Communities need more than dollars to bring about real change

By Toni Irving

One of the key functions of a local government is to represent communities on matters of concern to their constituents. While this does entail engaging and supporting community-based organizations (CBOs) through funding, it also means ensuring those groups actually have the right resources to bring about real and sustainable change.

After two years of research and data collection, Get IN Chicago, an organization that funds and studies violence prevention programs serving acutely at-risk youth, released key recommendations for local governments and organizations to empower and support their communities. While Get IN Chicago focuses on ending violence, these recommendations provide valuable insight to any city or county currently executing or considering a social justice initiative.

Confirm the program addresses the needs of the group or risk population you want to serve.

Distinguishing the group you want to impact is essential. If a CBO doesn’t directly benefit the cause or population sect you’re looking to address, then you should re-examine your support. A Corporate social responsibility (CSR) or social justice initiative’s success ultimately depends on the research and planning behind the choice to fund it. 

Ensure the CBO has the capacity and capabilities to meet the community’s needs and collect quality data related to their services.

Tackling any social issue in a sustainable way is hard work, and resources, especially at the local level, are usually limited. But, “capacity” isn’t limited to funding dollars. There are certain skills, expertise, and operational upgrades that are crucial for CBOs to be effective, which in turn have significant impact on program outcomes. It’s important to ensure that CBOs have the appropriate resources and tools to succeed. While extra funding is great, many organizations need help with staff training, technical assistance, strategic planning, financial management, scalability, etc., to be effective in their cause. This type of support can also help strengthen the CBO overall by setting up an infrastructure that allows work to continue beyond the life of a particular grant or donation. 

Review if the program is delivering the correct dosage of intervention.

Too much, or too little, of a CBO’s programming can sometimes have an adverse effect on an initiative’s mission. It’s important to take a hard and critical look at whether or not a CBO’s applied dosage is effective. 

Confirm the organization tracks its programs from the start to improve outcomes and share success.

You can’t improve what you don’t measure. If the CBO is embarking on a long-term mission, it’s important to have a measurement plan in place at the start. Local governments can support CBOs in implementing systems for collecting and sharing data to more effectively evaluate success, improve and adjust programs, and direct funding to what actually works. 

What’s next?

Return on investment is crucial for the sustainability and continued impact of all CSR and social justice initiatives in any city or county. Before you hand out a large sum of money, talk to the communities and organizations you want to serve. If you truly want to create change and make a positive impact, ask them the tough questions, such as: “How do you measure results?” and “How do you know you’re reaching the right people?”  Then, most importantly, hold them accountable. 


Toni Irving is a public policy expert who serves as the executive director for Get IN Chicago. 



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