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COMM-ORG Papers 2006

Community and Faith-based Organizations’ Influence on Volunteer Participation: Social Movement Implications for Planning

Malik R. Watkins


Planning and Social Action
The Political Process Model
Indigenous Community and Faith-Based Organizations
     Social Action Variables
Questionnaire Formation
     Participant Cognitions
     Participant Attitude
     AmeriCorps Community Development Program
     Level of Member Participation
     Member Organization Affiliation
     Member Cognition
     Organizational Characteristics
     Implications for Public Participation
About the Author


Public participation has been a consistently evolving theme in revitalization efforts and their supporting public policies.  Programs such as VISTA, Model Cities, Community Action, Community Development Block Grants, and AmeriCorps include major components designed to engage citizens in social action processes for community revitalization.  However, this theme has been and continues to be constrained by the difficulty of engaging public participation.  In fact, obtaining resident involvement is so difficult that it is typically absent from project strategies and little discussion is found within community development literature (Ross and Leigh, 2000).  Because of this difficulty, government and nonprofit programs increasingly view community organizations as potential partners due to their capacity to engage their constituencies in neighborhood revitalization (Christenson & Robinson, 1989; Krumholz and Star, 1996).  Much of this potential is based on the assumption that these organizations are integrated into and representative of local areas, and thus, are able to mobilize residents to take advantage of social services and address local concerns.

The importance of community groups is given further attention by Thomas and Blake’s (1996) assertion that faith and community-based organizations are in an excellent position to act as partners because they are generally the only form of organization remaining within communities targeted for revitalization. Historically, indigenous organizations have provided the community structure that facilitated national social movements and so have extraordinary potential to act as centers of revitalization activity.  Since community mobilizers and civil rights activists generally utilize the same techniques (door-to-door campaigns, community organizing, faith-based organization utilization, and indigenous organization formation), it is possible that lessons learned during national social movements may provide insight into the dynamics necessary to improve local community social action processes.

Thus, Dreier (1996) contends that “community mobilizers/organizers need not reinvent the wheel.” (page 128)  National social movements, such as the civil rights movement, were organized responses to aggregations of national and community issues led by indigenous organizations with the capacity to engage individuals and successfully encourage them to participate in civic activity.  An exploration and application of these tactics to a contemporary revitalization initiative can further increase our understanding of how to improve the process of public participation by residents in socio-economically challenged communities.

The focus of private intermediaries and governments, along with the current policy debate on faith and community-based organizations, illustrates the great potential for partnership development.  However, this debate should not take place apart from the dynamics of community social action that have given visibility to many revitalization initiatives (e.g. Dudley Street initiative, ACORN, etc.); nor should their similarities to social movements in general be ignored.  This paper will begin by looking at public participation through the framework of social action.  This is followed by an assessment of the effectiveness of some faith and community groups in influencing participation through the application of the Political Process Model (McAdam, 1982) and the local movement center (Morris, 1984) concept to the AmeriCorps Community Project.  The data come from questionnaires distributed to program participants and the results are related to the characteristics of participating organizations.  The purpose is to investigate the participatory aspects of social action processes while identifying ways to improve public participation. While care must be exercised when forming generalizations from empirical research, the similar context within which communities and their organizations operate provide parallels to discuss common participation constraints and opportunities.

Planning and Social Action

The application of social movement models to community development initiatives is not a new concept (Capek & Gilderbloom, 1992; Castells, 1983, Stoecker, 1994).  Van Til (1980) even suggests that a social movement approach helps identify participant characteristics and the conditions preceding collective neighborhood social action, accentuates the impact of resident participation on neighborhood quality of life, and gives us effective models of community social action processes.  In fact, social action is germane to planning.  As Lieder (1988) notes, the ultimate establishment of the profession of city planning was as a result of social action processes promoting improved community quality of life.

