Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Can Your Neighbor Name a Good 'Nonprofit'?

(By Bryan - Published in our Not-for-Profit News - Indy 4/15 and Cincy 4/17)

I can’t count how many conversations I have had with people who gave me a questioning look when I said that I work with “nonprofits”. They will often ask “What do you mean by nonprofit? Can you give me an example?”

Add to that an on-going debate about how we might better name our sector by describing what we ARE instead of what we ARE NOT – maybe Social Benefit Organization or Community Corporation, instead of Nonprofit or Not-for-Profit.

I was pleased to be invited by the Central Indiana Community Foundation to hear Robert Egger speak on April 7. Mr. Egger is the Founder and President of the DC Central Kitchen, where unemployed men and women learn marketable culinary skills while foods donated by restaurants and caterers are converted into balanced meals. Since 1989, they have distributed 17+ million meals and helped 600+ people gain full-time employment.

Robert is the author of the award-winning book, Begging for Change: The Dollars and Sense of Making Nonprofits Responsive, Efficient and Rewarding For All. He has family ties to southeast Indiana and a brother who lives in Indianapolis.

The core of his message was around three points:

  • The nonprofit sector is in a position where regulation can be imposed by the government and we have little or no voice to provide input or participate in the debate.
  • There is no regular media analysis of our work. We either get fluffy ‘feel good’ stories or stories of scandal and corruption. The media makes no attempt to define good nonprofits or lesser nonprofits. He would love to see opinions expressed just as they are on restaurants and movies.
  • The average American can’t name a good nonprofit, though the sector makes up almost 10% of our economy (employment and GDP). People don’t realize they are served by nonprofits everyday – (NPR, church, hospital, YMCA, etc

Some of his thoughts on what we can do about it:

  • Work together as a sector. Attend Nonprofit Congress in June. Form a state nonprofit association (Indiana).
  • Raise the visibility of the nonprofit sector in politics. Ask candidates for every office – “How would you partner with the nonprofit sector?” You can check out his v3 campaign at
  • Support local businesses that provide livable wages and benefits

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