Community Organizing in Ohio:

a Need for Networking, Assistance and Support

Survey Coordinator: Heather L. West

Grassroots Leadership Development Program  

Supported by the Cleveland Campaign for Human Development, in conjunction with the Center for Community Change, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Grassroots Leadership Development Program, Needmor Fund, Oberlin College Center for Service and Learning, Ohio CDC Association, Organized Neighbors Yielding Excellence and the University of Toledo Urban Affairs Center. 

January 1998

For a hard copy of this report contact:
Grassroots Leadership Development Program
1875 N. Ridge Rd. - E, Suite A
Lorain, OH 44055
tel. 440-277-6504
fax. 440-277-7946





Summary Of Results  

I. Who Are The Responding Organizations? What Kind Of Work Are They Doing?  

II. Respondents' Connections With Other Organizations

a. Are Responding CBOs Connected To Other State Or National Organizing Networks?

b. How Often Are Responding CBOs Working In Coalition With Other Community Based Organizations And How Often Would They Like To?

III. Respondents’ Training And Information Needs

IV. Interest In The Statewide Network

a. If A Statewide Network For Community Organizing Were Established, Would Responding CBOs Be Interested In Participating In Network Activities?

b. Would Responding CBOs Be Interested In Joining A Statewide Network? What Are Their Thoughts On The Idea?

c. Would Responding CBOs Be Interesting In Helping To Start Up A Statewide Network?

d. What Advice Did Responding CBOs Have Concerning The Establishment Of A Statewide Network?





A survey of community organizing in Ohio was conducted during the summer and autumn of 1997. The survey found an overwhelming number of unmet information, training & technical assistance needs as well as a strong and enthusiastic interest in the prospect of forming and joining a statewide network for community organizing. Over 1,500 surveys were sent out to Ohio community based organizations (CBOs), and 195 organizations responded. (29 of these surveys indicated that their organizations were not doing community organizing. These responses were not included in the data analysis.)

The Survey identified a definite need for a statewide support network for community organizing. CBOs from almost every metropolitan and rural region of Ohio identified themselves as involved in community organizing. CBOs from every metropolitan area and almost every rural region of the state have expressed a clear interest in joining a statewide network.

SUMMARY OF SURVEY RESULTS: (N=166) A picture of the responding organizations:

  • Responding organizations are working in both rural and urban areas of the state. While some are organizing specific neighborhoods, others are working city-wide, county-wide and even statewide.
  • Respondents’ organizing work focuses on a broad range of populations and issues including: workers, around identity (racial/ethnic groups, women, gays and lesbians, disabled/deaf people) and organizing other organizations around a particular issue. The most common response was organizing consumers, with a focus on the areas of housing/tenant issues having the highest response category and health care issues the second highest response category.
  • 120 organizations self-identified, or provided mission statements and examples which indicated they were directly or somewhat involved in community organizing (broadly defined.) 78 groups’ work, fit a more traditional definition of community organizing. (See page 8 for this definition.)
  • The wide variation in how groups defined community organizing also points to a potential need for discussion, training and education around this topic.

Connections with other networks and organizations:

  • Only 11 of the responding organizations (7%) are connected to other state and/or national organizing networks.
  • Thirty nine of the organizations said they would like to be working with other community based organizations more often than they do presently.

 Unmet needs:

  • 133 respondents (80%) identified one or more unmet training and/or information needs in the following areas: board development, coalition building & networking, running meetings, fundraising, newsletter production, recruiting & retaining members, public policy, government & legislation, law related issues, issue development, strategies & tactics, and negotiation & conflict resolution.

Participation in a Statewide Network:

  • If a statewide network for organizing were formed, 147 respondents (88%) said they were interested in participating in one, several or all of the following (in order by number of interested respondents, most to least): Receiving a newsletter, attending a yearly conference, receiving announcements of new funding, attending local or regional meetings, getting interns/Vistas, receiving legislative alerts, cooperative fund raising, providing training to others, having internet communication, hosting a training session, attending quarterly meetings and receiving training in management and administration.
  • 89 groups (53%) said they would be interested in joining a statewide network and 59 groups said they were "not sure." Only 6 groups said they would not like to join. Some of those who were not sure, or said they did not want to join cited time and other resource constraints as the reason for their reluctance.
  • Responses to the idea of forming a statewide network were very encouraging. While some groups were hesitant and had questions about the idea, the majority of respondents felt that there was a definite need for such a network. Overall, respondents were enthusiastic about the network and felt it was an "excellent idea!" Other respondents talked about how a community organizing network would provide many benefits for their groups, would help strengthen existing organizing efforts and would increase the sharing of resources.
  • In addition, 92 respondents said they would be interested in helping to get a statewide network started (by attending the next meeting and/or becoming an advisory board member.)
  • Respondents advised us to be inclusive, be action-oriented, define specific goals and to keep things inexpensive as we are establishing this network.


