October 26, 2004
by Bradley Center
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A complete, edited transcript is now available of the Bradley Center's October 26, 2004 book discussion with Barbara Elliott of
Program and Panel
Introduction by WILLIAM SCHAMBRA, Hudson Institute
Presentation by BARBARA ELLIOTT, Center for Renewal
ROBERT WOODSON, SR., National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise
RYAN STREETER, U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
Faith-based organizations are doing amazing work in our nation’s inner cities. But these organizations need private funding in order to keep their defining feature—faith—at the center of what they do. Yet funding faith-based organizations has been, in many ways, a leap of faith. That’s why Barbara Elliott, founder of the Houston-based Center for Renewal, incorporated eight years of experience with faith-based organizations and more than 300 interviews into two books that serve as a guide to faith-based giving: Street Saints: Renewing America’s Cities, and Equipping the Saints: A Guide to Giving to Faith-Based Organizations (Templeton Foundation Press, 2004).* Elliott, who is also associate fellow at the Sagamore Institute, presented the books at this public discussion over lunch at Hudson Institute. National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise founder Robert Woodson, Sr. and Ryan Streeter of the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development responded to Elliott’s remarks and audience questions.
Even in today’s partisan environment, it is possible—and necessary—to have a calm, nonpartisan discussion of faith-based groups and their role in public policy, began William Schambra’s introduction of the panel. The discussion that began in the 1960s with the Left’s questioning of government bureaucracy’s inefficiency now benefits from years of sophisticated and sustained research and public attention regarding the effectiveness of faith-based organizations. But can we count on private donors to support the trend away from government bureaucracy and toward faith-based efforts? asked Schambra. What do donors need to know? Panelists addressing these questions included Barbara Elliott, author of Street Saints and Equipping the Saints, Robert Woodson, Sr. of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, and Ryan Streeter of the Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In Elliott’s newly published books, the stories of faith-based organizations—their founders and their remarkable effectiveness—almost speak for themselves. Elliott recounted just a few of them to our audience—Freddy and Ninfa Garcia’s Victory Fellowship, Cordelia Taylor’s Family House, John Perkins, and John Sage’s Bridges to Life, among others. Some of these organizations are what Elliott calls faith-saturated; others are faith-optional. But, as a speaker at a Philanthropy Roundtable conference said (and Elliott quoted), “We don’t care what faith it is, as long as it produces results. We’re funding civic change.” Elliott has this to add: “To the extent that donors can look at this as an investment in civic change, I think we can back off a little bit of the skepticism to simply say, Look at the results.” And there are results—numbers of people who are off drugs, off the streets, employed, in stable relationships, and with stable families.
But work with faith-based organizations requires an understanding of the culture of the faithful—and the cultural differences that may exist between grantors and grantees. Elliott told the audience, “To the extent that an enlightened donor can help to provide some of the skills that a faith-based organization needs to become worthy of funding, then they can talk to each other. They can make a common cause. But it’s not always an easy match.” Grantors need to be comfortable with an organization’s level of faith, and sure of an organization’s results. One way to do so is to talk to people familiar with the organization and use resources like Equipping the Saints and its online database companion, www.streetsaints.com.
Elliott concluded with one of the most overlooked reasons not to shy away from work with faith-based organizations: Faith is central to the character of our nation. “Faith provided the motivation of neighbors to take care of one another.” Tocqueville recognized it. It’s simply part of the core of who we are.
Ryan Streeter underscored Barbara Elliott’s comment that grantors need to find organizations that value “civic change” as they do, but went further to say that only a subgroup of faith-based organizations has that value. “…[T]he term ‘civic change’ is exactly what sets apart organizations of a certain quality, not just any faith-based group,” Streeter told the audience. Streeter’s second point is that one has to really look for such organizations; he called for organized outreach on the part of the donor community to well-connected local individuals and groups that can identify such organizations and bring their leaders to the table. William Schambra and Robert Woodson agreed with this assertion. As Schambra pointed out, “The qualities that make grassroots groups so effective also render them invisible.” They’re not out soliciting grants. They’re working hard for change. Finally, Streeter went on, grantors can help faith-based organizations work out issues of sustainability, succession planning, and formal (legal) accountability. In these ways, faith-based organizations and their grantors can form a partnership beneficial to both.
The final panelist, Robert Woodson, Sr., described his vision of effective giving as one that involves grantors and grantees envisioning themselves as venture capitalists and social entrepreneurs, respectively. It involves grantees clearly demonstrating their impact upon the community, and receiving funding (and advice) accordingly. It involves grantors dispensing advice and money in an atmosphere of mutual respect. There is a way to bring one’s professional expertise to the table with a proper attitude of respect for the social entrepreneur, Woodson stated. We all have something to learn from each other, grantors and grantees alike. To this, Schambra added that initiatives shouldn’t come from foundation headquarters, nor should the criteria for measuring results. “They come from the field… from the grassroots groups.”
Audience questions included one by Deanna Carlson of the Department of Health and Human Services, who asked how her organization could help reach out to small groups that lie outside the parameters of standard (large) government grants, to benefit them in some way. In response, Woodson offered the suggestion of funding intermediary groups. Woodson and Elliott went on to agree, however, that private funding is really what these groups need. Only private groups can fund the “faith” in “faith-based.” Furthermore, private groups have the flexibility to fund people like Leon Watkins in Los Angeles, who says, “Program?! The next person who walks through the door—THAT’S my program.”
Streeter pointed out, in response, that the government recognizes this, and is preparing to help out in other ways—for example, removing obstacles to local funding and loosening the restrictions, requirements, and certifications particular to faith-based organizations.
A final comment was made by Brian Bakke of the Mustard Seed Foundation. Bakke appreciated and wanted to thank the panelists for their wisdom, which resonated with his experience working at Mustard Seed.
To request further information on this event, the transcript, or the Bradley Center, please contact Hudson Institute at (202) 974-2424 or e-mail Kristen at email@example.com.
Hudson Institute's Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal aims to explore the usually unexamined intellectual assumptions underlying the grantmaking practices of America’s foundations and provide practical advice and guidance to grantmakers who seek to support smaller, grassroots institutions in the name of civic renewal.
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