By Keely Shallock
"It is time to get past the notion of transparency as it relates to .com or .org, but to take it to the next level."
The Charities Review Council’s Annual Forum was held last Tuesday, June 21 at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Minneapolis. As an intern with the Council, I gladly expected to be put to work setting up tables, handing out name tags, and seating guests. And I was. But I was also fortunate enough to catch Robert Egger’s keynote speech on transparency and the future of the nonprofit sector.
Egger is the Founder and President of the DC Central Kitchen, the country’s first “community kitchen”, where food donated by hospitality businesses and farms is used to fuel a nationally recognized culinary arts job training program, where unemployed men and women learn marketable skills while donations are converted into balanced meals.
Feeding the poor and training the unemployed is not what Egger dreamed of accomplishing as a young boy. Rather, he had ambitions of opening his own nightclub. In fact, he was so taken with the brass fixtures in the Metropolitan Ballroom and the elaborate stage he was speaking from, I thought he might just break out into a little ditty, exclaiming, “What time is it?! I’m so at home on this stage!” And there’s no doubt he was just as excited to be in Minnesota not only for the Council’s big event, but also because it is home to Prince and The Replacements (as he made sure to point this out!).
It was easy to see how his enthusiasm for music boiled down to a passion for bringing people together, dating back to the days of Dr. Martin Luther King when Egger, at the ripe age of 10, first thought about equality and breaking down barriers. “If you have people of different races in a room and a good song comes on, skin color no longer matters, and everyone gets up to dance.” However, it was Egger’s experience feeding the homeless out of a food truck in Washington DC, a duty he was not necessarily excited about, that made him think “there must be a better way.” Many years later, he has established a highly successful, multi-faceted national organization, and is known as a thought-leader on the subjects of sustainability, political engagement, and social enterprise.
"When nonprofits are transparent in their operations and outcomes, it becomes clear that they are anything but nonprofits"
Egger went on to discuss the future and what it means for the nonprofit community, the for-profit sector, and the issue of transparency. When nonprofits are transparent in their operations and outcomes, it becomes clear that they are anything but nonprofits, he explained. The work of organizations feeding the poor, training the jobless, educating the illiterate, and building up communities results in more jobs, more workers, more taxpayers, and more good in the world. That is nothing if not “profit.”
Egger’s message was not just about patting the backs of the myriad nonprofit professionals in the audience though. He challenged attendees to be the kinds of leaders who march out and meet the future head on, to face reality with courage and conviction, rather than wait for the future to come to them. This future, according to Egger, includes a generation who wants to help more than anything, and a society that needs help more than ever. The Millennial generation is asking questions like, “how can I change the world and make a living doing it?” and “how can the way I spend my money every day be my charity?” This is a new age of giving, and it brings together sectors more than ever before.
The Millennial generation is asking questions like, “how can I change the world and make a living doing it?” and “how can the way I spend my money every day be my charity?”
“I see dead nonprofits,” Egger joked, referencing the movie, The Sixth Sense, but went on to explain that the business model of the future is a hybrid, and any nonprofit who thinks they can go it alone, deserves to go it alone. It is time to get past the notion of transparency as it relates to .com or .org, but to take it to the next level. Egger cited the example of his organization’s Volunteer Bill of Rights, used to give power to volunteers by giving them the right to voice their opinions, rate their experiences, and access financial information. This level of breaking down walls and barriers is the only way to start having real, honest, and clear conversations toward change.
Throughout his 45 minute address, Egger undoubtedly covered a wide-spectrum of topics, from music to history to race to food to politics to movies to the ever-present generation gap, often jumping from one to the next like it made perfect sense. And judging by the 330 sets of eyes in the room, glued to his every word, it did. More than anything, Egger wasn’t afraid to address relevant issues, like the pending government shut-down and the immediate need for change, head on, and challenge us to do the same. Through his humor and passion, he injected a palpable energy in that brass-lined Ballroom that made us want to get up and dance…or at least start having real conversations about the future of our communities.
Did you miss this chance to see Robert Egger in action? No worries, check out this clip from his above keynote at the Charities Review Council's Annual Forum 2011. Thanks to David Wheeler for taking this clip!
This guest post was written by Keely Schallock. Keely Schallock is the Fund Development Intern at the Charities Review Council. She graduated from the College of St. Benedict in 2007, and after spending time volunteering in Ecuador and selling food in Chicago, she is back in Minnesota to look for a job in nonprofit development, communication, or administration.