Traditionally, community planning has supported broad based issues in the dominant political, social, and economic order (Friedman, 1987) while ignoring the social and cultural aspects of individual communities that encourage public participation (Ewalt and Poole, 1998).  Friedman (1987) argues, “it is meaningless to talk about self-reliant development without considering the need for collective self-empowerment, by which I mean a continuing and permanent struggle for the equalization of individual and community access to the bases of social power” (Page 396).  For many central city residents, this involves empowering the organizations they interact with to address neighborhood concerns.  Thus, community level modeling must account for how individuals are influenced by the local organizations with which they interact.  Community level modeling is particularly important within urban areas as the influence of broad-socio economic processes on neighborhoods and their organizations can result in individual isolation and increase the influence of community organizations on residents’ day-to-day life (Wilson, 1987; Thomas and Ritzdorf, 1997).

A common (and policy relevant) example of indigenous organizations is the faith-based organization.  Within many urban communities, the primary faith-based organization is the church.  In addition to the historical role of the church in the Black community, Alinsky, amongst others, also utilized churches as the primary organizing institution for local areas (Sanoff, 2000).  While facilitating community interaction and providing a historical community infrastructure for social movements, some churches have evolved into faith-based organizations that take on the roles of advocacy, community organizing, housing development and social services provision. Deteriorated communities generally lack operationally sound community organizations; however, many of these same communities have an abundance of faith or faith-based organizations.  Thomas and Blake (1996) assert that acknowledging these faith-based organizations as potential collaborators could greatly aid social development advocates because of their organizational presence within target communities, promotion of values, existing leadership, and potential for effective program collaboration.  As communities have required advocacy to address various issues, community-based organizations have also emerged as a means to acquire development resources.  Many churches have established community development corporations or community-based organizations as a means to facilitate development.  While housing remains a major focus of neighborhood revitalization, addressing other issues such as crime, juvenile delinquency, community organization development, etc., has become increasingly common (Baily, Martin, Burless, & Litan, 1993; Glickman & Servon, 1998; Koebel, 1998; Liou & Stroh, 1998; and, Rohe, 1998). 

Existing faith and community-based organizations can be integral to the implementation of these programs through providing a pre-existing operational structure for effective community outreach and program management to provide direct access to potential local clients (Chaskin & Abunimah, 1999; and Kretzman & Mcknight, 1993).  The presence of political opportunities and indigenous organizations provide structure and potential for community mobilization, and indigenous organizations provide the setting and the leadership to encourage individual participation in development activities (McAdam, 1982).

What is too often ignored in the planning literature is the role of faith-based and community organizations in mobilizing the public as exemplified by the civil rights movement.  This movement was based upon the preexisting structure of faith and community organizations within communities (McAdam, 1982, Morris, 1984; and Dreier, 1996).  The structure of the civil rights movement was traditionally an outreach of the Black church.  The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) functioned as the political arm (Morris, 1984), and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) facilitated social/political mobilization through the use of street-level community organizing, community-based organization formation, voter registration drives, and door-to-door canvassing (Tate, 1993).  The success of these mobilization efforts is obvious as they ultimately contributed to the initiation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the “War on Poverty,” and a primary poverty fighting mechanism: the community development corporation (Piven & Cloward, 1979, Rohe, 1998; Sullivan, 1993; Koebel, 1998; and Vidal, 1996). 

Major intermediaries have attempted to build on a convergence between social movement and community development (Clark & Hopkins, 1969; Enterprise Foundation, 1999; Green and Haines,  2002; Keating, Krumholz, and Star, 1996; Kramer, 1969; and, Vidal, 1996)by providing technical assistance and resources to  community-based organizations so they can better recruit resident input through public participation and promote community organizing through direct public contact.  This approach is identical to the community organizing that took place in the civil rights movement.  Thus, including social action processes within planning paradigms could potentially prove highly useful for increasing public participation.

