Invite the World to Dinner

A few weeks ago, strangers invited me into their home for dinner, and it completely changed how I understand community building.

In the nonprofit sector, we spend a lot of time discussing community building. We discuss everything from how to do it, to best practices, authenticity, intentionality, network-mapping, and lots of other jargon. 

A new experience made me see a special side to how we can approach community building—professionally and personally. I was in Fargo, North Dakota (along with 800 other people to attend TEDxFargo) and I signed up for DinnerTies—a Fargo organization that is committed to connecting travelers with Fargo locals for a dinner in their home. Translation: when visiting Fargo, you can sign up to have strangers invite you into their lives and make you a home-cooked dinner. 

Here’s me and my co-traveler Meghan Murphy eating a delicious dinner with our hosts, initially complete strangers, but now friends, Hannah & Evan Balko:

On the drive back home to Minneapolis, and completely inspired by Fargo’s hospitality, a few thoughts came to mind about how I’d like to change my own community building practices: 

  • The dinner party. I’m going to start challenging myself to invite friends, colleagues, and acquaintances from across different networks to dinner. Yes, this is the main theory and foundation behind the dinner party, but why don’t we weave this traditionally pure social experience into how we do our work? What if your organization gave you a stipend to host a bi-monthly dinner party for partners, community members, volunteers, etc.? That $50 investment could really start to build an engaged and connected community.  
  • Food. There is power in breaking bread together. I’d like to challenge myself to see what it would look like to plot out each of my daily meals to make sure I’m being intentional and thoughtful about whom I’m eating with. This isn’t anything revolutionary, but even though I read “Never Eat Alone” six years ago, it’s still something that could use regular mindfulness.
  • The importance of home. What would it look like for us to be more personal? Would we have meetings in our home? On our backyard patios? Sure, we probably do a good enough job inviting friends over, but what about better blurring those professional and personal lines? My first worry is that if I invited a professional acquaintance over for a meeting in my living room or on my patio, they might get the wrong idea. If that’s not okay, something seems broken. How do we make that more okay? 

The next time your organization discusses how to better do “community building,” how can you take inspiration from the traditional dinner party and start thinking beyond social media, webinars, events, town hall meetings, coffee dates, networking meetings, and all the other professional-focused engagement tactics that have us all bored to death?

Thank you Fargo and DinnerTies for reminding me of the importance personalness should play in our professional work.

Okay, so who wants to come over for dinner?

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