“Five Percent Shifts” Series


A Series of Five Percent Shifts
Our research and experience shows that relatively small shifts in service provision can cause ripple effects; raising up constituent voice, fostering community cohesion and increasing engagement in advocacy efforts. This series highlights “5% shifts” – as we are calling them – that don’t rely on organizations completely changing course and reinventing themselves. We lift up shifts that are both simple and achievable, to inspire service providers to adapt what works. These reports are structured to include both conceptual framing based on research and literature in the sector, as well as case studies of on-the-ground experiments initiated by organizations. They also include discussion materials and other resources to help staff and leaders reflect on the case examples and apply the lessons to their own organizations. We hope that organizations will take what is useful, build on their strengths, and exercise judgment and wisdom in tailoring these examples to make “5% shifts” that fit their specific community and organizational contexts.

  1. Building Community From the Inside Out: The two cases profiled here – one, a breakfast program in Detroit, the other a community house in Queens – 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.
  2. Developing the Leadership of Recipients: Leadership is closely tied to notions of confidence, agency and authority in our culture. Too often, structural inequities restrict the opportunities for people to develop those self-perceptions and exercise leadership, particularly for people who find themselves in need of formal supportive services. Even within the nonprofit sector, issues of power imbalances that are embedded throughout society can be replicated within organizations and provider/client relationships. For instance, due to the lack of representation of voices from communities most likely to receive services, the systems and structures that govern public benefits and services often demand compliance to rules that recipients have not had a role in shaping. Additionally, the professionalization of service delivery – which has been the subject of long-standing debate in social work theory – can over-emphasize the power of the “expert” deliverers of services and reduce constituent’s voice in advocating for themselves and their communities. In spite of these broader societal barriers and dynamics in the sector, organizations find a wide range of ways to develop clients as leaders, strengthen their self-image, and build their capacity to act on their own behalf.
  3. Asking Powerful Questions: People working in service agencies constantly ask questions. During an intake process, questions may assess need and eligibility; in a counseling session, questions may focus on strengths and diagnoses; in an advocacy or organizing setting, the questions can be about root causes, power and strategy. While some questions can seem intrusive and coercive, other questions can open the door to dialogue and discovery” and invite “creativity and breakthrough thinking.” Questions can illuminate new opportunities and build a stronger foundation for relationships. Tapping into the power of questions to generate new possibilities and ignite change is an important tool for service providers working to help people and communities. This report profiles two organizations that began asking new and powerful questions in their work with clients and volunteers.
  4. Advancing Community Level Impact: Increasingly service organizations are integrating their mission to meet individual needs with their aspiration to address the larger systems, policies, and structures that contribute to the problems people face. This report examines how two organizations developed and executed strategies that advanced their commitment to bridge the service-organizing “divide” by thinking beyond individual needs to address problems at a community level. It is important for organizations to see the shifts they make as the building blocks of the foundation for long-term work. As the social safety net continues to be threatened by federal, state, and local budget cuts, nonprofit agencies face an ever growing number of problems to be solved. Now is the time for providers to think about how to make small shifts in how they view their work with individuals and communities, involve and honor the voice and leadership of program participants, and adapt their internal management so that they can have far-reaching impacts in their communities.
  5. Crossing Organizational Boundaries to Create New Partnerships: This report explores partnerships initiated in cities in two different parts of the country that are facing similar social and economic struggles: Detroit and Albuquerque. Breaking down the silos between service providers and the barriers between providers, advocates and organizers is critical to knitting together and protecting a strong social safety net that helps individuals in need. Furthermore, fostering collaboration between organizations (and of tentimes even within organizations) can help better identify community level issues that a strong ecosystem of organizations can address together.

For more on this topic, see our related materials in our series, “Small Shifts, Big Change

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