The Political Process Model

Assuming community mobilization results from the functional interaction of many social, political, and economic factors, McAdam (1982) provides an empirically based framework in the Political Process Model (PPM) (see Figure 1), that takes into account the influence of broad socio-economic processes on neighborhood organizations, political opportunities, and social cognitions (also see Wilson, 1987).

Figure 1: The Political Process Model of Movement Emergence (McAdam, 1982)

Wilson (1987) along with Keating and Krumholz (1999) identify far-reaching socio-economic processes such as segregation and economic decentralization as having led to increasingly isolated urban communities.  McAdam (1982) goes on to imply that these processes have historically resulted in the formation of indigenous organizations (e.g. Black Churches, Faith and Community Organizations) and the expansion of political opportunities to address community concerns.  The existence of political opportunities and indigenous organizations provides a structure for potential mobilization into social action.  With the focus being on indigenous organization strength, McAdam (1982) lists three sets of factors contributing to social action:

“the first is the level of organization within a community; second, the collective assessment of the prospects for successful social action, and third, the political alignment of community groups within the larger political environment” (page, 40).

The level of indigenous organization determines the extent to which community groups are interconnected with residents and each other.  In conjunction with the overall community perception of positive results from community transformation activities, taking advantage of political opportunities provides an institutional avenue for the achievement of community transformation goals.

Indigenous Community and Faith-Based Organizations

Morris (1984) provides more insight into the role of an effective faith/community organization by describing social action and community transformation as being facilitated through  local movement centers.  A local movement center is a social organization specifically developed by individuals who are excluded from substantive participation in social, economic, or political processes of policy formulation and resource allocation.  The center works to organize residents and local leadership to resolve community concerns.  A movement center exists

“when that community has developed an interrelated set of leaders, organizations, and followers who collectively define the common ends of the group, devise necessary tactics and strategies along with training for their implementation, and engage in actions designed to attain the goals of the group” (Morris, 1984, page 40). 

A local movement center is different from a community organization in being defined not just by location, but by its level of integration in the local community.  The level of integration is identified through the type of resident interaction, which should include participating in goal identification and strategy formulation as opposed to just service utilization.  Contemporary examples of organizations with the potential to function as local movement centers include community development corporations, community-based and grass-root organizations, religious institutions, block watches, and youth groups among others.

Social Action Variables

It has been well noted that residents in disinvested communities are, in large part, isolated from broader socio-economic and political processes (Wilson, 1987).  Thus, individual interaction with indigenous organizations becomes increasingly critical as individuals are then more likely to interact with other organizations.  Both McAdam (1982) and Morris (1984) imply that the following dynamics influence indigenous organizations and resident participation:

  1. Indigenous organizations (community groups) form as a result of exclusion or for the purpose of advocating for community interests (e.g. church, neighborhood organization, community or faith-based organization, etc.)

  2. Individual residents become associated with the various indigenous organizations because of limited opportunities.  The provision of services or resources increases the level of individual affiliation through the interaction necessary to participate.  An observable organizational structure within a community is then formed where resident affiliation can be determined.

  3. The presence of an organized indigenous structure provides an opportunity for recruitment as a ready pool of potential participants becomes identifiable.

  4. As residents coalesce to participate in indigenous organization activities, their previously established record of service within the local area indicates a pre-existing relationship of participation in community activities.

As these groups organize and act, their ability to effectively address community issues is directly associated with their degree of organization, affiliation with community residents, and how effectively they intertwine their organizational philosophy with broader community objectives.  Thus, the theoretical concepts have been operationalized into movement variables for the purpose of measuring their existence within a contemporary community action process (See Table 1).  The next section will discuss how the survey instrument operationalizes these concepts in the literature. 

Questionnaire Formation

The above assessment of organizational dynamics allows for the variables of affiliation level, source of recruitment, previous service, and site type to be identified.  Level of affiliation is explored through assessing the individual’s previous site involvement, participation, volunteerism, and attendance (measured on a Likert Scale) while source of recruitment and previous service experience are identified through a direct question.  Site type includes differentiating participant organizations into categories of: faith-based, community-based, established community development  corporation, intermediary, or a property management firm in a housing community. 

