Pop the questions
The Jeffersonian Dinner is a perfect way for non-profit organizations to build constituencies of support.
Part II of II
My first foray into Jeffersonian Dinners some 16 years ago resulted in the rebuilding of a university board. Today, several of the guests from those dinners joined the board and have served in leadership positions including the role as Chair.
It’s an art to come up with the right questions for a memorable Jeffersonian dinner.
- The moderator prepares a list of 5 or 7 questions that will deepen the conversation as it progresses.
- Begin with your guests’ stories. Each person shares a personal reflection relating to the theme. Try to connect with their personal passions around the topic.
- Let the conversation move with where the passion takes it – but be careful not to go too off course.
- Insure that all participants feel welcome and have a chance to talk.
- Give your guests an opportunity to share something at the end of the evening – something that they learned or an idea that was especially inspiring.
First: Start out with an icebreaking topic-related question to the theme of the night. Ask your guests to include something personal and heartfelt in their answer.
Examples of icebreaking opening questions for people familiar with the organization:
- What do you love about being part of (name of specific non-profit or any non-profit)?
- How does your involvement in (non-profit) tie into your own history and present life?
I love these questions because they elicit thoughtful, often emotional responses, which allow you into the heart and soul of your guests. It’s these insights which could ultimately lead to heartfelt investments in a non-profit.
Here are a few sample questions relating to potential themes.
College access: What was your college application process like? Who guided you through the identification of colleges and application process? Is breaking the barriers of college access for communities of color an important economic driver for our country’s future? Why?
College scholarships: Did you, or someone you know, receive a scholarship or financial aid toward tuition? Describe some of the most important benefits it had on you or this person. What alternative would you have had if you did not receive a scholarship? Why do you enjoy investing in in scholarships for students?
Arts in schools: Was there a time when you felt you created something extremely imaginative? How old were you? What were the circumstances? What was your exposure to the arts when you were in grade school/high school? How have the arts shaped who you are today?
Environment: What if we can’t address energy and water consumption will we apportion natural resources based on ability to pay? How much attention do you pay in your consumption of natural resources?
Sports programs for youth: What sports did you play when you were growing up and what are your best memories of those experiences? Describe an experience that taught you a lot about yourself through your participation in sports.
Educational reform and equity: who was your favorite teacher of all time and why? Why is providing a high quality public education one of our country’s most important challenges? What is the changing role of our schools in supporting the needs of students and their families?
Medical/dental specialty: When did you know that you wanted to pursue (pick a specialty) cardiology? Who influenced your choice? What are your concerns for the younger generation of students choosing this specialty?
Clearly, the kinds of questions you can pose to stimulate an evocative evening of conversation are limitless.
We encourage your board members to host Jeffersonian dinners. The results will pleasantly surprise you if you bring the right prospects to the table!