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The Home Turf Advantage

The Home Turf Advantage

The Dinner Party. It was a social fixture in the ‘60’s, but in the last few decades it has lost some of its allure. If you are a not-for-profit development officer, read on: there are some really good reasons why revitalizing the dinner party can lend meaningful support to your organization.

The best story I have ever heard about hosting “home turf” dinner parties was shared with me by my friend, Kate Jaimet, a writer and journalist here in Ottawa. She was hired by the Chelsea Club – a women’s club for Ottawa’s high society ladies – to compile a mini-history of the organization. The interviews that Kate conducted shed enormous light on how networking happened in Ottawa high society during the past few decades. Here is the story of one of her interviewees.

Mr. and Mrs. Dick Bell

Mrs. Ruth Bell, now 92 years old recalled how her husband, Mr. Dick Bell, an elected Member of Parliament, had a long list of friends, supporters and fellow parliament members that he needed to “spend some quality time with.” He sat down with his wife, wrote out a list of people that he wanted to reach out to, and began crafting guest lists for 15 dinners of 16 people (8 couples – one did not invite single people to a dinner party!) each. For those of you who are mathematically challenged, that’s 240 people! Mrs Bell then began booking “outreach dinners” for the months of October and November at a rate of three a week! (Obviously no one in Mrs. Bell’s house was doing homework, lunches, or laundry). She wisely made up 3 menus and rotated through them. Mrs. Bell cooked them herself, but she hired someone to come in to help with the serving and the washing up.

It took the better part of 8 weeks, and 3 nights out of their busy schedules – not to mention the countless hours spent grocery shopping, cooking and washing up – but the honorable member of parliament Mr. Dick Bell had created 15 very authentic, and personal opportunities to connect with his supporters. The part I like best about this story is how each guest lists was crafted: each dinner party list was comprised of one parliamentarian, one lawyer, one person from their church, one person from the University Women’s Club, one person that Ruth played bridge with, and so on and so on. I get the sense that Mr and Mrs Bell wanted their community of connections to really get to know each other in the comfort of the Bell’s home.

There are many lessons that a savvy not-for-profit major gifts officer can take away from this story.

The Home Turf Advantage

It doesn’t just apply to sports teams, people. There is nothing more personal than inviting someone into your home to share an evening. As our modern world speeds up and “techs out” there are fewer and fewer chances to really connect with people. That means these home turf advantage opportunities are even MORE important.

Most Board members don’t have three nights a week to host events on behalf of their not-for-profits. But perhaps they could host two per year? What about making a commitment to six home-hosted events per year which rotate through board members homes? The guest list would require some thought: who would you like around your table, and how could these conversations engage and connect your most valuable donors to your institution and its people?

There are many lessons to be learned from this story. What’s your favorite?

Photo credit: Flikr user stev.ie