                                                Table: 1:  Research Variables



Affiliation Level


Source of Recruitment


Previous Service


Site Type


Fundamental Attribution


Cognitive Liberation


Mission Agreement


Member Rating


Piven and Cloward (1979) contend that political, economic, and social institutions greatly influence the composition of society by shaping the beliefs and daily patterns of life of the citizenry.  This influence maintains the interaction amongst communities and supports the continuation of both deteriorated and prosperous communities.  Historically, indigenous organizations have been able to overcome demobilizing commonly accepted beliefs and daily patterns by intermingling faith-liturgy or organizational philosophy, rhetoric (e.g. Civil Rights) and development goals with the socio-economic and political needs of their constituencies.  The intermingling ultimately influences individual perceptions that may encourage participation in community building activities.  Commonly accepted beliefs and daily living patterns are accounted for in McAdam's political process model through fundamental attribution and cognitive liberation.

Participant Cognitions

Fundamental attribution is the tendency of individuals to explain their condition as a function of personal characteristics as opposed to factors beyond their control (Ross and Pettigrew, 1976; McAdam, 1982).  The attribution of quality of life issues to broader factors allows an individual to maintain higher levels of self-efficacy by understanding the influence of macro political and economic issues.  Fundamental attribution error occurs when individuals attribute their quality of life only to their own individual circumstances and not at all to the societal context, providing the potential for a lower level of self-efficacy.  Thus, participants who attribute their condition to larger systemic factors are likely to have higher levels of member participation; and, participants who attribute their condition to individual factors are likely to have lower levels of member participation.

Participant Attitude (Cognitive Liberation)

With indigenous organizations providing a potential structure for mobilization, cognitive liberation is the construct that can actualize this potential into movement activity (McAdam, 1982).  Piven and Cloward (1979, Page 6) assert that “however hard their lot may be, people usually remain acquiescent, conforming to the accustomed patterns of daily life in their community, and believing those patterns to be both inevitable and just” (See Wilson, 1987; Castells & Laserna, 1994).  While it is debatable that all of these individuals perceive the social structure to be just, the lack of social action activity indicates support for collective feelings of acquiescence and apathy. Cognitive liberation is an attempt to describe the transformation an individual goes through from being a bystander to being a participant.  This change is described in three distinct stages (Piven and Cloward, 1979). 

“First, the system, or those aspects of the system that people experience and perceive, loses legitimacy.  In conjunction, large groups of people begin to believe that these rules are unjust and wrong. Second, those who normally believe their situation is a result of fate, begin to make a demand for change.  Third, people who normally consider themselves to be helpless come to believe that they have some capacity to alter their lot” (Piven and Cloward, 1979, page 3). 

Kieffer (1984) provides further support for applying the concept of cognitive liberation to community social action processes by determining that grass-roots participants who have become community leaders experience a similar empowering transformation as they go from being non-active bystanders to social action advocates.  The questionnaire includes both fundamental attribution and cognitive liberation measures to examine the overall attitude an individual has towards their role in neighborhood revitalization.  Additional questions were added to assess the participants’ opinions of the AmeriCorps program as an influence on their participation.

AmeriCorps Community Development Program

Initiated by the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993, the Corporation for National Service is the national administrator for the AmeriCorps program and provides resources and a program structure to encourage public participation.  In this instance, the Enterprise Foundation was a national participatory organization that then implemented the program through its local affiliate: the Columbus Housing Partnership (CHP). CHP then issued a “Request for Proposals” to organizations functioning within the City of Columbus, Ohio.  Organizations responded by submitting proposals on the types of community building activities they would implement.  Program partners (community organizations) are then selected on the basis of how well their proposals match the overall goals of the program. 