The responses provided the identities of almost 150 potential participant organizations as well as specific details about their training, information and networking priorities. Survey results indicate that a large number of Ohio CBOs have a need for improving their organizing and for connecting with other CBOs around the state. Should a network emerge, participation from all regions of the state would be likely.


 Community Organizing in Ohio:

a Need for Networking, Assistance and Support  

-Miami Purchase Preservation Fund, Cincinnati

Sounds great to us. Regardless of issue, style of work or other differences, real activists need to meet each other and talk about our work.

-Anti-Racist Action, Columbus

We are very interested in this movement and how beneficial it will be for all involved in the program.

-Glass City Organizing Project, Toledo  

The above quotes were three responses given on the community organizing survey conducted from July-October 1997. The survey’s purpose was to asses the need/interest in establishing a statewide network for community organizing in the state of Ohio.  


Results from the survey show a great interest in establishing a network for community organizing. One hundred and sixty six responses were analyzed for the purpose of this report.1 One hundred and thirty three of these respondents (80%) had some unmet training and information needs. One hundred and forty seven (88%) are interested in participating in statewide network activities. Eighty nine respondents (54%) said they would be interested in joining a network. Many questions were also raised in the surveys concerning the focus or mission of such a network. Overall respondents were eager and enthusiastic about the prospect of a support network. The results from this survey will provide a good basis upon which to move forward in setting up Ohio’s first state-wide network for community organizing.


The preliminary advisory committee for the statewide network met in June 1997 and determined that a survey would be a good way to asses the need for, interest in and direction of a community organizing network. Survey questions were designed by, Heather West Survey Coordinator, recent Oberlin College graduate and Program Coordinator of Grassroots Leadership, in conjunction with Jack Kilroy of the Grassroots Leadership Development Program, Randy Stoecker of the University of Toledo Urban Affairs Center and Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work, Dave Beckwith of the Center for Community Change and Cheri Cahall, a Vista volunteer with the Ohio CDC association.

The mailing list for the survey was compiled using lists given to us by organizations including: the Center for Community Change, Coalition on Housing and Homelessness, Farm Labor Organizing Committee, Grassroots Leadership Development Program, National Organizers Alliance, National Training and Information Center, Needmor Fund, Oberlin College Center for Service and Learning, Ohio CDC Association, Ohio National Organization for Women, Ohio Women’s Policy and Research Commission, and the University of Toledo Urban Affairs Center. Numerous city directories of neighborhood groups / Community Based Organizations (CBOs) and community resource directories were also used to build the initial survey mailing list. This was not a comprehensive list of all Ohio CBOs. Some areas such as housing and neighborhood groups were heavily represented, while other areas such as environmental groups had very little representation in the initial mail-out list.

Surveys were sent out to 1547 CBOs. This initial list was composed of all different kinds of CBOs- some of which were known to be doing community organizing, but a majority of which most likely were not. Because the purpose of our survey was to asses the need/interest of Ohio CBOs involved in community organizing in the idea of forming a statewide network, an "A" list of organizations-- who advisory group members knew or thought might be doing community organizing-- was selected from the larger list. The "A" list was sent a second mailing of the survey if their response had not been received after the first month. Phone calls were made to some individuals on the "A" list to encourage them to send in their survey. A final round of surveys was sent out to additional contacts listed on the initial respondents’ surveys.

We had a 13% return rate overall, receiving 195 survey responses. From the "A" list, however, a 49% return rate was achieved. Due to our focus on community organizing, those respondents who identified themselves as not doing community organizing, (in question Id.) were not included in the data analysis. These surveys will be mentioned separately where data is relevant. All references to "respondents" throughout this report refer to the 166 analyzed surveys.

This survey should be seen as one assessing the needs of those responding organizations related to community organizing and the prospect of forming a statewide support network. Due to our sampling method, it is not a representative sample which can be used to draw conclusions about all community based organizations in Ohio. Due to time limitations, the survey was not pre-tested to find unclear or ambiguous questions. Sections where this may have affected the survey results are noted. 

