Book Review

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

By on Friday, November 22, 2013

I heard Robert Eggers speak a couple of years ago at a nonprofit event and loved his dynamic perspective on the nonprofit sector and call to re-think how we do business. Eggers founded D.C. Central Kitchen and rebuilt the national capital chapter of the United Way following a major scandal.

In Begging for Change: The Dollars and Sense of Making Nonprofits Responsive, Efficient, and Rewarding for All, Eggers asks nonprofit workers to consider how we can collaborate to tackle the problems facing our society, while junking outdated and hurtful operating models. Many of the assumptions we have about nonprofit work, keep our sector trapped in inefficiency, parochialism and turf wars.

Eggers argues that nonprofit organizations are making serious mistakes in how they approach their business models and that the do good sector is long overdue for a major overhaul. Too many nonprofits overpay their top executives, duplicate each other’s services, compete each other for a shrinking resource pie, fail to work together to tackle broad problems, and don’t properly evaluate their programs and services.

Rather, Eggers notes the danger of nonprofits relying on old funding models, replicating each other’s services, and using outdated stereotypes for their communications and marketing. He worries that too many organizations ask donors to believe they are doing good, while not explaining how they are impacting key social problems.

He asks nonprofit workers to embrace change and innovate the field through partnership and restructuring operations. His call for change includes nonprofit communications, where Eggers thinks nonprofits should focus more on explaining how they are addressing key social issues and less time on flinging around statistics.

He takes issue with a public service campaign by the Ad Council with America’s Second Harvest, which used images of a young girl to help Americans consider how many people in this country must choose between paying for food and paying for heat or electricity or gas for a car to get to work. Eggers argues that while the campaign raises the issue, it stops there. He feels that we can’t change someone’s mind by only quoting a number or dropping a moral platitude. Rather, we should offer a solution for the problem too, because the public already knows that there is a problem.

Furthermore, Eggers points out that children remain at the top of the caste pinnacle of needy people publicized by nonprofits when raising money, we often ignore what he calls the “big uglies” – the drug addicts, adult homeless people, or prisoners. Many of the people who are homeless or battling addictions today are the children of prior decades that were never saved.

Nonprofit communicators, program leaders, and development staff will find plenty to ponder in the book and its call for change. Donors, nonprofit board members and volunteers will also find that the book inspires them to ask harder questions about what their money and time are supporting.

When checking out Robert Eggers’ blog, I found this thoughtful quote: “Too often, charity is based on the redemption of the giver, not the liberation of the receiver.” It begs a few questions – what end result is your nonprofit seeking? To make donors feel good? Or to solve social problems? And do the two have to be mutually exclusive?

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.


In Begging for Change, Bob Eggers asks the nonprofit sector to consider radical change.

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