Party As If You’re Thomas Jefferson

So, you sit down to dinner with a dozen people, only some of whom you know, and the host is … Thomas Jefferson.

In their book “The Generosity Network” Jennifer McCrea, Jeffrey C. Walker and Karl Weber discuss the concept of the Jeffersonian Dinner, based on the ideas and practices of the country’s third president.

The authors write that such a get-together can be very useful for nonprofits, not as fundraisers or direct conferences on a specific organization but as a means of stimulating thought and dialogue — a single conversation. There is no “star” guest. No checks or pledges are solicited or accepted.

To launch this conversation, a preannounced question is used to elicit personal feelings, stories and experiences relevant to the evening’s theme (rather than canned opinions, theoretical discussions or examples drawn from the media).

They suggest the following questions.

  • For a dinner focused on the life-changing potential of philanthropy: “Describe a gift you made that produced a real difference.”
  • For a dinner about education: “Who is your favorite teacher of all time?”
  • For a dinner about nonprofit leadership: “Who is a good role for nonprofit leaders, and why is that person a good choice?”
  • For a dinner about collaborative philanthropy: “Give an example of a time when you worked collaboratively with others successfully to have an impact.”
  • For a dinner about bringing music to school kids in New Orleans: “What’s the first record you ever owned?”