Stuff To Ponder: Volunteer Bill of Rights

One of the many items I bookmarked to write on when I returned from my holiday break was an entry Robert Eggers did on the Volunteer Bill of Rights he helped institute at DC Central Kitchen. He said he took his inspiration from a concept championed by restaurant reviewers in the 1960s and 70s that diners had rights and didn’t have to take what was set before them if it was sub-par. (Hard to imagine there was a time when you didn’t send cold food back to the kitchen.) Eggers says this is what drove restaurants to offer better service and improved and expanded diners’ culinary knowledge to the point where we are now focused on the provenience of our food. One result he says is that every city now has great dining establishments rather than just a few cities.

In the same way the Internet provides a channel for customer driven feedback, Eggers feels that encouraging volunteer feedback and involvement will drive innovation faster than hiring expensive consultants. (DC Central Kitchen has 14,000 people volunteer every year which certainly does represent a lot of brain power.)

DC Central Kitchen’s bill of volunteer rights is:

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.

They want their volunteers to ask the tough questions that will help them operate better, but Eggers says the middle right is the most important.

“….but the most purposeful of these is the one right in the middle—the right to “be told what impact your work made in the community”. THAT’S the kicker. We want, and think it’s critical, that every nonprofit in America be prepared to answer that question, in detail. No more fuzzy, feel good platitudes. No more bromides, brothers and sisters—it’s about facts and figures. Verifiable, Hard Core, Detailed Deeds.”

And following his philosophy of using the feedback of volunteers to make DC Central Kitchen run better, he solicits the assistance of the reader and offers some himself.

“We are an open source organization, so feel free to use this Bill of Rights in your shop. Add more rights if you see fit. If they rock, let us know so we can adapt our version. Call if you want and we’ll talk about how we trained our staff to translate talking to volunteers about these rights into opportunities to elevate the idea of what we are doing, together, so that folks can’t wait to come back—with friends, time and wallets in tow.”

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


Leave a Comment