Begging for Change: The Dollars and Sense of Making Nonprofits Responsive, Efficient, and Rewarding for All

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You are a good person. You are one of the 84 million Americans who volunteer with a charity. You are part of a national donor pool that contributes nearly $200 billion to good causes every year. But you wonder: Why don't your efforts seem to make a difference?

Fifteen years ago, Robert Egger asked himself this same question as he reluctantly climbed aboard a food service truck for a night of volunteering to help serve meals to the homeless. He wondered why there were still people waiting in line for soup in this day and age. Where were the drug counselors, the job trainers, and the support team to help these men and women get off the streets? Why were volunteers buying supplies from grocery stores when restaurants were throwing away unused fresh food every night? Why had politicians, citizens, and local businesses allowed charity to become an end in itself? Why wasn't there an efficient way to solve the problem?

Robert knew there had to be a better way. In 1989, he started the D.C. Central Kitchen by collecting unused food from local restaurants, caterers, and hotels and bringing it back to a central location where hot, nutritious meals were prepared and distributed to agencies around the city. Since then, the D.C. Central Kitchen has been named one of President Bush Sr.'s Thousand Points of Light and has become one of the most respected and emulated nonprofit agencies in the world, producing and distributing more than 4,000 meals a day. Its highly successful 12-week job-training program equips former homeless transients and drug addicts with culinary and life skills to gain employment in the restaurant business.

In Begging for Change, Robert Egger looks back on his experience and exposes the startling lack of logic, waste, and ineffectiveness he has encountered during his years in the nonprofit sector, and calls for reform of this $800 billion industry from the inside out. In his entertaining and inimitable way, he weaves stories from his days in music, when he encountered legends such as Sarah Vaughan, Mel Torme, and Iggy Pop, together with stories from his experiences in the hunger movement — and recently as volunteer interim director to help clean up the beleaguered United Way National Capital Area. He asks for nonprofits to be more innovative and results-driven, for corporate and nonprofit leaders to be more focused and responsible, and for citizens who contribute their time and money to be smarter and more demanding of nonprofits and what they provide in return. Robert's appeal to common sense will resonate with readers who are tired of hearing the same nonprofit fund-raising appeals and pity-based messages. Instead of asking the "who" and "what" of giving, he leads the way in asking the "how" and "why" in order to move beyond our 19th-century concept of charity, and usher in a 21st-century model of change and reform for nonprofits.

Enlightening and provocative, engaging and moving, this book is essential reading for nonprofit managers, corporate leaders, and, most of all, any citizen who has ever cared enough to give of themselves to a worthy cause.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060541712
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/17/2004
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 478,444
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.85 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert Egger is the president and founder of the D.C. Central Kitchen in Washington, D.C. He travels extensively, promoting nonprofit innovation to everyone, from Fortune 500 companies and business schools to college campuses and culinary institutes. The Kitchen was named one of President Bush Sr.'s Thousand Points of Light, and has been featured on Oprah, Nightline, and 48 Hours as well as in the Washington Post, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, and numerous other publications. In 2002, he volunteered to serve as interim director of the United Way National Capital Area to reorganize its struggling executive leadership. He is the recipient of the Oprah "Angel" award, the Bender Prize, and a Caring Award. Robert Egger lives in Washington, D.C.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: Hello, My Name is Robert, and I'm a Recovering Hypocrite
Introduction: "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?" A Brief History of the Handout 1
Ch. 1 Soup Kitchen Confidential 25
Ch. 2 Doing Good Versus Doing Right 49
Ch. 3 Feeding the Tapirs 61
Ch. 4 Starfish and Random Acts 69
Ch. 5 Whom Are You Serving? 81
Ch. 6 M=EC[superscript 2] 95
Ch. 7 The Tangible Link 109
Ch. 8 Taking Troy 121
Ch. 9 Take It to 11 133
Ch. 10 Keeping the Faith 143
Ch. 11 Grab the Future by the Face 155
Epilogue: Redemption City 169
Robert's Rules for Nonprofits 177
App Giving and Volunteering Statistics and Resources 185
Index 207
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First Chapter

Begging for Change
The Dollars and Sense of Making Nonprofits Responsive, Efficient, and Rewarding for All

Chapter One

Soup Kitchen Confidential

Captain Renault: What in heaven's name brought you to Casablanca?

Rick: My health. I came to Casablanca for the waters. Captain Renault: The waters? What waters? We're in the desert.

Rick: I was misinformed.

