FAQ on HDC Dinners

What is the Healthy Democracy Coalition? We are a national network of philanthropists dedicated to improving democracy and bridging political divides. We are on an adventure for cross-partisan philanthropic learning.

What are the HDC dinners? Starting on November 27th, 2018, (the Tuesday after Thanksgiving) the HDC will host Jeffersonian style dinners in many of the top 50 US cities. Each dinner will convene 5-15 donors (including would-be donors and allies) from across the political spectrum to talk about family, country, and philanthropy. We will invite each dinner to consider featuring three stories: A) A testimonial from someone who has learned non-adversarial approaches to decision-making and/or politics, B) Two testimonials about bridging divides and/or improving democracy, one from a donor and one from a social entrepreneur.

What are the goals of the HDC? There are three: 1) RELATIONSHIPS: Build relationships across the lines that divide us. 2) LEARNING: Create a process for cross-partisan and inter-generational philanthropic learning. 3) COLLABORATION: Develop long term strategies for collaborative investing.

What is the purpose of these dinners? These dinners help to develop local learning communities. They are inspired by the natural thirst that citizens have for cross-partisan and inter-generational learning. In the absence of the traditional town square, we seek alternatives. When we connect in a safe space and break bread, we build relationships that are free from the distractions of politics. In this context we can learn and develop an appetite for new ways of connecting and policy-making. These 2018 dinners will be the first of a series of encounters to help donors come together around a common, shared vision: choosing civic cohesion over division.

Which cities are hosting dinners? How do I learn more? To learn more about HDC dinners you may write to us at info@democracycoalition.org or visit our website: www.democracycoalition.org/dinners

Who is behind the HDC and these dinners? To understand the people and context that informs these dinners, please refer to the Healthy Democracy Coalition (www.democracycoalition.org) and NEXUS (www.nexusglobal.org).

Can I participate even though my employer forbids me from engaging in political activity? Yes. The HDC does not advocate for any specific legislation or endorse any political candidates. It has no party affiliation. There is no risk. In the language of tax law, the HDC is facilitating 501c3 activities, not 501c4 activities.

Is this a fundraiser? No. Solicitation of donations is forbidden during the HDC dinners. There is no financial ask beyond possibly paying for one’s own dinner. In these cases the projected cost of the meal for each person will be published ahead of time and should be less than $50 USD.

Who else will be coming to the dinner? In general this information will not be provided. Some candidate participants will ask to see a list ahead of time. Each dinner host will use his/her discretion about what information can be shared.

Does the HDC offer funding? As of 2018 the Healthy Democracy Coalition does not facilitate grant-making. It does not have an open call for grant requests nor an apparatus in place to receive and process requests. All interested parties are encouraged to join the mailing list through the website. We aim to develop these systems in the second half of 2019.

What is expected of people in the future? There are no requirements. These dinners are a feasibility exercise. We want to know: Will people learn? Will they want to come together again? If so, then later in 2019 people we will be invited to join events, work on strategies, and design opportunities for collective investing, together.

What are the next steps? If people are interested, there will be several opportunities for follow up, including: 1) Joining a second round of HDC dinners on January 29th, 2019. 2) Taking the HDC Donor Survey, 3) Helping to build HDC chapters locally, 4) Meeting a national group of HDC participants during and after the NEXUS USA Summit March 6-8, 2019, in Washington, DC, or 5) Joining a delegation of HDC participants at the National Prayer Breakfast (Feb 7 in DC), EarthX (starting Apr 19 in Dallas), or the Milken Global Conference (Apr 28-May 1 in Los Angeles).

Where does HDC funding come from? The startup funding for the HDC comes from NEXUS, the Hewlett Foundation and the Fetzer Institute.

Are employees, family members or other representatives of potential philanthropists allowed to join? Yes. Representatives of potential donor/investor families are invited to join.

What are we creating? We are creating a learning community in service of a new, collective story. We help people to understand their own story before their political story. The power of a story has less to do with HOW someone tells it and more to do with HOW people listen. There is a saying, “Your only enemy is someone who’s story you have not yet heard.” As our community grows, we will develop strategies for collective action.

How is the Healthy Democracy Coalition different from other donor affinity groups? Many donor groups that focus on politics and democracy are either partisan or composed of representatives of institutions. The HDC is different. The HDC is explicitly cross-partisan and inter-generational in its composition and design. In addition, we prioritize the involvement of individuals and families, not representatives of institutions. We believe that philanthropy and politics is very personal and that real collaboration across political divides does not compromise deeply held values or produce weak ideas that excite no one. We believe that real collaboration unleashes creativity and generates new possibilities. We are focused on building relationships and learning first, with strategies for collective action to follow.

Frequently Asked Questions by Dinner Hosts

What if we have more than 15 people interested? Cities that have more than 15 participants will be encouraged to host multiple dinners.

