Community Organizing and Community Development
Community organizing is often confused with community (economic) development. The two are distinct, sometimes complementary and sometimes antagonistic, activities. The best community development work involves residents of a neighborhood in the development of programs that address particular problems in their communities. These problems may be identified in a process that involves a "needs assessment" or by direct engagement of residents. A community development organization might build and manage affordable housing, provide tutorial assistance for public school students, offer job training and counseling, hold self-esteem classes or develop any other specific activities that respond to needs identified by the community.
The activities of the community development organization are typically limited by the funding it can obtain and the talents, donations and volunteer time it can mobilize in its targeted community and in the larger metropolitan area. For example, an affordable housing project might obtain funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It might further decrease the cost of housing by getting architects to donate their time, builders to donate materials, suburban volunteers to donate labor, future residents to donate sweat equity and local government to donate land.
Community development organizations are generally administered as typical nonprofit organizations. A board of directors, with rotating members who are replaced by an internal nominating process, governs the organization. An executive director and staff implement board policy. Community organizing is a process that seeks to build the power of a community or group of communities to address problems identified by the residents of that community, or those communities. Residents of the community become involved in the organizing process so that they develop the solutions to the problems they have identified. While community development approaches may be used by such an organization, its principal approach is to negotiate with public and private institutions to make them more accountable to the community itself. When good faith negotiations fail to take place, such organizations mount public campaigns to bring pressure to bear on unaccountable institutions.
Community organizing seeks to involve people who have often given up on being active citizens in their community, and who hold the view that "you can't fight (or change) City Hall." A small professional community organizing staff listens to the deeply felt concerns of the people, challenges them to act on them, thinks through with local leaders what can be done about problems that have been identified and trains them in the skills necessary to bring about accountability from major public and private institutions. The paid staff assists leaders to make and implement their own policies. Broadly-based community organizations involve hundreds and even thousands of residents of low- to middle-income communities in public action. The broad membership of these organizations elects organizational leadership at annual or bi-annual meetings, and is actively involved in the on-going life of the organization.
Some community organizations are developed by door-to-door recruitment. Others are "institutionally-based," typically in the religious congregations of a community. Congregation-based organizing contributes to the development of faith-based communities by: offering a new way of doing evangelism; providing concrete means by which faith can be translated into action in the world; identifying, recruiting and training existing and new leaders; assisting congregation leadership in making other church programs effective; and otherwise providing training to church leaders who often find themselves doing all the work of the congregation while 95% of the members are passive participants.
Congregation-based community organizing links faith to citizenship in a democratic society by engaging the members of a congregation and their neighbors in directly addressing, and sometimes confronting, public and private institutions that fail to respond to the needs and interests of residents of neighborhoods that are often faced with serious problems of crime, drugs, inadequate public schools, poor public services, high rates of un- or under-employment, absence of decent, safe, sanitary and affordable housing and other social problems.