-- Casablanca, 1942

In my previous life, I'd been working in nightclubs. Ever since I saw Casablanca at the age of 12, opening the greatest nightclub was all I ever dreamed of doing. Rick's was the kind of place where you could fall in love, sing patriotic songs at the top of your lungs, or win your freedom at the roulette wheel. Risk and danger were as much a part of the menu as caviar and champagne cocktails. The owner never stuck his neck out for anyone -- or at least he made it appear that way -- but everyone stuck their necks out there. More than anything else, though, from the moment I saw Casablanca, I wanted to be Rick.

In the late '70s, while all my friends went off to college, I went to chase my dream. I landed my first gig at a cabaret and restaurant called the Fish Market in Old Town, Alexandria, Virginia, right on the Potomac. I spent my nights in the upstairs showroom -- my first classroom, you could say. We had a one-eyed banjo player named Johnny Ford on the weekends, and a cross-dressing piano player who performed as "Herb" on Mondays and Wednesdays and as "Miss Vicky" on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And actually, except for the man-hands, Vicky wasn't, in the parlance of my father, a bad-looking broad.

At 21, I moved into D.C. and got a job at a popular club named the Childe Harold, right above Dupont Circle, where I became the bartender, manager, and eventually booker. The Childe Harold was one of those classic blues clubs of the '60s and '70s that was caught in the crossfire between the blues of old and the counterculture punk of new. It was the kind of venue where we booked Emmylou Harris one night, the Bad Brains the next. We had the Ramones for their very first gig in D.C. and blues guitarist Mike Oldfield for his very last (he overdosed a few days after the show).

Everything about the Childe embodied the holy trinity of the '70s club scene: sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I dove in with abandon and spent the next two years learning everything I could, which, as is often the case, is best summed up as "everything you shouldn't do" if you expect to stay in business, let alone stay alive.

In 1983, as punk morphed into new wave, and cocaine and AIDS hit us big-time, I had reached a point where I had to take my nightclub schooling uptown to learn the wants and needs of a richer clientele. I became the manager and maître d' of a jazz club named Charlie's, a swanky place named after the famous local jazz guitarist, Charlie Byrd, who had come back from Brazil in 1961 and, with Stan Getz, introduced the country to bossa nova.

Charlie's had everything going for it: a great location in posh Georgetown; a dark and modern, sort of deco, feel, with long, comfortable banquettes; a piano bar; a showroom in the back; and more than anything else, stellar entertainment. We had big name acts every week, with legends like Rosemary Clooney, Al Hirt, Mel Tormé, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Eckstine, Bobby Short, the Kingston Trio, and Astrud Gilberto, aka the Girl from Ipanema.

On Wednesdays through Sundays, I'd walk down to Charlie's in the late afternoon dressed in my own version of Rick's classic attire, a white dinner jacket and blue cowboy boots that my fiancée, Claudia, had bought for me in New Mexico. Four o'clock was My Hour, the hour before dusk. The French call it l'heure bleu. I was inside Charlie's, getting ready for whatever excitement or disasters were in store. The musicians and electricians would be setting up mics and instruments. The star of the evening would be dressed in casual street clothes to do a sound check.

At 7:00 P.M., it was "Showtime!" for the staff, and we were rolling. We pushed the standard supper-club high-ticket items -- lobster, prime rib, surf and turf. The waiters pushed a lot of Dom and layered drinks on the customers to get the checks up.

Champagne out front, cocaine in the rest rooms, and everyone -- men and women -- smelling of Calvin Klein's Obsession. And lots of talk -- Washington people tended to talk through the performers, even the top acts people paid a lot of money to see. After closing, Simon the Brazilian bartender and I would pour ourselves a little Rémy, count the receipts, and check the liquor stock. Then I'd cruise through the kitchen, watching as food servers tossed away unused fish, steak cuts, vegetables. Like other restaurants, we had little storage space. "Night, Amadou," I'd say to our towering North African chef. And then I sailed out the door and walked up the hill to my apartment.

So ... about that truck that got me here. Well, when I trudged up Wisconsin Avenue from Charlie's, I'd always pass Grace Church, a 100-something-year-old stone chapel overlooking the Potomac River. Claudia and I wanted to get married, but we'd found most of the Georgetown churches fairly snooty except for Grace. The minister there was more than willing to marry us at an affordable price, so as a goodwill gesture, we started attending service as often as possible.

Grace was part of a volunteer effort called the Grate Patrol that, along with other churches in the neighborhood, took turns cooking food and serving it to the homeless at designated street corners. Being the new kids in the congregation, we were encouraged to volunteer for the Grate Patrol ...

