Robert Egger Responds

Robert Egger wasted no time in sending me his thoughts regarding his ongoing debate with Pablo Eisenberg. Personally, I hear very compelling arguments coming from both Robert and Pablo. But there is one line in Robert’s email below that truly resonates with me. His point goes to the heart of why I write Tactical Philanthropy and he says it better than I ever have when he writes:

What I do want is dialogue—open, “all bets are off” dialogue—that asks a simple question: what next?

Thanks to everyone who has participated in the dialogue that has unfolded on these pages. We’ve covered a lot of ground and as the readership continues to grow I hope many more of you decide that an “all bets are off dialogue” is something you want to be a part of.

Now, onto Robert’s email regarding the Egger vs. Eisenberg debate (I’ve added hyperlinks as I did to Eisenberg’s email):

Nonprofits are already inextricably linked to politics and business. The notion that we are separate or independent is wishful thinking that, if the discussion was merely academic, would be easy to dismiss. However, for many nonprofits, this debate touches on survival. For others like the DC Central Kitchen, it touches on our ability to comprehensively address social issues that eat theory for breakfast and pick their teeth with charity. But… this is also about our country, and how we must adjust to deal with serious social and economic issues that you can see coming a million miles away—issues like the 80 million baby boomers who are getting older, the credit crunch and the ongoing export of jobs overseas. For me, this is about how America determines the most practical and intelligent use of our resources.

The point I try to make when I talk about the Kitchen (and this includes our experiments with social entrepreneurship) is this: everything we use was already here; we just use existing resources in a nontraditional way. We take the food our city wastes, an empty kitchen, the homeless folks, ex-cons or addicts we undervalue, other folks who want to be part of something bigger than themselves through volunteerism, foodservice professionals who can help teach culinary skills, fellow nonprofits that buy food rather than focusing their limited resources on liberating people…and we created a really cool, cost effective and solution-oriented alternative. All I want to do is take that same spirit of innovation and creativity (which our sector has in aces) and apply it to Capital Hill (or the City Hall in any town).

Nowhere in the debate did I suggest removing ALL the political constraints, nor do I want ALL nonprofits to make money.  What I do want is dialogue—open, “all bets are off” dialogue—that asks a simple question: what next?

Look…if we haven’t done the job yet—after 40 years, and trillions of dollars—I’m not going to sign up for 40 more of the same thing (and neither is the public, by the way). But I do believe that the resources we need to do the job are, in fact, right in front of us. For this debate, I used my voice to suggest the potential power of using our collective voice. This was one of the goals of the Nonprofit Congress and what we are now exploring, using all the existing rules, with the Nonprofit Primary Project up in New Hampshire

Our economic strength, our share of the workforce in every community, and the number of voters who volunteer with the nonprofit sector are tremendous assets that we could use to promote a dialogue that politicians and businesspeople are not currently interested in having. To genuflect to routine, or to excuse inactivity for fear that we may lose our purity through participation in the political process, is an embarrassing misuse of our legacy. Adherence to the status quo betrays the bravery of men and women whom many of us claim to admire, such as Gandhi, Tubman, Chavez, and King, who risked their lives every single day they walked out of their front doors. In my opinion, the risks that come with complacency far outweigh the risks that might come with stepping up and assuming new responsibilities….not just for the nonprofit sector, but for this country.

The time has come, and we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.