 Summary Of Results


a. What methods are responding CBOs using to address issues in their work?

Respondents were asked to rate how much the strategies of cooperation, empowerment and challenging applied to their organization’s work. As shown in Table 1a. the most common "definitely applies" category was "Empowering individuals and developing their skills". The second most common response was "Work cooperatively with corporate and/or government officials" and third was "Challenge and change existing power structures."


 Table 1a.- Are Responding CBOs bringing people together to... 
"Definitely applies" "Somewhat applies" "Does not apply"
Empower 70% 19% 10%
Challenge 43% 34% 20%
Cooperate 59% 27% 11%


Forty six percent of respondents said they focused on organizing in urban areas only, 14% in rural areas only and 40% in both rural and urban areas2 (see Figure 1a). Figures 1b and 1c show the distribution of areas the respondents’ focus on organizing in rural and urban settings. Note that in these geographic distribution sections, respondents could check as many categories as applied to their organization’s work.


Figure 1d. shows the distribution of populations that respondents are organizing around.3 Thirty three percent of respondents said they focused on organizing Workers, 45% on Consumers, 38% around Identity and 36% on organizing other organizations around a particular issue. In the sub-section of "Organizing consumers on issues of:" 31% of respondents checked "health care," 54% checked "tenant/housing" issues and 21% checked "other." In the sub-section of "Organizing around identity:" 27% of respondents checked "racial/ethnic group(s)," 23% checked "women," 10% checked "gays & lesbians," 12% checked "disabled or Deaf" and 8% checked "other." Respondents could check as many categories as applied in this section. In addition, many responses were written in for the "other" categories. 11 respondents said they focused on organizing "low-moderate income people," and 9 said "homeless." Other common responses were: fair and affordable housing, schools/education, Appalachian people, child care, congregation based, crime, domestic violence, environment, jobs, employment training, poverty, safety, children and senior citizens.


c. Responding CBOs' mission statements and a definition of community organizing.

Respondents are involved in a wide range of activities using methods which include advocacy, social service, community development and traditional community organizing. An entire listing of organizations’ mission statements can be found in Appendix B of this report.* Based on each respondent’s mission statement and response given to question Id, asking for examples of their organization’s community organizing efforts, each was assigned a category according to the type of work they were doing. The categories assigned were one or a combination of the following: Social Service, Advocacy/Education, Community Organizing, Community Development, Technical Assistance, Financial Institution and Governmental Institution.4 The definition of community organizing used to categorize the respondents was as follows:

The process of building power that includes people with a problem in defining their community, defining the problems that they wish to address, the solutions they wish to pursue, and the methods they will use to accomplish their solutions. The organization will identify the people and structures that need to be part of these solutions, and, by persuasion or confrontation, negotiate with them to accomplish the goals of the community. In the process, organizations will build a democratically controlled community institution - the organization - that can take on further problems and embody the will and power of that community over time.5

Figure 1d. shows the frequency of the different strategies used by responding organizations.


Table 1f. - Combined categories of respondents’ work. 
Type of Work

Number of Orgs

Type of Work

Number  of Orgs

Comm Org 28 Comm Dev / Tech Assist 2
Comm Org / Comm Dev 24 Tech Assist / Financial 2
Soc Serv 21 Comm Org / Tech Assist 2
Comm Dev 18 Adv / Comm Org / Tech Assist 1
Soc Serv / Adv 15 Comm Dev / Gov 1
Adv 14 Financial 1
Soc Serv / Comm Org 4 Gov 1
Tech Assist 4 Adv / Financial 1
Soc Serv / Adv / Comm Org 4 Soc Serv / Comm Dev 1
Adv / Comm Dev 3 Soc Serv / Adv / Comm Org / Comm Dev 1
Adv / Comm Org 3 Soc Serv / Adv / Tech Assist 1
Soc Serv / Comm Org / Comm Dev 3 Adv / Tech Assist 2


100 of the responding organizations identified themselves or were identified as being involved in community organizing activities, 20 were identified as being somewhat involved and 45 as not involved in community organizing activities. As explained earlier, the 29 organizations who directly responded "no" to this question have been excluded from the survey results. With the remaining (166) surveys, when a definite "yes" response was not given, respondents were categorized into a "yes," "no" or "somewhat" involved in community organizing category based on their mission statement and the examples that they listed (see definition given in previous section).

