Invitations that reach out to diverse people and successfully bring them together around a topic of shared concern tend to follow certain principles:

  • They’re personalized.
  • They’re in your own voice.
  • They’re plain.
  • They’re an invitation, not an obligation.
  • They’re power-conscious. (Keeping a sense of obligation out of it can be hard to do when hierarchy is involved. Take an extra moment to think about how to invite them in a way that tries to set aside your power differences.)
  • They’re complete. They cover:
  1. The situation or challenge: What is the situation that is prompting you to do this?
  2. The stakes: Why does it matter to you? Why might it matter to me?
  3. The offer and your expectations if I accept: What are you inviting me to do, exactly? If I say yes, what am I committing myself to do?
  4. The logistics: How would I do what I'd commit to doing? What's the process you have set up for me?
  5. The outcome: What's in it for me? What's in it for us?

Here's a sample invitation.

Here's a sample invitation that Chris might write while working in his dream job as the community events manager for a public library. (In practice, he'd probably break this into several messages or mini-conversations: first to gauge interest, then to give details, then to gain commitment.)

Hey ,

I'm grappling with a big challenge that touches on a lot of things in our community, and I'm inviting a range of the people who may be affected by it to explore it more together and see where the journey takes us. I'd like to invite you to join the conversation.

Let me tell you a bit about what started this for me. In my role as community events manager for the library, I've got what feels to me like an unsolvable problem. As a library, two big values for us are intellectual freedom and inclusivity, but when it comes to holding public events and letting people in the community use the library to speak their own views, these two values are coming into conflict more and more often. There's no good answer, and it's constantly creating tensions. I'm starting to feel that part of the problem is it needs a much broader conversation than the one we've been having internally.

I feel strongly affected by this issue, on a number of levels. I'd like to invite other people who are affected by it, in different ways than me, into a process to explore this territory together. I think it touches on some big questions that can only be answered as a community, and I'd like us to make that happen.

I've taken some time put down on paper, in a structured way, how I'm looking at the situation today. I'm attaching that draft to share it with you, and I'm sharing it to about a dozen people. If you do feel affected by this, and if you have the energy for this, I'd love for you to be involved. Saying "yes" does come with a couple specific expectations, so please feel free to say no. No explanation needed. I'd be happy to share the outputs and insights, if you're interested.

My first expectation would be for you to react to my draft and help to improve it with how you see things. What do you agree and disagree with? What resonates and what doesn't? 

My second expectation would be for you to try your best to show up for an initial virtual gathering with everyone else who also said yes. We'll try to nail down a date and time that works for most people. It’ll be an informal, supportive atmosphere to explore whatever’s emerging for you and the others.

That's where my expectations end. After that, it's all hope! I hope to discover some of my own blindspots so I can see some new pathways that I'm not seeing right now. I hope to understand how you see things better, and I hope that you would also come out of this with some new ways to think about and impact some tough questions in our community. And I hope that one or more new groups might independently form up and decide to keep meeting and keep working on shared interests that emerge for them

For starters, could you please let me know your reactions to this? I'm also happy to get on the phone and talk more about it.


[Attachments: my draftap.doc]