Engage to Change

Service organizations are meeting the immediate needs of their constituents and provide essential supports. At the same time, many of these groups recognize how larger policies and procedures can make their job harder and limit options and opportunities of their program participants. With increasing inequality, slashes in public budgets, and greater demand on their services, nonprofits are looking for new ways to do their work.

Several years ago, we were struck by the way some of our grantee partners were changing how they saw the people they serve, who are commonly seen as recipients or beneficiaries of the organization’s expertise and services. Instead, a growing number of groups worked with their program participants as partners in making change in their own lives, the organization, and in the surrounding community. We hosted a series of conversations with a dozen New York City nonprofit service delivery organizations to discuss the motivation, benefits, and challenges of embracing this way of engaging clients and community members.

Engage to Change comes out of these discussions and a mapping process to catalogue the varied modes of doing the work. Our conversations were facilitated by the Building Movement Project which has a decade of experience working with nonprofits, especially service providers, on how they can integrate social change practices into their everyday responsibilities. We drew on the design skills of the Center for Urban Pedagogy in order to have a compelling, visual way to explain the changes that are taking place. It offers service providers and funders concrete examples of why meaningful participant engagement makes a difference. We also provide a list of resources that can be helpful for those who want more information.

The set of strategies outlined here describes how some service organizations are integrating social change into their everyday work. Supporting the voice of their service recipients helps participants gain a sense of efficacy and gives organizations new ideas and power to make change.


Catalysts for Change

In 2009, the California Endowment and the Building Movement Project surveyed more than 450 California nonprofit service providers about their methods used to integrate social change activities into their work. Five main themes emerged from the survey results, as well as several case studies. These themes offer insights into what service providers can focus on in order to increase their capacity to engage in social change activities.


Organizational Readiness Assessment-Facilitator’s Guide

This guide is for facilitators administering the Organizational Readiness Assessment Tool.


Sources of Power

This handout can be used with organizations working in partnerships. It is helpful to understand the different ways that participation and communication styles can be perceived in groups and encourages users to consider how to share power in order to establish trust.


Toolbox for Building Needle-Moving Collaboratives

This concise guide, from United We Serve, provides information, tools, examples and resources for collaboratives to succeed at any stage from planning and development, through roll-out and course-correcting, and on to deciding its next steps.


Developing a Plan to Encourage Participation

This resource provides a comprehensive list of questions to ask when developing a plan to become more inclusive of community members. It offers a checklist of action, examples to study and a PowerPoint presentation that summarizes the key points in the section and could be used as a foundation to customize for the organization.


Increasing Participation and Membership in Community Change

This toolkit provides step-by-step guidance for increasing participation and engaging constituents and community members in a change process.