What about diversity? Each dinner should strive to represent a spectrum of political diversity by including at least two of the five following political constituencies: democrat, republican, libertarian, green, and independent.

What if I prefer to host a breakfast? Dinners do not have to be “dinners.” They may be hosted as breakfast events, lunches etc.

What quality are we aiming for? All events are self organizing and will range in context and quality from low budget affairs in someone’s favorite restaurant to catered events in private homes. You can either split the bill at a restaurant or go all out on your own dime. We’ll be transparent about the arrangements ahead of time so no one has mismatched expectations.

What about conflict? Conflict itself is not bad. It is how we respond to conflict that makes a difference. All participants are asked to remain civil throughout these events in an effort to understand differences and appreciate commonalities. It is OK to agree to disagree.

Do we need to worry about the press? Unless otherwise agreed upon by participants, all dinners will be “off the record.”

What facilitation and training materials are available for HDC dinner hosts? The HDC will offer a series of calls for HDC dinner hosts to learn about the HDC, the convening process, and the art of facilitating production conversations. Contact us to learn more. In addition, we encourage hosts to review the materials of three primary sources:

A) The Jeffersonian dinners pioneered by the Generosity Network: http://www.thegenerositynetwork.com/resources/jeffersonian-dinners/

B) The Friends and Family Guide of the Living Room Conversations project:
https://www.livingroomconversations.org/friends-and-family-guide/

C) The Guide of Make America Dinner Again:
http://www.makeamericadinneragain.com/

Do I have to follow these guides? It is recommend, but not required.

What is the relationship between NEXUS and the HDC? The HDC was launched from the NEXUS network. The HDC is likely to include mostly people over the age of 45 and therefore does not match the youth-centric focus of NEXUS. In hope of keeping the youthful integrity of NEXUS, we decided to develop the HDC as a separate free standing 501c3 not-for-profit organization.

Do I need to source all the speakers who will offer the three testimonials suggested above? It is not a requirement. The HDC team may be able to help nominate some. If you’re not able to find anyone to offer a testimonial that’s OK. Feel free to share your own. There is a reason you wanted to get involved. Everyone around the table will have their own stories as well.

What if we want to invite an innovator to join? As long as you have participants confirmed where donors outnumber non-profits by a factor of two-to-one, then you can invite an innovator/bridge-builder/democracy reformer, etc.

What level of business owners/investors/donors are we aiming for? The higher the capacity the better, but there are no hard and set requirements. Each convening team will determine its own minimum thresholds. A mix of levels can improve the diversity of the group. Financial capacity does not always equate to philanthropic acumen.

What ratio of investors vs. investees are we aiming for? All dinner hosts are encouraged to aim for a two-to-one ratio of investors vs. investees, that is two investors/donors for every one potential investee. Described another way that means at least two people from the wealth/ investor/ philanthropy/ foundation side to every one from the non-profit/practitioner side. It is OK if a dinner is attended only by investors/donors, but as much as possible non-profits/practitioners should make up no more than 1/3rd of the dinner participant list. If the ratio is slightly off it is not the end of the world.

Can someone join a dinner as an observer? Yes. There are no requirements.

What if we cannot find any conservatives, progressives, libertarians etc. to join our dinner? Though it is preferred, it is OK to invite someone from outside of the donor/investor community to represent a political constituency that is not otherwise present. If it is not feasible to achieve political diversity it is not the end of the world. We can do better next time.

Do we need to have non-profit of political expertise represented? It is recommended but it is not required. Non-profits that work on democracy reform are recommended, as well as those that work on issues of broad political consensus like criminal justice and immigration reform. It is also OK to invite for-profit social entrepreneurs that work on democracy-improvement ventures.

Is it OK to invite elected officials? Yes.

How do we report back to HQ? All dinner hosts will be asked to provide the HDC with a group photo, a list of attendees, email addresses, and one word of feedback from each participant.

What is the role of HDC HQ? Beyond offering connections, a brand and an idea, the primary role of HDC HQ is to cultivate your leadership as an HDC organizer. Why did you want to help bridge divides? In your answer is knowledge and skill. It is our task to cultivate that impulse into leadership so that you can express it as an HDC organizer. It is OK if that leads to a conversation about criminal justice reform or family dynamics.

How do we manage expectations? Some people are coming to learn. Some people are coming to take action. If you share the following sentence in your invitations then people will not be disappointed: “The purpose of our dinner is to build relationships and learn together. This is a non-solicitation event. There are no requirements beyond trying to sincerely listening to others.”

What does success look like? People wanting to come together again.

What questions can we ask the dinner participants to help guide the conversation?
What did you first think of when you heard about this dinner?
Why did you choose to join?
Everyone has a story, what is yours?
Where do you think this problem of polarization came from?
Who do you know that is bridging divides? How are they doing it?
Who do you know that is improving democracy? How are they doing it?
Who do you know that has learned to take a non-adversarial approach to politics? How are they doing it?