query: helping social services do organizing
colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
colist at comm-org.utoledo.edu
Sat Feb 5 08:51:50 CST 2005
[ed: thanks to Larry, Michael, Richard, and Vicki for responding to
Choua Vue's query.]
From: Larry Yates <llyates at shentel.net>
I think "closer to community organizing" may be the key phrase here. The
most common cases I have seen are social service organizations that
consciously act as allies to groups that are doing organizing, but do
not themselves try to do so. For example, a social service agency
dealing with AIDS might provide resources, a meeting place, etc, for a
People With AIDS group that is organizing around local issues. This
allows the social service agency, which has access to more resources,
public and private funds in particular, to share some of the benefits of
those funds with an organizing group, without trying to change its own
identity. Groups working with Spanish-speaking immigrants seem to do
This assumes what I think is the typical situation - that social service
agencies are constrained by funding sources and governing bodies and by
their missions from taking on the task of organizing -- empowering
people and assisting them in transforming institutions by exercising
power. I am sure there are cases where this is not true -- but usually,
it is true. It is also true that people are relying on social service
agencies in these tough times to keep doing what they do, so there is a
legitimate question about moving resources to organizing. (I personally
believe organizing is almost always the most efficient use of resources,
since social services historically survive only because people with
needs exercise power -- but people who are relying on that hot meal or
shelter bed being there today may see it differently.)
I think the ideal situation, given this typical limitation, may be:
1) a social service agency that has solid local support and a spotless
reputation on providing services, fiscal issues, etc., so it is not
vulnerable on extraneous issues
2) a leadership group of people who are served by that social service
agency but not totally dependent on it for survival, and who have an
3) a tradition at the social service agency of doing community outreach,
fundraising, and generally being visible in the community, so that
supporting organizing is not a radical or conspicuous departure
4) issues that clearly emerge from the day to day concerns of the people
the social service agency serves, and have local resonance
Or, to look at the flip side, you probably can't and shouldn't move a
social service agency into organizing on issues that seem unrelated to
its mission, or into organizing or political action that is led mainly
by staff of the agency, and that seems to come from some outside agenda
-- and if the social service agency is already on shaky ground fiscally
or in reputation, you can probably forget it.
An exception to all this is organizing to save the agency itself --
pretty much universally recognized as a legitimate activity. But if this
goes anywhere beyond the immediate struggle, it will probably be because
it results in an outside support group that has some life of its own --
like the many housing and Fair Budget coalitions that emerged with the
budget cuts of the early Reagan years.
Virginia Organizing Project
(540) 436 3432
llyates at shentel.net
Larry's home office: PO Box 245
Maurertown VA 22644
From: MBrown7387 at aol.com
This section from my forthcoming book, The Community Organizer's Guide,
How to Start or Strengthen Grassroots Organizations, might be useful.
See below, Michael Jacoby Brown, phone: 617 350-9994, Email:
MBrown7387 at aol.com
For Service Organizations That Want To Move Beyond Service
Some organizations provide services to individuals. You may want to
move an organization toward a broader vision of help. How can we move
beyond providing individual assistance to changing public policies so we
can help more people in need?
Start by asking the question:
Does the organization want to do more than provide individual services
to our members?
Is that the mission of our organization?
If not, the organization can make this explicit. The group can say that
it wants only to help individuals in its own organization and they don't
have the time, interest or resources to do more. That should be fine.
Any organization needs to set its boundaries. Its mission, goals and
limits are a critical part of its structure. (See Structure Section and
Mission Statement chapters.)
If, however, the organization does want to go beyond service, then they
first need to clarify that such work is a goal of the organization and
part of its mission.
Then members and leaders can ask:
What might be effective in helping a broader array of people?
For example, if one member of the organization is out of work, and has
run out of unemployment benefits, can the organization be effective in
extending unemployment benefits for others who have exhausted their
current benefits? Can it help change the unemployment funding or policies?
If one elderly family is having trouble staying in their home because of
a jump in property taxes, can they develop a policy in the town that
would allow all low-income residents to stay in their homes, in spite of
the big jump in property taxes?
Moving an organization from helping individuals to helping many people
starts with asking questions:
Who else is in the same situation?
What would be helpful to everyone like him or her?
What power do we have in our group?
Can we be effective in changing this specific policy?
Who else could we possibly join with to accomplish what we want?
Who in our current organization might we lose if we enter a more
political or policy arena?
Are we willing to take on a long-term campaign that will lack the
immediate satisfaction of helping those in obvious need?
If we want to go ahead and try to attack more long- term solutions, then
we have to ask:
What would be the most effective help we can offer?
What is our goal?
What are our specific objectives?
Who is closest to the problem?
How can we ask them for their advice, suggestions and experience?
What do they think is a good solution?
What would they want us to do?
Personal Reflection Exercise on Service and Organizing
This exercise is designed to help you think about your own motivation as
well as the results of your work. It sets out, in perhaps
oversimplified opposites, how a service or organizing strategy might
address the questions. Although you, and most people, may be more
complex than one or the other, the distinction is set out to get you to
think about your reality, not to necessarily represent it.
Why am I doing this?
Service: For personal growth only
Organizing: To develop the leadership of others as part of a
What skills do I use and develop in others?
Service: "Technical" skills. (Reading, computer literacy,
health education, etc.)
Organizing: Critical thinking, group process, political
awareness, negotiation with public figures, strategy and campaign planning,
What methods do I use?
Service: Individual volunteers in agencies helping others seen
as having limitations or needs.
Organizing: Organizing membership based associations and
groups to conduct public negotiation, etc.
