TRANSFORMATIVE MESSAGE HIGHLIGHTS MAJOR NONPROFIT CONFERENCE


By James V.  D’Ambrosio

Last week I attended the 2011 Westchester County Nonprofit Leadership Summit in Tarrytown, NY, where 600+ nonprofit professionals and leaders from around the region gathered to discuss the state of the industry and build their skills in workshops and seminars. The day-long program — an unbeatable value at $30 — provided informative training for professionals at all levels.

The early part of the program focused on weathering the difficult economic climate and doing more with less. But an inspiring and provocative lunch-time keynote address dramatically altered the context of the event: Robert Egger, founder and president of D.C. Central Kitchen –the nation’s first ‘community kitchen’ where donated food fuels a nationally-recognized culinary arts job-training program and donations are turned into balanced meals in our nation’s capital — gave a riveting address clearly indicating why he’s an in-demand nationally-renowned speaker.

Egger provided his perspective on the nonprofit industry — where it stands and what needs to happen for it to remain vibrant. Specifically, he spoke about self-advocacy towards and collaboration with government, noting that nonprofits in New York comprise 17 percent of the state’s work force and generate $7.3 billion in revenue yet no candidate for governor in last year’s campaign spoke about nonprofits as a viable partner in bolstering the state’s economy. Egger implored the audience to reach out to government officials and start conversations about the importance of leveraging nonprofits’ talent and resources. (Earlier, Westchester County Executive Robert P. Astorino announced his appointment of an outreach coordinator — the county’s commissioner of mental health — to connect with nonprofits and discuss ways to cut costs, reduce overhead, and operate more efficiently.)

Egger maintained that continually vying for the same grant monies is neither useful or sustainable, and doing more with less has perhaps reached its limit. He advocated a bold, new business model — partnering with government to relieve pressure and increase organizational capacity. In a surprisingly concise 25 minutes, he challenged everyone to think and act expansively. Learn more about this visionary leader here: www.robertegger.org

Later in the conference, reflecting on the address, it occurred to me that many nonprofits may be so busy advocating, providing services for clientele and maintaining their own viability that they may not have considered the larger picture — where will they be 5, 10, 15 years from now? I concur with Mr. Egger’s vision; the challenge is steep, but nonprofits should embrace it. 

QUESTION TO READERS: What do you think of Mr. Egger’s vision for the nonprofit sector?

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