Do not be surprised if you detect a new energy in the Charlottesville area’s nonprofit community — both in fundraising and in job satisfaction. Expect to hear a new language of commitment and partnership.
Invitations to attend a “Jefferson dinner” may arrive in your mailbox. You can say goodbye to pitch books and say hello to nonprofit executives and board members listening carefully in small groups.
This was the focus of a discussion at the Center for Nonprofit Excellence’s eighth annual Philanthropy Day luncheon, which drew more than 400 attendees to the Boar’s Head Inn on Monday.
Jennifer McCrea, co-author of “The Generosity Network” and a senior research fellow at the Hauser Institute for Civil Society at Harvard University, keynoted the luncheon, where she guided nonprofit leaders and philanthropists toward a new approach in their work.
“There are ample resources to go around to do all the work that we want to do in our world, and when I say resources, I never just mean money,” McCrea said. “There are also networks, people’s time and creativity, our life experiences, our moral resources like courage, and our ability to keep going in times when this work gets very demanding.”
McCrea, who has a 28-year career in fundraising, said the biggest obstacle to leveraging these resources is our relationship with money.
“We all have a very complicated relationship with money,” said McCrea. “I like to infuse money not with values of scarcity, power and control, but infuse it with values of courage, justice and change. Infusing money with values like that, it doesn’t have the same kind of power over us.”
The Center for Nonprofit Excellence also hosted a morning workshop with McCrea, attended by about 30 nonprofit executives and board members. There, she shared strategies to help participants secure resources and build relationships.
“We all succeed when we build relationships, not transactions,” said Cristine Nardi, the center’s executive director. “There are enough resources, the fact is we have just not been making the best connections. It can be a group as small as 10 people that can come together and make a difference. We just need to commit to do it.”
McCrea devotes a chapter of her book to the Jeffersonian Dinner, modeled after the small group full-table dinner conversations Thomas Jefferson was known for hosting. She recommends these as an alternative to big-audience fundraising galas and cocktail parties.
The “dinner party with a twist” usually includes 10 to 12 people who share their bios in advance and are asked to consider a prepared personal question for the evening. While the guest list will include a staff member or board member from the initiating nonprofit, there won’t be a formal pitch.
A moderator guides the discussion and the goal is building a sense of partnership around a shared interest.
“There is an invitation at the end of the dinner to action,” McCrea said in an interview. “I really do believe that 10 to 12 people can come together and make up their minds to get something done on any topic and mountains can be moved.”
McCrea says fundraising is not sales and that there is positive energy to be found in building personal connections with your “philanthropic partners.”
“If at the end of the day you are exhausted, then I’m pretty sure you were selling,” McCrea said. “If at the end of the day you are energized and you are excited, it is because you are connecting and you are building the group of people that are going to work together with you.”
The writing of a check is a limited transactional exchange. Transformational giving, McCrea said, is when both parties agree to have a relationship around a shared commitment.
“I was really inspired,” said Joe Raichel, chairman of the center’s board and business banking manager with Wells Fargo. “I hope that everyone leaves here charged and reinvigorated in their work.”