A letter from TDP HQ
March, 2019

Why We’re Launching a Membership Model


Dearest Dinner Partiers,

For the last five years, we’ve resisted the idea of charging a membership fee. There are a lot of reasons for that. We’re interested in real relationships, and feared that fees that would render those relationships transactional. Our model depends on everyone contributing: All of our meals are potlucks, and every host is a volunteer, and participants and hosts alike are expected to listen as intently as they speak.

Ours is a community born of loss, which comes with a huge price of entry that cannot be measured in dollars.

We reject the idea that people only value what they pay for: In a recent survey, 70% of respondents shared that The Dinner Party has been a transformative experience. Members of our community have poured countless hours into this as volunteers — as hosts, as regional organizers, as fundraisers, as storytellers, and as participants, who choose to show up fully again and again. For that, we are and will forever remain (so very) grateful.

But the truth is, we’re a nonprofit, and this costs money.

We spend an average of 13.5 hours on each table in its first year, which includes everything from screening, training, and onboarding to matching each host with local participants in their area to ongoing coaching and support. Every personal email to every person who reaches out takes time. Altogether, it costs an average of $550 in direct costs* to start and sustain a Dinner Party table over the course of one year. A membership fee of $35/year** doesn’t cover that cost, but it certainly helps, and it’s key to ensuring we’re able to keep our doors open to everyone who needs a seat.

In August 2018, we asked our community if they’d be willing to pitch in. To our surprise, we were met with a resounding yes, provided the fee didn’t become a barrier to joining. (Creating an option to opt-out of the fee, no questions asked, was a no-brainer.)  

As our community grows, we want to ensure our staff can keep up with it, and that we always have time to hop on a call or answer a question with care, or strategize with our hosts to make each table the very best that it can be, even one year and two years on.

We’re excited to see what this will mean for our community in other ways, too: We continue to experience long waitlists, and we want to make sure we’re matching folks to tables who really want to be there. We get that we live in flaky times, and we know it can be a scary thing to show up to your first dinner or even your fourth. But every one of our hosts is also a peer, who’s both craving a chance to share your loss experience and to hold space as others share theirs. It’s a pretty big blow to morale when you’ve bought ingredients and spent time planning a gathering, and four of six people flake in the final 48 hours. We’re curious to see if people are more likely to show up if they’ve paid for it.

We also know that for some members of our community, covering their own membership and the membership of another Partier is very much in their means. That option will be available, and we’re curious to see how many of us step up to pull out the chair for someone else who needs it.

More than 6,000 people have sat down at Dinner Party tables in the last five years. Today, there are more than 3,000 active Dinner Partiers, who show up regularly and consistently at each of our 270+ tables.

What began with our savings accounts and a leap of faith has grown into an organization with a staff of eight and a budget of $400,000. It’s time.

To those who’ve helped us build this community over the last five years: Thank you. We couldn’t have gotten here without you. To those who are considering joining for the first time: Welcome. Your seat is saved.



With love and gratitude,

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Lennon Flowers + Carla Fernandez
Co-founders
The Dinner Party

*

What do we mean by “direct costs?” $550 per table includes the cost of every Dinner Partier gathering (minus camp), and the cost of newsletter subscriptions and web hosting and all the big things and little things it takes to build and sustain a thriving peer community at scale. It doesn’t include the time spent on every storytelling campaign, or every guidebook, or every article, or every story shared, or anything related to TDP Labs, or the operational costs required to keep this going.

**
Many of the folks in our community don’t have a lot of discretionary income: Some are young and starting careers, or else subject to the persistently high unemployment that millennials continue to face. Some are incurring the financial toll of grief and loss, or are saddled with the financial burdens that come of caregiving and estate management. $35 a year was the number that felt most manageable.