State of the Field 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 provides 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 was 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 was 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).
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.
A Decade of Growth. IBCOs tackle
the challenges of the new millennium at
the local, state, and national level By
Sheila Beachum Bilby article
Building Power: How
Faith Has Embraced the
Blog post with recording and materials
from Sept. 2013 webinar with
Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants
and Refugees. Find out how institution-
based community organizing engages
immigrant communities and issues.
Article in summer 2013