CHP is a private non-profit organization developing affordable housing within Franklin County, Ohio.  CHP also facilitates community improvement and revitalization efforts by providing technical assistance to increase the capacity of local faith and community-based organizations. The AmeriCorps program assigns members to community and faith-based housing organizations and local intermediaries to organize and mobilize the public to identify community problems, solicit public participation, utilize social services, formulate goals and strategies, build organizational strength, develop coalitions, and strengthen the network of local activists with government agencies.  The intended end result is to create local centers of social action where residents coalesce with other stakeholders to form local movement centers.

This research will analyze the participatory characteristics of AmeriCorps members in their role as community mobilizers. Social movement/action is driven through pre-existing community organization by individuals serving as organizers although this level of organization may vary in its depth and complexity (McAdam, 1982; Morris, 1984). A primary assumption, then, is that there is a level of organization already existent in these communities through the presence of social networks.

This is consistent with the literature on social capital. The dialogue on social capital refers to how social groups facilitate community action through the relationships amongst people and their organizations (Coleman, 1997; Putnam, 2000). Specifically, it can refer to how relations amongst individuals change in ways that ultimately promote social action within the premise that social connectedness increases civic engagement (Coleman, 1990; Decker and Uslaner, 2001). Community organizers work to build this social connectedness by engaging residents through door-to-door canvassing, information dissemination, needs assessments, neighborhood organization formation (formal and informal), amongst other activities to build and actualize the potential for social action.

Residents in target communities can be greatly influenced by community organizers. If the organizer is to influence residents, then they must also be highly involved. Often times in situations where there are high levels of resident involvement, specific individuals/organizers working through the community social network, can be identified as contributing to increasing the level of resident engagement. The facilitation of increased community social action is then associated with highly engaged community organizers. Thus, this relationship between residents and community organizers allows for an analysis of organizer participatory characteristics to illustrate the applicability of utilizing social movement models as a framework to increase civic engagement.

AmeriCorps members are accepted through walk-in applications, but are more commonly recruited through  community development corporations, faith-based organizations, universities, and community-based organizations.  Once accepted into the program, members are provided training on community mobilization and building through the efforts of the Enterprise Foundation and CHP.  Members serve one to two terms of service, each term lasting approximately 10 months, where they provide up to 1,700 hours of community service. The program structure includes a central administrating site (CHP) that provides oversight of local collaborating partners to monitor program compliance and the achievement of goals.

Level of Member Participation

Based on how community and faith-based groups have historically motivated public participation from their constituencies and have been able to overcome the difficulties of initiating social action, AmeriCorps member participation was selected as the dependent variable in this study and is measured by an indicator of individual performance.  Each member was evaluated by the program supervisor at the primary administering site.  The supervisor evaluated each person based on how well the person’s work fulfilled the goals and objectives of the program.  The supervisor collected information on each member’s activities throughout the program year and so could effectively identify performance characteristics.  The evaluation tool consisted of five questions rating attendance, mobilization activities formation and participation, partnership initiation, and AmeriCorps service training.  A five point Likert-scale of 0-4, 0 = Poor to 4 = Excellent, was used to measure the level of member participation (after summing the scores, the total possible score was 40).  Higher scores indicate higher levels of member participation and lower scores indicate lower levels of participation.

Based upon the variables identified in the Political Process Model (McAdam, 1982), and discussed above, I developed a questionnaire to be distributed to members of the Columbus Housing Partnership’s AmeriCorps Community Safety Program.  An additional questionnaire measuring level of member participation was given to the program supervisor for each volunteer to determine the quality and level of member participation.  Volunteers worked at sixteen different community organizations and the survey responses were collated with site information to explore the influence of community organizations on participation.


Social activists know how difficult it is to mobilize residents to fight crime, address affordable housing and homeless service needs, develop block watches, abate issues with vacant housing and littered lots, or undertake any of the large number of other activities required to revitalize neighborhoods.  However, history shows that community groups effectively overcame this difficulty during the civil rights era as the public  mobilized to address community goals.  While community participation efforts have sought to include community and faith-based groups as partners to duplicate such social mobilization, the results have been mixed as the method for developing collaborations does not distinguish between organizations that appear to be indigenous and those that actually function as movement centers. 

