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Welcome to Helping Nonprofits Thrive. This weekly newsletter provides practical tools and a bit of theory to strengthen your inclusive leadership skills. Building inclusive and engaging practices that permeate every dimension of your nonprofit helps you stride toward the dream of diversity: better thinking, better results, and a better world.  Subscribe now to Helping Nonprofits Thrive.

Gracious Invitation: A Simple Step Toward Inclusion

One of the simplest techniques for facilitating inclusive meetings I call “Gracious Invitation.” Gracious Invitation works like this. In a group of no more than ten, the facilitator or convenor sets up a topic or question to discuss—it could be anything. They pose the question or issue to the group. For example, “Give your name, organization and a key challenge you will face personally or professionally in the coming year?”

The facilitator shares their response and then invites another person to share. The invited person can then share, pass, or pass for now. The final step for that person is to graciously invite another person to share. The pattern repeats itself until all have been called upon.  The ones who passed for now are given another opportunity to speak after the first round.

Gracious Invitation accomplishes many things. First, in traditionally facilitated discussions, the convenor lays out a question or issue and, typically, the most verbally and culturally dominant respond. Those less dominate tend to stay quiet.

Gracious invitation breaks this pattern by inviting each person to share regardless of whether they are assertive or quiet. The quiet ones and less culturally dominant are given equal opportunity to speak. They may share, pass, or indicate they need more time by passing for now.

Secondly, each person is given the power to graciously invite whomever they wish. In cultures where the most senior member of the hierarchy is typically the one who decides who will speak and who will not, Gracious Invitation can be experienced as empowering.

Whenever Gracious Invitation is used in a group for a few times, a common pattern emerges. Contrary to most facilitated discussions where a few dominate, with Gracious Invitation I notice that often the most aggressive and culturally dominant are called upon last. They must wait until called upon. Yes. They will get their place in the sun, but only after listening to others.

I’ve also observed that when introverts and the culturally less dominant are given the power to invite whomever they please, their confidence strengthens. The shy claim their rightful and just voice and the power to choose whom they will.

A Few More Tips

A few tips: when using Gracious Invitation, do not simply go around the circle or table, inviting the person seated next to you to share. Going around the circle may cause people to stop listening and focus on preparing their remarks when their turn is imminent. Instead, choose anyone in the group. It’s your decision who to invite. Also, groups of more than ten may take too long for everyone to have the opportunity to share. Break larger groups into smaller configurations.

Gracious Invitation is simple to learn and can easily teach a group to be more inclusive. Remember the key steps:

  • Share, pass, or pass for now, then always invite.
  • Repeat until all have been invited.

Build Inclusive Meetings and Organizations

For more ideas on how to build inclusive meeting practices into your organization, check out my book Thrive: The Facilitator’s Guide to Radically Inclusive Meetings, 2nd ed. You may also visit my website at https://civicreinvetions.com.

Send me an email about your ideas for building inclusion into meetings or share a particular problem you face at mark.smutny@civicreinventions.com. I will respond to each inquiry personally.