Return to Joe's paper


From: Benjamin Shepard <benshepard at>

Great paper...

its tough.  for years, i've heard critiques of the calls for "professionals" to become organizers.
few of these succeed seem to come from a "professional" perspective.
rather, these are grassroots people already involved in campaigns, who get involved and hired.
when hired the work becomes all consuming.
in all too many other cases, all volunteer organizations, doing the
vital work, wear thin at the seems.

the question remains, can you have a life and be an organizer?


From: Kathy Partridge <interfaithfunders at>

I apppreciate Joe Szakos' thoughtful article, just what you would expect
from such a seasoned and experienced practitioner of community organizing.

As a funder of CO (years with Needmor, now coordinator of Interfaith
Funders) I observed the problem of organizer recruitment and retention
over and over. In addition to the burnout of organizers and other
problematic results listed by Joe, I saw over and over the financial
devastation to organizations when new organizers didn't work out.
Often, the significant resources sunk into an unsuccessful hire would
stagger an organization, especially those with the smallest staffs and

Therefore, I favor those training programs where the cost is spread
around the field. An example that comes to mind is the VISTA program of
the late 70s, with training run by the Midwest Academy. I often run
into other folks from that cohort, who made organizing and related
fields their life's work. While a publicly-supported organizer training
ground like that era of VISTA seems a fantasy in the new political
climate, perhaps some visionary efforts to recreate such a pool of
trained labor.

For instance, in the last election efforts like the New Voter Project
hired hundreds of young people to do voter registration. I know -- this
included my own daughter, who was a top recruiter here in Colorado.
These kids worked hard, and got jazzed. However, if anyone attempted to
recruit them for organizing careers, I missed it. They certainly didn't
call my daughter!

I look forward to hearing other comments and experiences related to
Joe's paper -- and send him my congratulations for a timely and
important publication.

Kathy Partridge
interfaithfunders at


From: "Cheryl Honey" <wecare at>

I appreciate Joe's thought provoking paper and agree with many of his
observations. I've been working in the field of transformative community
building for the past decade at the grassroots level. I pioneered Community
Weaving over the past decade to address many of the issues Joe brings to

Community Weaving is a social change methodology gives form to the
grassroots to enable interdependent functioning among individuals and
systems, unfettered by bureaucracy, politics, religious doctrine, racism, or
socioeconomic status. This transformative community building approach weaves
a multi-cultural community tapestry through social networking,
transformative leadership, service learning, asset-based community
development and participatory democracy practices resulting in a village
effect. The methodology transforms communities into highly productive living
democracies that thrive based on cooperation, trust, equity, respect, shared
values and a common purpose.

As citizens engage in activities they are passionate about, they
self-organize and engage in activities to leverage change. They learn
valuable community organizing skills in the process. The technology we use
enables citizens to connect to one another to create a system of support and
spearhead community organizing initiatives in their neighborhoods,
communities and workplaces. This system of support is an important aspect of
Community Organizing that no one has addressed.

John Dewey, a leader of democratic practices said, "Unless local communal
life can be restored, the public cannot adequately resolve its most urgent
problem, to find and identify itself."

I recently wrote a paper on Community Organizing: Past, Present and Future.
It might be on the comm-org website somewhere. There are diverse approaches
to Community Organizing. Saul Alinski's approach leverages change through
the use of power; John McKnight, Asset-Based Community Development,
leverages change through assessment and mobilization of strengths and assets
to foster change; Jim Diers, Seattle's ex-Director of Neighborhoods created
a Neighborhood matching fund to engage citizens in organizing their own
neighborhood improvement projects and providing funding and staff to help
them succeed. What I focus on is mobilization of citizens in a collective
effort to be the change they want to be on many different levels. (Ghandi
originated the idea and we incorporated technology to make it feasible for
people to connect, organize and engage).

Community organizing has a myriad of objectives and purposes. It impacts
lives and communities in many different ways and on many different levels.
By enabling people to connect with others who have organized successful
campaigns around similar issues is a great way to mentor others. Creating
the means for them to share materials/resources, in lieu of wasting
resources by recreating the wheel is what we are creating on our the new
Community Weaving website that will be launched February, 2006.

The Family Support Network is the organization that was born out of
Community Weaving practices. You can view the website at (This site is being upgraded and some pages are still
under construction.)

What is needed is access to a pool of experienced organizers that can be
searched via location, skill set and experience. Is there a website that
exists to access Community Organizers? I live in the Seattle area. It's rich
with activists or organizers. It is challenging however, locating organizers
and matching them to citizen groups who want to spearhead change projects.

Anyone have any ideas about the best way to locate organizers in communities
around the country who would mentor them?

We might want to address this topic in a series of steps. Let's find out
who's out there that has experience and pool all these resources. Then make
these folks easily accessible to everyone. Then allow them to self-organize
and create learning opportunities to pass on their skills and mentor others.

Just some ideas to through into the pot.

Cheryl Honey, C.P.P.
Community Weaver
Family Support Network

Note: Community Weaving is being published in the new Change Handbook,
published by Barrett-Koehler, San Francisco. The Change Handbook has over 60
methodologies to instigate change. It's a great resource!


From: Richard L Wood <rlwood at>

I find Joe Szakos' paper on the challenges and shortcomings of
organizer recruitment both thoughtful and well grounded in reality. My own
sense from my research and hundreds of conversations with organizers
around the country is that the shortage of enough folks with the right
skills, passion, and dedication for this work is THE limiting resource out
there. There are some interesting models of organizer recruitment,
training, and ongoing formation in play out there as well, but usually
kept quite in-house by the sponsoring organization or network. On one
level, that makes sense: an organization that invests the time, money,
and supervisory expertise in recruiting and developing organizers of
course wants to keep the benefits of that investment to itself. But at
another level, it undermines the whole effort: by keeping organizer
recruitment "under the radar" for most folks, it badly limits how broadly
this career and vocational opportunity is known (as Joe notes). So the
challenge, it seems to me, is to either find ways to do collective
recruitment, training, and ongoing development under a model that protects
all the constituent organizations' self-interests and strongest practices;
or to set up institutes to catalyze recruitment and training outside of
any specific organizing effort, and only later linking participants to
interested organizations.

I don't know of anyone really doing the former approach well.
Marshall Ganz' organizer training curriculum at The Kennedy School of
Government at Harvard represents one very strong model of the latter
approach, though one has to worry that people from grittier, non-elite
backgrounds might never find their way into it (but that may not be the
case -- anybody know? you out there, Marshall?).

Thanks for raising an important issue. RLW