Editor’s Note: The VHL Alliance’s Jeffersonian Dinner described below took place in early March. As we now practice social distancing in light of COVID-19, in-person events of this nature should not currently be taking place. However, the Jeffersonian Dinner presents an interesting kind of event for non-profits to consider for the future when such gatherings are again a possibility.
The VHL Alliance, a longtime NORD member organization, held a different type of event on March 5th in the DC area, the Jeffersonian Dinner. As we practice social distancing right now, we’d like to share the news of this successful event, which can serve as a useful model of networking and organizational advancement to enhance the work of our member organizations in the future.
In his time, Thomas Jefferson would regularly hold dinner parties at his famous home at Monticello. Jefferson would invite guests based on their knowledge of a particular topic and their ability to entertain and enlighten the other “engaged citizens” at the table. There would be dinner, of course, but there would also be conversation with a purpose. Inspired by the idea of these themed dinners, some nonprofits have begun holding small, invitation-only events to gather contacts together for an event that includes dinner, brainstorming, and networking.
The idea has proven to be a popular way to build community, connect people and encourage discussion that is useful to the hosting organization. Unlike a traditional gala or dinner event that seeks to raise money, the goal of a Jeffersonian Dinner is to generate and foster ideas and new connections.
On Thursday, March 5th in downtown Washington, DC, the VHL Alliance held their first Jeffersonian Dinner on the theme of “Curing Cancer through VHL.” The fifteen people at the table included a range of professional and personal contacts invited by the Alliance. Conversation was led by Ramaprasad Srinivasan MD, PhD, an investigator in the Urologic Oncology Branch of the National Cancer Institute, who is developing treatment strategies and clinical trials for patients with kidney cancer, and Tom Rath, VHL patient and bestselling author whose books on improving human health and well-being include How Full Is Your Bucket? The evening began with a fireside chat on the VHL gene’s relationship to many forms of cancer and what life is like for those living with VHL, and then transitioned to a facilitated discussion around ways for the VHL Alliance to raise awareness and cultivate new relationships.
After dinner, the event closed with brief remarks and thanks from Executive Director Ilene Sussman, and attendees were given an opportunity to volunteer their thoughts, or their time, on the organization’s future projects. The entire event was educational in nature, and the only solicitations were for the guests’ ideas and opinions. After the conclusion of the dinner, Ilene pronounced it a success and informed NORD that “the event provided valuable new ideas and new connections for the VHL Alliance.”
NORD is always on the lookout for the latest ideas and trends in nonprofit capacity building. If your member organization has already tried galas and silent auctions, and is looking for a new form of in-person event to help you with brainstorming and networking, the Jeffersonian Dinner is an idea you should consider in the future. You can learn more about the concept — and some conversation starters — at this page of the BoardSource website. If you would like more information on the Jeffersonian Dinner by emailing [email protected].