Nonprofits have played varied roles in urban America. Perhaps best known is the service delivery function. For years, nonprofits and local governments have entered into contracts to provide housing, medical care, job training, and an array of other services. Students of urban affairs have written extensively on the scope and nature of nonprofits within the urban service delivery domain. Scholars and other observers have also noted the significant role nonprofits play in the area of policy advocacy. Nonprofits are well-known for advocating for the rights of children, poor residents, women, minority groups, consumers, and other interests. What is less known is the role of nonprofits in the general governance and decision-making processes of urban America, the focus of this paper. Expanding on previous studies of "governing nonprofits," this paper explores the role Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) has played in Baltimore in recent years.
Recently, scholars have embraced the notion that non-profits can play a vital role in the governing process in America's cities (Ferris 1994; Jackson 1995). As Hula, Jackson, and Orr (1997: 478) note, governing nonprofits seek to "restructure local political agendas" by assuming "a number of roles and responsibilities traditionally identified with formal governmental authorities, including the identification of citizen preferences, program design, securing public resources, and marshalling public opinion." I argue that BUILD has been effective in helping shape the policy agenda, offering and analyzing policy options, mobilizing popular support, and corralling public and private resources. Moreover, I will show that BUILD has forged significant and long-standing relations with public officials and civic leaders. These relations are not based on the traditional service-provider/government paradigm. BUILD's relationship with civic leaders and government officials is centered on engagement, a partnership of sorts. The foundation of this partnership is BUILD's capacity to mobilize hundreds of Baltimore's citizens.
Following a long tradition in the urban politics literature, this paper employs the case study method. It is about one case, BUILD. One of the most favored methods in urban political research, case studies have been, and remain, the building blocks for social science generally and urban research in particular (Deleon, 1997). Moreover, research on nonprofits as key actors in local governing coalitions is a relatively recent development, lacking the range of empirical work found in studies of nonprofits as service deliverers and other traditional functions. As Hanes Walton Jr. (1997:41) recently observed, "In a barren and undiscovered intellectual terrain, basic mapping, formal parameters, and useful gateways and promising paths must be fashioned. Case studies permit the establishment of intellectual frontiers."
Gary King, Robert O. Keohane, and Sidney Verba (1994:208) encourage researchers using the case study approach to examine "at least a small number of observations within `cases'." This examination of governing nonprofit looks at three different initiatives -- the Baltimore Commonwealth, the living wage campaign, and the creation of the Child First Authority -- pursued by BUILD. The data for the case study are drawn from internal BUILD documents, newspaper accounts, previous studies and insights from interviews with BUILD leaders and volunteers.
Industrial Areas Foundation, Relational Power, and Urban Governance
BUILD is affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), an organization founded in 1940 by the late Saul Alinsky, a radical community organizer from Chicago, who created "People's Organizations" in urban communities (Horwitt 1989). Since Alinsky's death in 1972, Edward T. Chambers, who worked with Alinsky for 16 years building organizations around the country, has headed the IAF. For the most part, IAF organizations are made up of members of multi-denominational groups of religious organizations. These include Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim congregations, as well as other groups and associations. In 1998 there were 62 IAF organizations located in New York, Tennessee, California, Texas, New Mexico, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Arizona, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Washington, and Nebraska (there are also IAF groups in London and South Africa). IAF provides the full-time staff for BUILD and the other affiliate organizations. However, community leaders run the organizations. This is consistent with Alinsky's iron rule: "Never do for people what they can do for themselves."
"The modern IAF has taken Alinsky's original vision, refined it and created a sophisticated national network of citizens' organizations" (Perry 1990: 7). Unlike Alinsky, who prided himself on being confrontational and fighting the power structure, modern IAF leaders emphasize the development of a "broad, powerful base" that can "relate to other power centers such as government, school systems and corporations" (Perry 1990: 8). As Chambers put it, "The only purpose of our organization is to amass power -- but we are not interested in brute power ... we are about relational power" (Rogers 1990: 48). As political scientist Harry C. Boyte (1989: 17) notes, "IAF groups shifted from simply protest organizations to the assumption of some responsibility for policy initiation and what they call `governance'"
Across the nation, IAF groups have cultivated "relational power," helping shape local policy around public education, low-income housing, and a host of other issues. Dennis Shirley (1997) presents a series of case studies describing how working-class parents, public school teachers, clergy, social workers, business leaders, and a wide range of citizens collaborated to improve public education in Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and other Texas communities. "When all of those relationships are brought out of their isolation from one another and mediated through a community-based organization," Shirley (1997:254) observed, "they strengthen and reinforce one another." In the late 1980s, as Mary Beth Rogers (1990) shows in her book, Cold Anger, Texas IAF leaders developed a relationship with the state's lieutenant governor, a staunch conservative, who used his power' over the Texas state senate to bring water, sewer lines, and paved roads to poor families living in the Rio Grande Valley. Freedman's (1993) account of the East Brooklyn Congregations (EBC) provides further evidence of IAF's relational power modus operandi. In an effort to raise millions of dollars to construct low-income housing, EBC developed ties with Francis Mugavero, the powerful bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn. According to Freedman (1993: 336-7), Bishop Mugavero "provided EBC with more than money. He became the latest linchpin in Alinsky-style `relational politics,' giving the group access to the highest levels of government," including the governor of New York.
These kinds of relationships can change communities, improve neighborhoods, and expand opportunities. However, as Rogers (1990: 63) observed, "being able to make those deals depends on developing relationships with people who hold power." Ernesto …