One of the products of this research[1] is to utilize social movement models as a comparative framework to assess the state of current social action processes. Using a statistical method called path analysis, the research variables can be grouped into categories based on the statistical significance of the standardized regression coefficients.  These categories include member organization affiliation, member cognitions, and organizational characteristics.  This section discusses each category. 

Member Organization Affiliation

Social action modeling implies that organizations of residents having high levels of affiliation/interaction with community organizations would, thus, have high levels of participation in sponsored programs.  In this instance, member affiliation level tested to be significant with the type of site where members were assigned, previous community service experience, and the source by which the individual was recruited into the program, but there was no direct statistically significant relationship with level of member participation.  Member age was the only variable with a statistically significant relationship to levels of member participation and previous service experience, thus providing an indirect connection based on age.  Not surprisingly, older individuals were more likely to have participated in some form of community service, and tended to have higher levels of member participation (r = .24). 

One of the highly visible roles of community organizations in the civil rights movement was their capacity to influence individual social perceptions to the degree that individuals became involved in social action processes. As member organizational affiliation should be a conduit to influence member cognitions, a key issue involves the actual role of an indigenous organization and its influence on level of participation.  As noted, community groups are critical in the revitalization process, as many of their constituents have limited substantive interaction with broader institutions.  The absence of a relationship between member organizational affiliation and levels of member participation indicates that community groups may not be fulfilling their previously established roles of influencing community participation.  Thus, a gap exists between community residents and their purportedly representative community organizations.  This impedes organizational capacity to mobilize residents and to efficiently provide services to a local community.

Member Cognitions

The absence of community organization influence on member perception is also identified in the relationship of member cognitions with participation.  While cognitive liberation had a significant influence on levels of member participation, fundamental attribution error and member attitude were not significant (although they did have a relationship with cognitive liberation).[2]

Apathy and acquiescence are generally blamed for the difficulty in motivating public participation.  However, the lack of significance indicates apathy and acquiescence did not explain either high levels of participation or low levels of participation. Consequently, the apathy of organizational members can be overcome by effective management practices.   The absence of a relationship between member affiliation and cognition also indicates that other sources may have a greater influence on member participation than the partnering organizations.

When exploring the relationship of member cognitions with the type of organization and source of recruitment, neither influenced the level of member participation.  In fact, neither community nor faith-based organizations participating in this program demonstrated superior performance over secular or non-indigenous organizations in influencing levels of member participation. The presence of a community group in a target area does not immediately make it an indigenous organization or a contributing partner.  Nor does partnering with a faith-based or community organization, in this instance, provide an advantage in mobilizing residents to participate in revitalization efforts.  Wilson (1987) describes how the emergence of housing markets and the relocation of jobs to peripheral areas has resulted in a mass exodus from many urban neighborhoods.  Wilson implies this results in the weakening of community and faith-based organizations as the remaining participants may no longer have local connections or have less social and economic capital.  Thus, community and faith-based organizations that share racial characteristics with the community may still be socially isolated from residents by class differences (e.g. middle class vs. working or underclass).  An organization may appear representative but may actually be impeded by the same class based issues prevalent in many other communities that inhibit substantive interaction.