Examples of community organizing given in this section included: beautifying neighborhoods and pride days, block club meetings, resident councils, crime prevention, voter registration, welfare reform, housing deterioration, absentee landlords, anti-beer & wine permitting, organizing marches/rallies, and working to improve schools. Because no definition of "community organizing" was given on the survey or cover letter, many respondents gave examples that might fit under a broader definition of community organizing. Some of these responses included: organizing food drives, canvassing, lobbying, and involving volunteers in a project. A number of respondents gave examples of community organizing as work they had done with other community organizations, networking, serving on task forces and coalitions. Some responding organizations requested to know our definition of "community organizing." For a full listing of responses see Appendix C* .


a. Are responding CBOs connected to other state or national organizing networks?

Eleven respondents (7%) listed names of other state or national organizing networks to which they are connected. Thus it appears 93% of respondents are not connected to any organizing networks.6 Respondents listed many different kinds of organizations in this section, very few of which are truly state or national organizing networks. Other organizations that respondents frequently listed as being connected to were the Ohio CDC Association (9 respondents), the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness in Ohio, the National Coalition for the Homeless, National/Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, and the National Fair Housing Alliance. See Appendix D for a full listing of responses.*

In comparing respondents’ answers to the questions "How often in the past year has your organization worked in coalition with other community based organizations" and "How often would you like to..." we found (as shown in Figure 2b.) that 23% would like to be working with other CBOs more often, 61% would like to work with other CBOs the same amount and 5% would like to be working with other CBOs less often.



One hundred and thirty three respondents (80%) identified one or more training and/or information needs. Figure 3a. shows the types of training and information needs identified by number of respondents. When each of these categories was totaled, we found that the highest needs for training and/or technical assistance were for: fundraising (88 respondents), recruiting & retaining members (75), board development (69) and strategies & tactics (64). For each category of information & training needs however, there was a significant number of organizations with unmet needs. Additional training and information needs noted by respondents included: financial/accounting, grant writing and staff training. It should also be noted that of the 29 respondents who identified themselves as not doing community organizing, 17 responded that they had unmet needs in one or more of these areas.



a. If a statewide network for community organizing were established, would responding CBOs be interested in participating in network activities?

One hundred and forty seven organizations (88%) responded that they would be interested in participating in one, several or all of the listed activities/forms of assistance. Figure 4a. demonstrates respondents’ interest in possible activities and assistance that a statewide network could coordinate. Activities/assistance in which respondents showed the most interest were: receiving a newsletter (110 respondents), attending a yearly conference (106), receiving announcements of new funding (99), local or regional meetings with other organizations (94) and getting student interns/Vista volunteers (71). Though interest levels were relatively lower for the other possible activities, the numbers are still quite significant. Even the category with the lowest response rate, "Management & Administration (Executive Directing 101)," had 41 organizations responding, which would be sufficient to conduct two or three workshops on this topic. Additional responses to this question included: grant collaboration, sharing strategies and films/concerts. It is also notable that for those (29) responding organization who identified as not involved with community organizing, 21 of them expressed interest in participating in one or more network activities.


b. Would responding CBOs be interested in joining a statewide network? What are their thoughts on the idea?

The survey found that 89 (54%) of the respondents said they were interested in joining a statewide network for community organizing. Fifty nine respondents (36%) said they were "not sure" and 6 (4%) said "no" they did not want to join. Of the respondents who identified themselves as not doing community organizing, 5 still expressed interest in joining the network.

In looking at the data for the 78 respondents who fit the more specific definition of doing community organizing (see p. 8), we found an even higher percentage of interest in joining the network. Forty eight respondents (62%) were interested in joining a statewide network for community organizing, 24 (31%) said they were "not sure" and only 2 (3%) said "no" they did not want to join. Comparing these two sets of data indicates that those organizations who are more likely to be doing community organizing are also more likely to be interested in joining a statewide network.

Respondents’ comments about the idea of forming a statewide network were very positive. Many people felt it was an "excellent idea!" and one commented that "this concept is way overdue." Other comments expressed the real need for such a network: that there are many benefits of working together, that it could help strengthen existing efforts, that it would help share resources and avoid duplication of services. There were also a few groups that responded that, especially with recent changes such as welfare reform, this kind of network is "imperative."

