You might then consider bringing up your greatest challenge and asking your dinner guests for feedback. Your vulnerability and honesty will surely solicit advice!
Once the formal part of the dinner is over, attendees may engage in informal conversations with the inspiring people they’ve just met – who can blame them? Perhaps they will decide to get together to help you with your challenge. Maybe someone will even write a cheque – who knows?
One thing is certain, a table full of people who were strangers at the beginning of the night have been inspired, got their spark back and are excited about all they have learned about their common interest.
When you decide to take your fundraising beyond transactions, everyone is changed. You, your donor, those you are trying to help – everyone.
When we focus on transformational fundraising, we open the doors to all kinds of possibilities – possibilities that can only come about when we all work together. Now tell me, can you think of a dozen people you want to invite to dinner?
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