Equipping nonprofits to advance social change

Key Themes from Catalysts for Change

In 2009, with the support of The California Endowment, the Building Movement Project launched an initiative to explore whether California-based health and human service providers engage in activities beyond direct services to address the causes of the problems facing their constituents.  Often focused on fixing individual problems, nonprofit services have been critiqued as an industry that is more focused on self-preservation than addressing systemic issues. Budget cuts have sharpened the examination of service providers even when they provide vital, life-saving programs. At the same time, there is a growing interest among groups that deliver direct services in becoming more involved in “social change” activities such as policy advocacy, grassroots organizing, and community engagement. 

This summary of Catalysts for Change: How California Nonprofits Can Deliver Direct Services and Transform Communities discusses findings from a survey of more than 450 California nonprofit service providers about the ways in which they are (or are not) integrating community involvement/social change into their work. It is evident from the results that most groups are engaging in some activity beyond service delivery, ranging from participating in coalitions (highly likely) to taking direct action on key issues through advocacy, activism, or community organizing (far less likely).  The survey findings also indicate that there is a clear role that funders, nonprofit technical assistance providers, intermediaries, academics, and others can play in helping organizations integrate social change-oriented efforts into their existing direct service work.

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