Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Robert Egger will change your world

If you have not heard of Robert Egger or the DC Central Kitchen, you need to click on the link below. Robert participated in The Chronicle of Philanthropy's Live Discussion earlier today.

Robert Egger is the founder and president of D.C. Central Kitchen, an antihunger group in Washington. He is also a lead of the Nonprofit Congress, and author of Begging for Change: The Dollars and Sense of Making Nonprofits Responsive, Efficient, and Rewarding for All (Harper-Collins).

I am thankful that they selected my question to him to begin the forum. I have posted it, and his response, below... but the entire forum is worth reading here.


Question from Jeremy Gregg, Central Dallas Ministries:

Robert, I have held great respect for you and your work at DC Central Kitchen for many years. I agree with your ideas, but am concerned about how we can implement them.

At Central Dallas Ministries, we host an annual Prayer Breakfast at which we invite local leaders to join us in frank discussions about the future of our city and the systemic problems facing the poor. In 2006, our keynote address was delivered by Senator John Edwards. His message was all about the poor and what we can do as a country to alleviate poverty, but we upset many donors for simply inviting him (despite the fact that George W. Bush spoke at the same event when he was Governor of Texas). In fact, we had several donors -- including two who were giving us five-figure gifts each year -- angrily tell us that they were discontinuing their support because we had invited him.

We have no endowment, and very little operating reserve. We depend on contributions from people who have often made their living as successful capitalists. How can we continue to receive their support while simultaneously questioning the system that brought them their wealth?

Furthermore, how can we effectively engage politicians in a true dialogue about what we see on the ground without appearing to be involved in partisan politics or lobbying?

Robert Egger:
Hey Jeremy, Thanks for your kind remarks about the Kitchen. Back at you. One of the biggest issues confronting the sector is public (mis)understanding of our work. It's understandable that many cannot view the sector beyond the confines of historic "charity." However, many of us, particularly us in the direct service side of the coin, know that all the innovation, self-sufficiency, and capacity-building exercises won't give us the tools we need to drastically reduce the demand for services. Poverty is bigger than charity. I don't think there is any way to move forward without developing a collective voice and beginning to exert our economic and social clout in local, regional, and national politics. Some will choose not to give to those who venture down this road. This is a decision all organizations will have to make individually. It might sound too blunt, but there comes a time when you must decide if you are going to participate in a system that cannot supply the solutions you seek, or whether you will risk the slings and arrows that come with bucking that system. None of the answers I provide today will be easy. There is no sugar on the medicine I am prescribing. There will be risks. . .but that is where reward lies.

Read the rest here: