State of the Field of Institution-based
Community Organizing Research Project
How we effectively counter rising social inequality and the fracturing of communities and families in the
United States?  

In these challenging times, local and national organizations and funders are increasingly embracing the
urgency of building a long-term institutional base for such efforts. Among the most widespread and
sustained efforts to link democratic engagement to faith-based and secular institutions is the field of
institution-based community organizing (sometimes termed faith-based, congregation-based  or broad-
based).

Interfaith Funders, in collaboration with Dr. Richard Wood (University of New Mexico) and Brad Fulton
(Duke University), shares the findings of a new national census of all institution-based community
organizing efforts in the United States. The study shows the geographic spread of organizing, its
growing influence in state and national political arenas, and the complex changes occurring in the
religious and racial/ethnic diversity of its institutional base, leadership core, and professional staff.  

We offer this report as a tool for understanding how this major social movement is addressing their
specific issue areas, geographic focus, and leadership development interests.

In 1999, Interfaith Funders conducted a national census of IBCOs to provide a baseline for
understanding the scope and scale of this community organizing model. It identified 134 local IBCOs
comprised of approximately 4,000 member institutions that represented between 1 and 3 million people.
By portraying the state of the field, this study credentialed the work of IBCOs to a broad circle of
funders, researchers, and potential collaborators. It also provided guidance for Interfaith Funders’
community organizing funding initiatives. Since the 1999 study, however, the IBCO field has evolved
substantially. The field has grown by: i) broadening its constituent base to become more diverse along
geographic, racial, class, religious, and ideological lines; ii) projecting people-based influence into
political arenas at the state and national levels; iii) addressing a broader array of political and social
issues; and iv) increasing the gender and racial-ethnic diversity of its professional staff.

Given the substantial shifts in the field, the 2011 State of the Field study was conducted to document
and analyze these developments. Phase I involved surveying the entire field of CBCOs (N=189) using a
comprehensive online survey to gather detailed demographic information about the CBCOs’
organizers, board members, and member institutions as well as data on the CBCOs’ finances,
constituents, collaborators, priority issues, and policy wins. The survey was distributed to the director of
every local CBCO; the response rate was 94% (177).

Phase II involved conducting in-depth phone interviews with a dozen of the most strategic thinkers and
forward-looking leaders in the field. This part of the project aims to mine the insight and strategic
expertise of key “thought leaders” to synthesize a comprehensive analysis of the current challenges
and opportunities facing the field; and to offer that analysis
back for reflection by organizers, funders, political allies, and scholars with an eye toward improving
understanding and practice within the broad field of organizing.

The overall project will provide a thorough assessment of the IBCO field, track continuity and change
among IBCOs, and identify critical issues confronting the field. Specifically, the project aims to provide
organizers and funders a national lens through which to view IBCO activity and to supply a tool for
refining organizing practices. More broadly, the project aspires to promote public understanding of
institution-based community organizing and its contributions to American society. Each IBCO in the U.
S., all members of Interfaith Funders, and a variety of potential funders and organizing allies will receive
the report. The results of this study will be widely disseminated via academic conferences, faith-based
consortia, media outlets, and other venues.

The 2011 State of the Field study is sponsored by Interfaith Funders and executed by researchers at
Duke University and the University of New Mexico. Funding for the first phase of this collaborative
project has been generously provided by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Unitarian Universalist
Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, The Needmor Fund, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America,
Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and the Presbyterian Church (USA).  We welcome
inquiries at:

Kathy Partridge (interfaithfunders@gmail.com)
Brad Fulton (brad.fulton@duke.edu)
Dr. Richard L. Wood (rlwood@unm.edu)



Note:    We utilize the term “institution-based community organizing” to include a variety of quite similar models of
community organizing in the contemporary United States, which occur under the labels “faith-based”, “broad-based”,
and “congregations-based” community organizing. Nearly 200 institution-based community organizations (IBCOs)
sponsoring this kind of work exist in American metropolitan areas and a few rural or smaller-city settings; they primarily
exist in affiliation with any of several national (PICO National Network, Industrial Areas Foundation, Gamaliel
Foundation, some National Peoples Action affiliates) or regional (DART, InterValley Project, RCNO) networks; but some
IBCOs exist independently. Each network has its own organizing practices and model, but all are broadly similar
enough to be considered one “field” – which we denote with the IBCO label.

Building Bridges, Building Power: Developments in
Institution-Based Community Organizing