DC Central Kitchen Fights Hunger Differently | Opportunities for Innovation and Reinvention

Contributor – Sheila Strain Clark | Resident P.S. 314 Field Expert + Consultant

When someone says “transformative fundraising”, what are your first thoughts? For many, it might be securing a large endowment or maybe partnering with a well-known VIP. But what if a transformative approach to fundraising had little to do with philanthropy and everything to do with ingenuity and seizing opportunities?

DC Central Kitchen (DCCK) “fights hunger differently” and their outcomes prove it. In 2017 alone, DCCK prepared 3.2 million nutritious meals for over 76 meal service agencies and 15 healthy lunch sites. In addition, DCCK helped 87% of graduates from culinary arts training programs to obtain employment. Annually, DCCK partners with 71 healthy corner stores and 63 campus kitchens, bringing nutritious and healthy foods to a variety of communities across our region.

DCCK’s founder, Robert Egger, has an idea of irreverent innovation, to transform food others considered waste into nutritious healthy meals while helping those who had been previously incarcerated learn culinary skills and obtain well-paying jobs. From DCCK’s founding in 1989 to now, twenty-nine years later, this vision is still the heart of this innovative organization.

Alexander Justice Moore, self-described as the “most passionate advocate on the planet earth about DC Central Kitchen,” is the leader of its DCCK’s Development Department. Moore was inspired by Roger Egger’s book Begging for Change: The Dollars and Sense of Making Nonprofits Responsive, Efficient and Rewarding For All and its message that charities should be working to put themselves out of business. He came to DCCK as a grant writing intern in 2006. Moore says, “One of the ways that DCCK is transformative is that it pushed back on the notion that feeding people ends hunger. Hunger is a symptom of poverty. That’s why, from the very beginning, workforce development has been the beating heart of this organization”. DCCK believes that the social sector must be willing to test innovative solutions to systemic failure.

In its first 19 years, DCCK focused on meal preparation for predominately homeless shelters as well as its nationally recognized culinary arts job training program. But the economic crash of 2008 was the tipping point for DCCK. Most organizations were scaling down and doing less, but DCCK recognized the moment as an opportunity to do more. DCCK believed that large scale meal preparation for shelters had trained them well in commercial food production and decided to enter the school lunch space. Says Moore, “We started with two schools and now serve over 15 school lunch sites, with over 7000 meals cooked daily from scratch, earning $6M annually. We are creating our own sustainable revenue, training adults for work in the food industry, employing many of our graduates, supporting local farmers, paying a living wage, and participating in the economic engine of our city.” DCCK has used the profit from these contracts, combined with traditional fundraising, to transform its organizational impact, growing from 75 employees to 185 employees in just 8 years, including over 80 who are graduates of DCCK’s culinary arts job training program.

DCCK’s development team quickly learned that their ability to earn a significant amount of funding inspired and excited stakeholders and made them interested in learning more. In addition, DCCK’s new role as an employer of their graduates gave them the unique opportunity to demonstrate an employment model for the food industry – paying a living wage, providing health insurance at no cost to employees, and fully funding 401Ks.

The key to its success, as DCCK explains, is opportunity, constant innovation, and asking the hard questions.

“I believe the old adage ‘ask for money, you get advice, and ask for advice, you get money’, still rings true… If you have an idea, you can be sure that it’s not 100% perfect. Intellectual capital is valuable, and you can engage people in working through puzzles/challenges with you. The more we share our stories, even the not so pretty ones, the more people trust us and get involved. Often they say ‘what else can I do, how else can I help?’ So, transform the way you think about the role of development in your organizational structure, and your fundraising may transform with it” – says Moore.

DCCK has changed the fight against hunger significantly by implementing a model that is both entrepreneurial and charitable. They demonstrate how an organization can be transformative in their approach to funding and donor investment. Their dynamic approach to their mission and work has resulted in revenue for their organization and amplified their impact in significant ways.

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