Have Community-Based Organizations Become too Professionalized?

professionalsBy Ruby Maddox

In the last 30 years there has been an evolution of the prescribed standards and procedures for nonprofit management in community-based organizations and the like. This code of belief surrounding industry accepted, practices and principles, necessary for effective nonprofit management can be loosely construed as the professionalization of the nonprofit sector as a whole.

For community-based organizations(cbos) this can mean a constant tension between staying true to grassroots community organizing and adhering to the demands for greater efficiency, accountability, and effectiveness within the sector. The professionalization pattern reinforces a blueprint and ideology of what nonprofit organizational best practices should look like. The endorsement of which, conveys legitimacy to the governing and the funding environment of the organization.  Yet for every advocate for professionalization there remains the perspective that attempting increase professionalization cbos leads to other adverse consequences.

The Nonprofit Quarterly shared an article  some time ago about an arts organization choosing to “professionalize their fundraising staff” and by doing so alienated their most loyal patrons who had long been informal participants in the organization’s fundraising department. Alternately, in many social movement organizations professionalization has been suspected for instituting higher levels of bureaucracy, decreasing legitimacy and mobilization capacity (Schaefer & Carmin, June, 2005) .
Yet when procedure or bureaucracy are used as systems of accountability it can offer a way for organizations to demonstrate responsibility to stakeholders in a way that complete structurelessness does not.

Still many argue that professionalization need not be a zero sum game. That there ways in which cbos can model accountability while still remaining true to their missions and constituents.

How does your organization balance this tension?
(Comment below)

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