Many community-based organizations engage in mobilizing those they serve, training residents to step into leadership roles, and supporting collective action to improve community conditions because they believe these activities make a difference. They believe they make a difference to the quality of life, the effectiveness of their organization's efforts, and the sustainability of both. The Community Organizing Pilot Program (COPP) was established to gather the evidence. Through a rigorous planning and documentation process, eighteen NeighborWorks organizations across the country established a disciplined process to track their community organizing efforts. During 2001-2002, participating organizations were supported by Neighborhood Reinvestment staff and technical consultants to develop common planning and reporting tools and processes. During 2003, they began to report on the outcomes of their community organizing work. This report represents this first year of reporting, and the culmination of a successful pilot process which led up to it.
How does community organizing strengthen the bottom line? We were able to document that participating organizations mobilized thousands of community residents to become more involved in their organizations and communities; leveraged dozens of partnerships, thousands of volunteer hours, and millions of dollars in new community investments; improved safety and physical amenities in their neighborhoods; and resulted in increased responsiveness to community needs on the part of a wide array of public and private institutions, from youth services to public transportation.
We then reviewed data on a larger group of NeighborWorks organizations that maintain organizing staff and engage in community organizing, representing approximately 25% of all NeighborWorks affiliates. Our data showed that this group of fifty organizations (including the 18 COPP participants) had significantly lower delinquency rates on their Revolving Loan Funds (8.2% median compared to 14.4% for NWO's that do not have a community organizing component). They also delivered 34% more housing services (median per organization) and successfully secured, on average, 11% more funding for their organizational activities than their non-organizing peers.
We believe that this data begins to deliver compelling evidence that community organizing strengthens the bottom line. We look forward to continuing our data gathering and analysis efforts, disseminating "winning strategies," and encouraging organizations to think in terms of this double bottom line. The payoffs are many.