Empowering Compassion: The Strategic Role of Intermediary Organizations in Building Capacity Among and Enhancing the Impact of Community Transformers

by Amy L. Sherman

Jul 1, 2002
This publication reports on the findings from a mail survey conducted from November 2001 to April 2002 of faith-based intermediary organizations. The information gathered provides what is probably the most comprehensive examination currently available of what these groups do, how they do it, under what philosophy they operate, with whom they work, and what their contributions have been among faith-based poverty fighters.
Empowering Compassion: The Strategic Role of Intermediary Organizations in Building Capacity Among and Enhancing the Impact of Community Transformers
  • Intermediary organizations currently make enormous contributions to the scope, scale, and effectiveness of grassroots, faith-based social service agencies, and often do so at low cost.
  • Much of the most important work being done by intermediaries is intangible, relating to the mentoring and encouragement they provide to grassroots leaders.
  • Faith-based intermediaries are making a unique contribution to capacity building among grassroots FBOs.
  • The intermediaries examined are intensively engaged with their constituent ministries, often working with them on a weekly basis for over a year.
  • The intermediaries we studied are making a highly significant contribution among front-line ministries that are relatively small, young, or administratively immature. They are adding less value to constituent organizations that are larger and more experienced.
  • The charismatic personalities and zeal of the individual leaders of the intermediary organizations are key factors in the level of impact the intermediaries are making.
  • Many of the intermediaries have experience in re-granting to or subcontracting with grassroots FBOs, and very many (89 percent) are willing to play the role of a publicly funded financial intermediary.
  • Intermediaries navigate multiple sectors, connecting groups within the faith community and connecting FBOs to secular nonprofits, government social welfare agencies, and the world of philanthropy.
  • The two sectors the intermediaries desire even more interaction with are government and the business community.
  • The top challenges intermediaries reported facing was that foundations are biased against them and/or do not recognize the legitimacy of what they do.
  • Social and systemic injustice has deep roots. Even with the most comprehensive needs assessment or study, local contextual knowledge will never be fully understood by outsiders.
  • Grassroots organisations are part of the social fabric of the community. As the first responders in a community, they are best situated to get help to those who need it most.
  • The larger the institutions, the more resources are shifted to perpetuating its own existence. The lack of prescribed or strict procedures for decision-making in local organisations help them to remain more adaptive to arising needs and inherent complexities.
  • Effective grassroots organisations have staying power at the local level. Most of the development sector is ruled by annual reports and three-year project cycles, which is very different from the time needed to see transformative change.
  • Grassroots grantees get results. International small grantmakers may not have volumes of external evaluations or randomised control trials as proof of concept, but they are able to recount story after after about their grantees' accomplishments and triumphs,
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