Social Service and Social Change: A Process Guide

This guidebook was developed for staff and board members of nonprofit service organizations who are interested in learning how to incorporate progressive social change values and practices into their work. Progressive social change aims to transform the underlying systemic problems that result in inequalities in the distribution of power and resources—inequalities that directly affect the lives of those served by the vast majority of nonprofit service organizations. 

Nonprofit service organizations provide a vital lifeline to individuals and families who lack access to resources, and whose needs and interests are often overlooked or ignored within the larger society.  The paid and volunteer staff members of these organizations work tirelessly to help meet their clients’ needs—from housing, food, and healthcare to information, skills, and support. Yet no matter how hard staff members try to help their clients, they are often stymied by the larger systems that seem to work against the people they are trying to serve. The individuals who staff these organizations recognize that there is more to their clients’ problems than self-destructive behavior or poor personal choices. Addressing these larger systemic barriers is a daunting task, especially at a time when so many service providers face growing demands and reduced funding. 

We believe that a way must be found to meet clients’ day-to-day needs as well as to change the circumstances that currently reinforce inequality, injustice, poverty, and lack of access.

This guide introduces a step-by-step process that nonprofit organizations can use to identify how groups can address systemic problems through social change work within the context of their usual services and activities. The process proposed in this guide can help organizations decide which strategies and actions will work best for them.

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