Building Relationships within A Cause-Centered Community: Jeffersonian Dinners | Beth's Blog

Building Relationships within A Cause-Centered Community: Jeffersonian Dinners

Facilitation, Philanthropy

A cause-centered community is a group of people who share a common passion for a cause.   They could be a group of people who support a particular nonprofit’s social change agenda or a group of people from different organizations united around a common challenge, idea, or cause.

I’ve been a member of the Leap Ambassadors Community, comprised of people who believe strongly that nonprofit performance matters.    While a lot of work is online –sharing knowledge and insights, co-creating tools to support high performance, micro-communities on different topics, and much more, the community has also met face-to-face.

At the most recent gathering last November, there was a desire to meet on a regional basis, I was lucky enough to co-design an informal meeting with Jill Vialet who suggested we use the Jeffersonian Dinner model.   It is great for helping to build relationships between people in a community and if used in a fundraising context, it can activate additional resources for a cause.


The model, named after Thomas Jefferson, who was well-known for hosting dinners with leading thinkers of the time, and Jefferson facilitated a passionate conversation about a host of important questions and issues.     The model has been popularized by Generosity Network co-authors Jennifer McCrea and Jeff Walker who have many online resources about how to plan and host one.

Jill shared this infographic that shows the rules.

Click for larger image

What I liked about the format is that everyone participated in the conversation and you could learn a lot about the people around the table.  Otherwise, the socializing would be in smaller pairs or threes and not get into a lot of depth.     You have give a bit of thought to the question and it is a good idea to let participants know about the format and question ahead of time.

You could use this model in a number of ways.  Of course, for fundraising cultivation and engagement, building an ambassador community, building relationships between people in a social movement, or as part of a multi-day training in a retreat setting.   I could see it being used at board retreat.

Have you ever hosted a Jeffersonian dinner or been a participant?  What was your experience?  Has your organization used this model to support donor engagement or an ambassador community?

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