Begging for Change
The Dollars and Sense of Making Nonprofits Responsive, Efficient, and Rewarding for All
. Copyright © by Robert Egger. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2008

    Wow - this is bad - and not in a good way.

    Got this from a co-worker for Christmas. Just read it. I think it must have been a regift. Not any good information and not written well. I'll put it into the recyle bag so it won't go to waste.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2005

    Begging for Change: The Dollars and Sense of Making Nonprofits Responsive, Efficient, and Rewarding for All

    I bought this book because I thought that it could be helpful to my nonprofit group in raising funds and awareness. It wasn't. I read somewhere that this writer has revolutionary ideas. He doesn't. They are more like revolving ideas. They go in endless circles and painfully monotonous spirals. They do not not move forward at all. If this author's is the lauded example of nonprofit leadership and innovation in the 21st Century, then the nonprofit community is doomed. I wish I had read the comment about self-promotion before wasting my time and money. That reviewer is right. The title of this book could more aptly be 'Begging for Attention.'

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2004

    Subtitle: The Big Yawn

    Clever at times but will not set the philanthropy field afire. A few (too many?) cute anecdotes but little substance and barely any quality research. Seems to be more about self-promotion than self-less acts. Remember when carob was going to replace chocolate as a healthy and nutritious treat? Remember that carob never quite hit the spot? Remember how carob always left a slightly bad aftertaste in your mouth? This book has the same unimpressive effect.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 10, 2008

    A number of good points here

    I read this book years ago, and I can still quote extensively from it. I think Robert Egger makes a number of good points: that nonprofits are so caught up in the excuse of 'that's the way we've always done it' that they're not able to achieve real change and that sometimes nonprofits care more about creating a good experience for volunteers than about changing the lives of the people they serve. I also think he's right that a number of nonprofits should merge together: that there's needless duplication of effort, usually due to egos. I'm familiar with his organization, DC Central Kitchen, and I think they do a good job of changing the lives of homeless people so they can go to work in a profession, while using food that would otherwise go to waste. I think this is a good book, and I would recommend it to others.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 26, 2005

    Begging for Change: The Dollars and Sense of Making Nonprofits Responsive, Efficient, and Rewarding for All

    Ivy league schools Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and Dartmouth University in Hannover, New Hampshire, have separately announced that they are ceasing operations. Both decisions are said to be in response to a new book by Robert Egger, former interim director of the United Way of the National Capital Area. The book, Begging for Change (HarperCollins), is currently garnering rave reviews from sources as disparate as USA Today and Oprah Winfrey. One of the Eggers's principal observations is that there are far too many nonprofits offering duplicate services, which prompted leaders at both schools to take this unprecedented step. 'This book was a real 'aha' moment for me,' reflects Dartmouth board chair Susan Dentzer, who is also correspondent for the Jim Lehrer NewsHour on PBS. 'I interviewed Egger about his book and when he mentioned that probably 25% of nonprofits were unnecessary I was, like, of course! Why didn't I see it? Who are we trying to kid with eight Ivy League schools? It's not really about 335 years of academic excellence any more, it's just an ego trip!' Dentzer points out that New England has more than its share of Ivy League schools and that the pruning here was long overdue. Events fell into place quickly. Dentzer called Dartmouth President James Wright, who immediately bought into the concept. Says Wright, 'The amazing thing was when I called Ruth [Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons] to tell her, she had already read the book and was thinking the same thing. Synchronicity!' Simmons had brought her own thoughtful consideration of urban transformation to the decision to throw in the towel. 'Now that Providence has become established in the industry as a prime location for shooting major motion pictures such as There's Something About Mary and other Farrelly Brothers films, its days as an academic center are numbered. With emerging 24/7 broadband entertainment options right around the corner, it's really time to move on.' One immediate result will be to change the traditional match-ups that cap the Ivy League football season. 'Princeton-Columbia carries much more marketing potential than Princeton-Dartmouth

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2004

    A Must Read

    Amen to this author! Mr. Egger shares what we've all needed to hear for quite sometime about effective social investment for real community change. As a native San Franciscan, I've witnessed two programs in the 'City by the Bay' that are based on the model program he founded 15 years ago: DC Central Kitchen. This book isn't a basic 'how to' but rather commands the reader to ask 'why?' 'for what purpose?' and 'to what end?' While I'd usually rather open a vein and sit in a warm tub of water than read most books of this ilk, Mr. Egger's book is well-written with insight, charm and a true understanding of the field.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 6, 2009

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    Posted December 20, 2010

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