Strengthening the Street Saints: Intermediaries Providing Capacity-Building Assistance to Faith-Based Organizations

by Amy L. Sherman

Jan 1, 2000

The intermediary\'s work is invaluable if the scope, scale, and effectiveness of grassroots faith-based organizations (FBOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs) are to be increased dramatically. And in the era of welfare devolution, the provision of social services and the strengthening of the social safety net by CBOs and FBOs are more important than ever. Currently, with a sluggish economy and many families approaching their 5-year, lifetime limit on federal cash welfare assistance, low-income communities around the nation face sobering challenges. Ramping up the capacity of FBOs and CBOs to expand the number of clients they can serve is crucial. And, because many such agencies place a philosophical \"cap\" on growth (at some point, bigger is not better, as bigger can begin to change the relational character of the services these frontline groups offer), a need exists for new FBOs and CBOs to be launched. Faith-based intermediaries across the country are addressing both these needs: expanding the capacity of existing service organizations and helping create new ones.

  • Some champions of grassroots FBOs and CBOs look skeptically at intermediary organizations because they fear resources may be diverted from the community transformers on the front lines to middlemen engaged in dubious training initiatives.
  • Some foundations mistakenly believe that the First Amendment, dealing with the separation of church and state, precludes them from partnering with faith-based organizations.
  • Some foundations worry that if they make grants to one religious persuasion, they will receive criticism from other faith groups.
  • Many genuine intermediaries are serving and strengthening frontline FBOs and CBOs. They help grassroots groups over come problems of limited reach and immature organizational and administrative prowess. They bolster street saints' internal operations, connect them to new financial and human resources, and teach them critical skills in management, fundraising, and outcomes evaluation.
  • Local or city-scale intermediaries appear to be best suited for the work of building capacity among grassroots FBOs, but that local focus can hinder their attractiveness to some public and private donors more interested in funding national initiatives.
  • The best strategy for expanding the work of faith-based intermediaries is creating many more local intermediaries, not a few national organizations.
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