Organizational Characteristics

When assessing the role of organizational mission agreement, no significant relationship existed between site type and mission agreement because similar types of sites may have varied missions.  Mission agreement and level of member participation had the highest correlation coefficient (r = -.65) and the highest relative importance with a standardized regression coefficient of -.59.[3] The semi-partial coefficient (.33) further supports the contention that the most important influence on member participation is mission agreement while the type of site involved was inconsequential to member performance. The substantial influence of mission agreement on member participation shows the influence organization management can have on member productivity.[4]

Analysis of the data determined an organization’s mission was not related to whether it was community nor faith-based.  Nor did community or faith-based organizations have greater influence on member cognitions than other organization types.  Thus, the assumption that all faith-based and community organizations need to be locally based to be effective does not necessarily hold true.  Well organized and effectively managed groups, regardless of organizational orientation, can provide the leadership necessary to bring about high levels of member participation.  In instances where member cognitive liberation is low, participants can still be influenced by an effective management approach.  Mission disagreement does not necessarily equate to ineffective management; however, partnering with an organization with incompatible goals can lead to members being exposed to management practices promoting the organizational partner’s goals versus broader programmatic or community goals.

Implications for Public Participation

One of the essential issues when identifying a partner organization should be their level of integration (affiliation) in the target community.  Organizations that are highly integrated within a community generally will reflect this characteristic in their mission and operations and will be able to demonstrate their affiliations through community mobilization.  The organizational culture and philosophy of these groups increases the chances that individuals will be exposed to situations where they will challenge the legitimacy of community conditions.   However, if an indigenous organization does not have an organizational culture that encourages constituents to address community social justice, it more than likely does not serve as a local center of community action.[5]

Regardless of how valid the need for particular programs may be, those programs implemented without community consultation for the purpose of increasing organizational funding may experience problems with mobilizing residents to participate. 

The acquisition of resources help faith and community-based organizations venture into new arenas.  The provision of technical assistance has helped these organizations to negotiate extensive federal regulations, such as Low Income Housing Tax Credits, thus achieving organizational and programmatic goals to develop the physical infrastructure of communities.  Technical assistance helps to facilitate the achievement of organizational goals, but it also may shift the culture of the organization away from the community and towards a more technically oriented resource acquisition focus. What happens to the culture of a community organization when its goals no longer reflect the needs of a local community?  Community organizations no longer act as movement centers  but begin to focus on organizational goals driven by resource and technical assistance providers.  McAdam (1982) contends that when organizations develop from social movements, one of the inherent dangers is that an organizational culture forms that promotes the survival of the organization versus actual community improvement.  This translates into an organization focusing on the search for funding as opposed to community-building activities based on public participation.  The end result is that indigenous organizations end up with the same problems that organizations external to the community have: an inability to mobilize residents or solicit high levels of public participation.

This analysis suggests organizations both internal and external to troubled communities experience difficulties mobilizing residents.  Indigenous and faith groups performed no better than other organizations. Nor did members recruited from these organizations perform better than members recruited from other sources.  This implies that public engagement may improve if partnering organizations are selected based on actual community integration versus location, perceptions of racial homogeneity, or grantsmanship.  Eventually, deteriorated community conditions result in the expansion of policies and programmatic opportunities to initiate revitalization. 

One source of external influence is the practice of intermediary organizations (public or private) that implement a selection process to identify and acquire program partners.  A common selection process is the “Request for Proposal (RFP)” process.  In an RFP process, a request is distributed for respondents to provide documented proposals on potential programmatic activities.  The proposals are generally scored, and organizations are selected who submitted proposals having the highest score and closest match with the program goals and objectives.  The RFP process favors those organizations with the resources, technical ability, and capacity to discuss their organization in a context favorable to the program goals without regard to the actual organization mission.  Typically, what is absent or not emphasized is the track record of the organization in fulfilling the objectives along with documentation of the degree of interaction, affiliation, and support within a target area. The sponsoring agency then may experience problems implementing the program if the collaborating agencies acquire the resources but use them to fulfill their own objectives (organization building) as opposed to achieving the overall program objectives.  Consequently, recruiting program partners with established compatible mission objectives substantially increases desired program productivity.  Additionally, if the project focuses on community participation, then potential partners should be able to demonstrate community support and interaction (affiliation level).  As community groups respond with proposals, implementation effectiveness can be increased by ensuring that policies/programs require:

  1. mission agreement between program partners and program objectives;

  2. community groups to function as local movement centers; and,

  3. community and faith-based organizations have high levels of affiliation/integration in local communities.

