Ladling Soup, Raising Hell: Nonprofit insider Robert Egger is out to reform charities from within

| March-April 2009

  • Robert Egger Philanthropist

  • Robert Egger Philanthropist

This article is part of a package on rethinking charity in the economic crisis. For more, read  Giving When It Hurts ,  The Revolution Will Not Be Funded : It’s time to liberate activists from the nonprofit industrial complex, and  Tips for Practical Giving : Where to give, what to ask, and the lowdown on emerging philanthropic trends.

In the charity world, Robert Egger is something of a rabble rouser, issuing frequent and well-informed calls for reform of the nonprofit system. As the founder and president of the D.C. Central Kitchen, which feeds the hungry while training the unemployed, Egger has the street cred to back up his often pointed criticisms. He has also served as interim chief of the D.C. area United Way and is the author of Begging for Change: The Dollars and Sense of Making Nonprofits Responsive, Efficient, and Rewarding for All (HarperCollins, 2004). His latest venture is the V3 Campaign, which aims to tap the economic and political power of nonprofits.


Now that we’re in a full-bore recession, needs for charity services are up just as donations are sharply down. What does this mean for the charity world?

It could easily be seen as a one-two punch. A significant number of our colleagues are going to be down on one knee. What I’ve been trying to stir up over the past three years, first with the Nonprofit Congress and then with the subsequent V3 Campaign, was to say, in effect, look, there were certain things you could see coming quite a distance off. Maybe not this significant recession we’re in the middle of. But you could see state budgets being constricted. Politicians were going to have to make serious cuts. What we were trying to anticipate and head off at the pass were understandable but intellectually flawed concepts about the smart places to make cuts—things we can somehow do without.

This is where nonprofits are stuck right now, because what you’re seeing is cuts in funding for Medicaid and Medicare, prisoner reentry programs, arts programs, things that are viewed as extras: “It’s too bad, but we’ll just have to do without that for a year or two.” Many of us have been trying to help people understand that these have real economic impact. Business isn’t the only place within our communities in which currencies are created.

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