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.


About New York Foundation
The New York Foundation is a steadfast supporter of community organizing and advocacy. Our grants support community-initiated solutions to solve local problems, constituents mobilizing for adequate and equitable resources, and groups organizing a collective voice among those whose voices have not been heard.

2 thoughts on “Engage to Change”

  1. New York Foundation says:

    I think for us, listening was key. When entering into a community and asking personal questions that in many ways have had serious implications in that environment, you can’t jump to conclusions or hope for a participant to answer in a way that is only helpful to you. We very much let the organizations lead the discussions, ultimately giving them final say in what our videos would look like. It was about asking questions that would prompt a relevant discussion.

  2. Caroline McAndrews says:

    I love these videos. They are so useful for illustrating the process of engagement, and specifically the entry points. In working with my students who are conducting thesis projects in communities, it’s not always clear to them where to begin. I wonder if others here have additional resources that illustrate the details of how to engage in ways that are authentic and elevate the voice of those most affected by issues.

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