How are problems addressed identified or chosen?
Service: By agency and "needs assessment"
Organizing: By person to person interviews and priorities
democratically and publicly determined by community
Who "owns" the Project?
Service: By agency and individual providing the service
Organizing: By membership based community organization
To whom is the project accountable?
Service: To agency and funders
Organizing: To community organization
What is my self interest?
Service: Feeling good by helping others, personal skill
Organizing: Developing the leadership of others, acting from
deeply held beliefs or anger, changing relations of power
What connection to civic life does the work develop?
Service: Little involvement or change
Organizing: Intimate connection to civic life, including
developing "public relationships" with business leaders and elected and
other public officials (police officers, government regulators, for example)
Based in part on discussion tool by Institute for the Arts of Democracy,
San Rafael, CA.
The Minnie Test
The word I hate most in the English language is "sympathy."
- Minnie Jacoby
Strategy and the Minnie Test
When I think about any strategy I might use to make the world a better
place, I use the Minnie test. I ask, "How would this help my
grandmother, Minnie?" I mix my love for my grandmother, telling me
stories in our house, with my fury at the world that could not make life
any better for her as a little girl, or as a young woman. And I know
there were - and still are --thousands like her.
Minnie never wanted sympathy. It would be easy to pity her, this poor
8-year old girl whose mother had died. She had no money. She lived with
strangers. She worked for people who treated her as a pair of hands to
do whatever they wanted for as little money as possible. What would
really help her? Who could help her?
What did actually help her? Today I might ask what strategy would be
most helpful to her? Or to people like her today?
Think of someone you know who is like Minnie, someone with no resources
or family who can help her.
What would be most helpful to him or her?
(Unemployment insurance for Minnie's father would have helped Minnie, so
he could afford a home when he was out of work).
What would be most helpful and effective for them?
History can help design a strategy:
What actually did help Minnie?
When I go back to the specific things she told me that bothered her, I
can see the labor unions helped. They allowed her bathroom breaks
without being timed. They helped her (and many others) get better
wages. They stopped the worst conditions in the factories. That was
real help, not sympathy.
Social security and Medicaid helped. That gave her money and medical
care. When she was older public housing gave her a safe affordable
Other things would have helped her when she was a girl. Kind teachers
would have helped. A decent paying job for her father would have
helped most of all.
What would help her? Or people like her today?
Take the Minnie test. Would any action, project, campaign, legislation,
organization help Minnie or someone like her? What would she say? What
would it do for that little girl left without her mother? What would it
do for the young woman trying to get an education, find a place to live,
useful and safe work, and some way to use her talents and feel respected
in the world?
From: Richard Layman <rlaymandc at yahoo.com>
This can take a long response or a short response. The short response
has to do with the tension between "representative democracy" and
"participatory democracy" and the role and vision of government
institutions, including social services organizations, in how they frame
and implement their mission.
There is a great (old) book by Armand Lauffer called _Strategic
Marketing for Not-For-Profit Organizations_ and it states that
organizations have three publics: input (provides resources); throughput
(staff, volunteers, the people that do the work of the organization);
and output (to whom the organization's efforts are directed). A
community organizing role needs to be thought of in that context.
As an involved citizen in the District of Columbia, primarily on land
use issues, we deal with these various tensions all the time. Too often
(in my opinion) the city government looks at citizens as "customers"
(comparable to the criticisms of the New Labor movement in Britain which
focuses on "consultations" and "expanding choices") rather than citizens
as owners and drivers of the process.
I could go on and on. Instead, I recommend that you look at the work of
John McKnight et al and the Asset-Based Community Development Institute
(www.northwestern.edu/IPR/abcd.html). There work is based on the idea
that all communities have assets, particularly social and human capital,
and looking at communities in this fashion, rather than as "needy" and
"deficit-ridden" has major implications in how services are developed
and provided, who delivers the services, etc. They have an extensive
training network, a goodly number of publications, listservs, and other
Vicki Totten <vickit at admin.stedwards.edu>
I just recently started receiving this listing (which I love!), and
so this is the first time I've tried to post a response, so I hope
this works. I am responding to the message below about social
service organizations and community organizing. There does seem to
be much more interest (and urgency?) within social service agencies
for this type of training, as was evidenced by last year's
conference in San Diego entitled "Ending Poverty: Moving from Social
Service to Social Change." The people attending became so energized
that there is a second conference planned for this May 19-21 in
Pasadena, California titled " Ending Poverty II: Building Healthy
Communities through Economic Justice." The 2005 conference is being
co-sponsored by Springfield College and the Western Regional
Organization for Human Services Professionals. It is a working
conference with workshops and strategy sesions focusing on practice,
policy and politics. If you would like more information, or to be
put on the mailing list, you could e-mail Bill Oswald at :
William_Oswald at SPFLDCOL.EDU. I also have a working paper for next
year's conference I could send as an attachment. The flyers
haven't yet been printed.
St. Edward's University
> From: "Choua Vue" <ChouaVue at icirr.org>
> I currently work with both social service organizations and community
> based organizations on a state program. I have been thinking more
> about how to move and develop social service agencies closer to
> community organizing. A co-worker recommended that I post a question
> this question to the listserve and ask what are the criterias that one
> might use to determine when a social service agency is able to
> organize? How can work with social service agencies to engage them
> more in organizing? All thoughts are welcomed!
> [ed: one of the projects I was involved in tried to do this with
> CDCs. You can see a draft at
> http://comm-org.utoledo.edu/drafts/cdcorgnew.htm ]
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