A number of respondents also had questions about the network. Some wanted to know how community organizing would be defined, what the key focus and intentions of the network would be, what other organizations would be involved, and why we wanted to set up this network. Some asked if this network would duplicate existing organizations or how ours would differ from existing state-wide networks. Several respondents encouraged us to work through these existing networks instead of setting up a new one. A number of the organizations were concerned about time and workload, as they are already over-extended. Concerns were also raised about costs. For a full listing of comments on this question see Appendix D.*

Ninety two respondents said yes they were interested in helping to get the network started (and/or wanted to be an advisory member or attend the next meeting). Figure 4c. shows respondents’ interest in being added to the mailing list, attending the next meeting, and becoming a board member. For respondents who checked "no" it should be noted that several wrote that while they were interested, they had very limited time, staff and resources. Other responses by those interested in helping to get the network started, include: hosting a city-wide cite, recruiting other community representatives, and "help[ing] in anyway possible!" Of those 29 respondents who identified themselves as not involved with organizing, eight were interested in getting the network started and three of them volunteered to become advisory board members.

d. What advice did responding CBOs have concerning the establishment of a statewide network?

Finally, respondents were asked if they had any advice for us as we are setting up the network. One of the most common response was related to being inclusive: To make sure that we had good representation of low-income people and grassroots leaders on the advisory board, that we be inclusive in terms of race and sex, include an "ecumenical piece" , that we not forget labor unions, CDCs etc. One respondent wrote "Involve community leaders. Be inclusive of all ways of organizing." Some advised that the network should be action-oriented, productive and should get things done. A number of groups encouraged us to define specific goals and a clear purpose. A few respondents said that we needed to clarify our purpose of establishing the network.7

Some responses conflicted. While one respondent said, "[the network] must not become a political tool for the advancement of any ideological change" another said, "develop a clear purpose and ideology. Politically liberal? conservative? pragmatic?" Other advice included to talk to other statewide networks, to keep things inexpensive, to use modern technology/ conference calls and to "not have a lot of boring meetings!"


The large and enthusiastic response to the community organizing survey shows a definite need and interest in forming the statewide network. Eighty nine Respondents would like to join the network and another 59 said they were "not sure", with only 6 saying they would not like to take part in the statewide network. One hundred and forty seven organizations (89%) are interested in participating in network activities and/or trainings. Almost one quarter of respondents would like to be working in coalition with other community organizations more often and 133 groups (80%) had some unmet training and information needs. Qualitative responses (written comments) were also very enthusiastic and encouraging about the idea of forming a statewide network.

These results provide a good basis upon which to move forward with plans for establishing a statewide network for community organizing. It also raises many questions about the direction it should take: How broadly or narrowly should community organizing be defined? Will the network decide on particular issues, ideologies and/or goals to support? Or will it strive to be a "neutral" support organization for all Ohio organizations involved in community organizing?

The groundwork has been laid. There is a definite need, there is overwhelming interest and there is great enthusiasm for the establishment of a community organizing support network. It is time to take the next steps toward achieving this important goal.


* Appendices can be requested from the Grassroots Leadership Development Program at (440) 277-6504.

1A total of 195 organizations responded to the survey. Twenty nine of these surveys were excluded from the data analysis as they stated they were not involved in community organizing.

2Many respondents in this section checked the sub-category "local area" under the rural section. It seemed that many of these respondents may have meant that they were organizing in their "local areas" but in an urban setting. These responses were counted as "Rural" although it was evident from their other responses that their work was taking place in urban areas only. This ambiguity may have made the categories "organizing in both urban & rural areas" and "local community" numbers higher than they actually are.

3There was a broad range of interpretation when respondents answered questions in this section. For example, some may have checked "workers" if they were organizing around worker-specific issues (i.e.: labor unions) while others may have checked the same box if many of the people they are organizing are workers themselves. This also seemed particularly variable in the "identity" section.

4Categories were assigned according to the general definitions outlined in Community Organizing: People Power from the Grassroots. (Center for Community Change, 1000 Wisconsin Ave., N.W., Washington DC 20007). Categories were assigned by the survey coordinator and Jack Kilroy of the Grassroots Leadership Development Program.

5Beckwith, David and Randy Stoecker. The Soul of Organizing . (in preparation) Contact Randy Stoecker at (419) 530-4975.

6Those organizations listed that were categorized as organizing networks included: DART/Gamaliel, Citizens Coalition Council, CCC, NTIC/NPA, and FLOC. This determination was made by Dave Beckwith of the Center for Community Change and the survey coordinator based upon a review of the qualitative answers in this section provided by the respondents.

7Many groups who asked this question were from organizations not involved with community organizing. i.e.: their organizations focus more on social service and/or advocacy.