• Finance

Robert Egger: Begging for Change

By Hope Katz Gibbs
Be Inkandescent magazine

I often start at the end when I’m reading a non-fiction book. It’s the part of the writing exercise where the author lets his guard down and tells the reader what he really wanted to say all along.

And although Robert Egger’s entire book, “Begging for Change,” is as quick-witted and delicious as a champagne brunch on a sunny Sunday — the last pages give readers specific, practical advice on how to directly apply his experience and hard-won wisdom.

He concludes with this: “For the past 15 years I’ve been a recovering hypocrite, and every day I’ve been working and sweating to make Washington, DC a better hometown, a place for friends with friends. You too can do your part in your city or town, even with your family, your neighborhood, your office or congregation. Don’t be afraid to start small, or start with what you know best.”

Following are a dozen of his heartfelt tips, which come from a much longer list of his observations. For the full monty, buy his book.

Robert Egger’s rules for nonprofits

• Look at what you do. Are you a 19th century charity or a 21st-century community corporation?

• The recent downturn in public support for nonprofits isn’t about the economy. It’s about skepticism. The public has had enough with pity and platitudes. Americans want a plan.

• No matter how good you think you are, you aren’t. Everybody and everything can and will be boring. Always be open to opportunity and push farther and go faster and bring as many people along for the ride as possible.

• Find balance. Give yourself and your employees time to decompress. A nonprofit career is hard work, and everyone needs some space and time off.

Egger’s rules for businesses

• Think about how much money we would have in every community if we pooled money from the biggest nonprofits, corporate philanthropy, individual donations, and the local government. Throw in the volunteer hours of students, corporate employees, and retirees. Add all of this up. Now tell me, with all of these resources, what can’t we fix?

• Forget the three-year plan. Those are baby steps. Think Coltrane: Giant Steps. Imagine what your community will look like in 10 years. Combine your resources and your ideas, prioritize your plans, and work toward those goals as a true community.

• Don’t try to reinvent philanthropy. Just as there are too many nonprofits duplicating services, there are too many corporations and foundations duplicating philanthropic efforts. Philanthropy has to be tied to local politics and partners in the community. If the players are not in sync, their efforts won’t work.

• Don’t confuse marketing with making a difference. It’s more important for the public to respect you than it is for them to like you. The public wants more than feel-good imagery. They want action.

Egger’s rules for volunteers and donors

• Don’t feel guilty if you can’t fund every struggling or failing nonprofit. There are too many agencies chasing the same dollars, and the reality is we’d be stronger and more effective if many of them consolidated or went out of business.

• Americans give on average $1,600 a year to nonprofits. Would you invest that much in the stock market without doing research? Ask questions. Demand answers.

• Don’t scatter your donations. Philanthropy is spread across too many interests. Be selective and be generous, and fund the nonprofit you choose at a level that allows the organization to focus on the mission, not the money.

• Believe in the impossible. We have the power to make this an amazing society — if we work together. Be part of it. Make waves.

For more thoughts, read Robert Egger’s blog: www.robertegger.org

Click here to learn more about the DC Central Kitchen: www.dccentralkitchen.org