Innovations in Effective Compassion: Compendium of Research Papers. Presented at the Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Conference on Research, Outcomes, and Evaluation. Introduction

07/01/2008

Community-initiated and faith-motivated efforts to meet human services needs have been a central element of the American landscape since the founding of the country (Olasky, 2008). Especially in the past several decades, faith-based and community organizations (FBCOs) have played a vital role in identifying social problems, bringing them to public attention, and providing services to the disadvantaged (Ebaugh, Chaftez, & Pipes, 2005). At times, FBCOs have been the social institutions most responsive to the needs of residents at the local level and the most viable partners for collaborative community social service delivery (Small, 2002). During the late 1990s, federal and state policy makers began to recognize the potential of partnering with smaller FBCOs because of their unique ability to respond to local needs and win the trust of their communities. This shift is exemplified by the advent of the Charitable Choice provisions of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which allowed faith-based organizations to receive federal funding for social service programs without having to change their religious identity (Small, 2002). This effort served to encourage and codify what had previously been a legally and administratively ambiguous interrelationship.

By their very nature, community-based organizations are embedded in neighborhoods and help to build trust among community members. Similarly, faith-based organizations provide social service programs as a means to serve their communities. These and other characteristics can make FBCOs uniquely suited to support individuals and families facing devastating problems, such as substance abuse, domestic violence, HIV/AIDS, crime, poverty, natural disasters, and inadequate housing. However, research and experience have pointed out that without a funding source, trained and experienced staff, and strengthened technical capabilities, FBCOs may not have adequate capacity to provide professional-level services to their respective communities.

Recognizing the important role that FBCOs play in serving communities and those in need, on January 29, 2001, President George W. Bush signed two executive orders that established the Faith-Based and Community Initiative (FBCI). One executive order created the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (White House, 2001b). A second executive order established the Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (CFBCI) within five federal agencies and charged these offices to “coordinate a national effort to expand opportunities for faith-based and other community organizations and strengthen their capacity to better meet social needs in America’s communities” (White House, 2001a). As the FBCI progressed, three more executive orders created additional Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, resulting in centers being established in a total of 11 major federal agencies — the Department of Education, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Homeland Security, the Agency for International Development, and the Small Business Administration (White House, 2002, 2004, 2006).

The FBCI is designed to encourage federal and state government to consider opportunities to involve FBCOs in meeting human services needs and to build the capacity of FBCOs to help meet those needs within their communities. The FBCI is grounded in the idea that governments can recognize, fund, and equip FBCOs to do their best to compassionately serve those in need.

Since the FBCI began, there have been significant shifts in the ways the federal government interacts with the faith-based and community-based nonprofit sectors in the delivery of social services. In many service areas, the FBCI has facilitated the funding of grants to FBCOs that may have not received federal funding before either because of perceived or actual barriers or because these organizations may have lacked the capacity to compete for funding. The FBCI also represents a shift in how the government interacts with the nonprofit sector by encouraging federal and state program officials to consider how they can prepare future partners to participate in the delivery of social services.

While there is some initial research on the partnerships that began in the mid- to late 1990s, much less is known about more recent developments since the advent of the FBCI in 2001. The White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives has identified 10 signature governmental innovations since the inception of the FBCI:

  • identifying and removing unwarranted barriers that inhibit government partnerships with faith-based and community organizations
  • expanding partnerships with community organizations through vouchers, mini-grants, and intermediary grantees
  • implementing the FBCI through federal agencies that administer human service programs so that new and strengthened partnerships can further each agency’s mission
  • building mutually reinforcing clusters of services so interrelated social ills can be resolved through comprehensive approaches
  • applying a massive-scale response to the prevention, care, and treatment of those afflicted with HIV/AIDS
  • expanding key elements of the FBCI in all 50 states
  • building the capacity of nonprofit-sector leaders through training and technology
  • expanding public-private partnerships
  • forging partnerships with domestic and international volunteer efforts
  • utilizing the FBCI to promote successful service models that involve FBCOs.

The innovations resulting from the implementation of the FBCI have not only led to changes in governing strategies, but have changed the landscape of social service delivery. Many of the perceived barriers that prevented FBCOs from being active participants in social services activities have been challenged, and some of these organizations have become viable partners in social service delivery networks (WHOFBCI, 2008).

Overall, the FBCI has resulted in more guidance to organizations on the appropriate role of religious activities and religious character for organizations receiving public funding. By working internally with federal as well as state and local governments, the FBCI has increased the depth and specificity of guidance over time by taking the lead in helping to standardize, clarify, and disseminate legal and regulatory guidance that initially was provided on an as-needed basis. In publishing regulations and providing education in numerous venues across the country, the FBCI has helped increase the knowledge level about the appropriate role of religious activities as well as the allowance for faith-based organizations to maintain their religious character.

 

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