Robert Egger, the engaging founder of DC Central Kitchen, is instituting a “Bill of Rights” for everyone who volunteers at this “$5-million annual operation, which hauls in close to two tons of food per day, converts it into 4,500 meals, which we deliver to partner agencies that serve seniors, kids, people in shelters, and folks in recovery/addiction programs throughout the DC metro area”.
So what’s it say?
ALL volunteers have the right to:
- Work in a safe environment.
- Be treated with respect by all staff members.
- Be engaged in meaningful work and be actively included regardless of any physical limitations.
- Be told what impact your work made in the community.
- Ask any staff member questions about our work.
- Provide feedback about your experience.
- Receive a copy of our financial information or annual report upon request.
Egger admits that most of these rights are, in his words, “pretty obvious”, but he contends that by publicly committing to these standards, something will be set into motion not unlike what he witnessed when he was a restauranteur in his days before DC Central Kitchen:
Back in the day, when I was running nightclubs, there were really only a handful of “great” restaurants in America, and they were all French, period. Now, just about EVERY city in America boasts a bevy of great dining establishments. How did that happen?
I’ll tell you. Restaurant critics (often women writers who, in the 1960’s and 70’s, were relegated to the “women’s page” of the local paper) began to explore a new way of reviewing restaurants. This generation of writers began with a simple concept—diners had rights—and they crafted a whole new set of metrics that used “diner’s dollars” as the sharp point of their critical pens. They championed a new generation of American chefs by telling an escalating number of diners that they did not have to take what was served and like it—they could send it back. They could demand better. And demand they did. Soon, restaurant managers were training staff to be more accommodating and to talk to customers about the ingredients of the food. Open kitchens began to appear. Soon chefs began to come out of the kitchen to greet increasingly sophisticated diners and sit with them to talk about food theory, locally sourced products, green practices and giving back to community. And now, with the advent of the internet, comes technology that allows ANY customer to review a restaurant. And, it is because of that customer driven system that just about EVERY community in America now boasts numerous great restaurants that continue to push the boundries.
There’s a lot to like in what Egger says. It’s a fascinating line of thinking and sure beats the status quo. But here’s the question:
Is restaurant/patron the most fruitful analogy for the relationship between nonprofit and volunteer?
The champion, not the organization, is called to be the primary means of advancing the cause within the champion’s sphere of influence.
That suggests that a more productive–and provocative–framework for a Volunteer Bill of Rights might go something like this:
TG Central Kitchen starts with the idea that it’s your responsibility, not ours, to care for the homeless people within your sphere of influence.
To the degree that we can be a helpful platform to equip you and enable you to carry out that work, we’re going to get along great.
We’re willing to pour our time and energy into training you to become not only a tireless advocate for the homeless, but an even more effective one than we are. Greater things than we have done will you do.
To that end, ALL volunteers have the right to:
- Utilize TG Central Kitchen as a gymnasium to “bulk up” on their ability to impact the cause in their everyday lives–you know, when they’re not at our “gym” and they encounter a real live homeless person.
- Enter into mutual accountability relationships with staff where they hold each other accountable for growth in relation to the cause.
- Be the actor, not the audience or the assistant to the actor. Understudy roles are OK, provided they’re not permanent.
- Learn how to assess for themselves whether what they’re doing is making any difference whatsoever.
- Ask staff members questions that enable them to imitate and then ultimately surpass their work.
- Receive feedback about their work designed to enable them to move on to greater levels of responsibility the longer they volunteer.
- Give in ways that primarily impact the cause and only secondarily, if at all, benefit our organization.
Sadly, this Bill of Rights is not nearly so obvious. We’ve spent so long convincing people that their role is to support us to achieve our cause that the idea of us supporting them to surpass us in the cause we share is considered downright radical.
But as Katya Andresen noted last week, unless we start to recognize and act on this, we may have volunteers rolling their eyes over the “rights” we’re “willing” to grant them at “our” nonprofits.
Thanks to Sean Stannard-Stockton for the tip on Eggers’ post.