A major component of the local movement center concept is that organizations within a target area must function as an inter-related group.  Since many of these organizations function in the same geographical area and compete against one another for the same funding sources and political leverage, the RFP process generally exacerbates already existent organizational competition. Thus, collaborative program structures where grantees must submit proposals indicating how multiple organizations will integrate their resources to address community issues may help facilitate a community environment where local movement centers can develop. 

It is not the intent of this research to disparage community or faith-based organizations.  Certainly, both have many examples of exceptional work under very challenging circumstances (Bright, 2000; Keating and Krumholz, 1999; Koebel, 1998; Rohe, 1998; and, Vidal, 1996).  However, selection of partners for revitalization or service provision must go beyond the criteria of location, racial uniformity, or perceived community integration.  Increased community affiliation and integration leads to improved service provision through increased interaction with local people.

Community organizations must go beyond a few active community residents or board participants.  In many instances, a community group is no more than a collection of a few organized residents representing community interests to other institutions.  However, an indigenous organization (local movement center) works with other community groups to coalesce resources into an organized body to set strategy and goals to develop the local area.  This includes the mobilization of volunteers, affiliated members, other local leaders, and local area residents.  A movement center is more likely to influence member cognitions and have an organizational mission that stresses community concerns over organizational growth.  Community and faith-based organizations have historically demonstrated the capacity to form local movement centers; however, the data analyzed in this research indicates that some community groups may not be taking advantage of their historical position as movement facilitators.

Problems with community affiliation and integration ultimately influence the optimal provision of services as local residents will bypass a local organization if a negative community perception exists.  This could serve to decrease public interaction.  The selection of community partners who meet the criteria of being a local movement center with mission agreement can override the apathy, fatalism, or lack of community organization impeding social action processes. [6] The integration of these considerations in public policies and programs can help address the quandary of public participation and improve the overall impact of revitalization programs.


[1] the population frame included 124 program participants (95 responded to questionnaires).  Ninety-five percent were Black (5% being White) and 77% were female.  The average age was 33.  Eighty-four percent had some college experience and 70% were renters.  Correlational analysis indicated neither education nor housing tenure was a statistically significant indicator of program performance.  However, women participants did tend to perform better than males (.24).

[2]the variables Site Type, Previous Service, Affiliation Level, Source of Recruitment, Fundamental Attribution Error and Member Attitude lacked statistical significance.  Site Type designated Faith Based Affiliation, Community-Based Organization, Community Development Corporation, Intermediary Organization or Housing Community.

[3] coefficients show that mission agreement (-.59) is the most important variable followed by cognitive liberation (.17), gender (.15) and age (.13).

[4] Step-Wise Hierarchical Multiple Regression results indicated the overall model was statistically significant (alpha = .05).  Linear combination of variables explained 49% of the variation in levels of member participation (standard error = 3.95).  The adjusted R2 is 47%. The mulitiple correlation coefficient (.70; p< .001) indicates a strong model exists.  Standardized partial regression coefficients indicate for every one-unit change in the standard deviation of mission agreement (.86), level of member participation will improve by 6.53 on the evaluation instrument. Likewise, a one-unit change in cognitive liberation (.23), partipation improves by .48.

[5] A path-analysis of statistically significant standardized regression coefficients indicate participant attitude positively influences cognitive liberation (.62) and mission agreement positively influences level of member participation (-.59).  An absence of influence exists between affiliation level, source of recruitment, previous service, and site type with level of member participation.


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About the Author

Malik R. Watkins serves as the Director of the Survey Research Center at Savannah State University and is an Assistant Professor of Urban Studies.  Research focus areas include affordable housing development, community and faith-based organizations, and planning social movements via community organizations.  Malik has over 15 years of experience in community organizing and community development practice.  Malik also holds a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University in City and Regional Planning.