Equipping nonprofits to advance social change

Building Community from the Inside Out

This report includes two case studies of community building efforts by nonprofit organizations in Detroit and New York City. St. Matthew’s & St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church’s hot breakfast program in Detroit offers a model of a small shift in engagement with community members seeking healthy meals in the midst of an urban food desert. Their decision to shift from using a soup line mode of serving individuals to serving groups with shared ‘family-style’ meals leveraged the power of ritual around meals, which are both nostalgic and deeply affirming, to transform dynamics between clients and volunteers. But more importantly the shared meal time became a way to model the kind of community the church envisions for Detroit—one of mutual aid, sharing and abundance. The other case—Queens Community House—provides an example of community building among staff. The organization took on the challenge of fostering relationships among staff; not to boost morale and retention, but to live its values and principles in all parts of the organization.

The two cases profiled here focus on staff and clients, but organizations around the country are innovating to build a sense of community with volunteers and boards as well. Organizations who find inspiration in these examples and new insights from the tools and discussion questions are encouraged to find and develop their own practices. There is surely something within every organization that can be built upon to create that familiar sense of belonging that makes the notion of community so appealing. It just takes a small shift for organizations to tap into the feeling of community, and the benefits will reverberate beyond an organization’s walls.

Building Your Organizational Community