Why We Need People-based NOT just Mission-based Management Pt.2

By Ruby Maddox

Much of the information we receive in reference to prudent nonprofit management refers to creating solvent organizations, that produce solid data, and operate with a business-like sense of direction.  But people don’t always respond to organizations focused on financial efficiency (consider the Make-A-Wish Foundation). People don’t always follow organizations that operate like a business. And often invest their time, money, and energy in organizations whose greatest asset is their proven accountability to the  community they serve and the vision carried by the organization.

My previous post discussed people-based management as an organizational strategy for community-based organizations to relate to their constituents, volunteers, and employees.

People-based management for community-based organizations incorporates the following principles :
•    Community leadership training
•    Opportunities for applied leadership
•    Exchange of power dynamics
•    Emphasis on relationship building and networking
•    Prioritizing constituent agenda
•    Meaningful & consequential systems of accountability

So how is this model applied in a Community-Based Organization?

Community Leadership Training and Opportunities for Applied leadership
Organizations like Lawrence Community Works, City Life / Vida Urbana (CL/VU),  and Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative incorporate leadership training into their community organizing. These organizations groom leaders from within the community to work within the organization. They also offer tools and resources for residents to act on their own behalf or organize their neighbors to make changes in their community.  The organizations will often offer support for community-driven initiatives.

Exchange of Power Dynamics
Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE) actively works to shift power dynamics that are at the root cause of environmental injustice. As their website states:

“ACE is anchoring a movement of people who have been excluded from decision-making to confront power directly and demand fundamental changes in the rules of the game, so together we can achieve our right to a healthy environment.”

Since many community-based and social movement organizations are often dealing with advocacy and access to governing power structures, the people-based management model focuses on altering power dynamics literally and psychologically. Incorporating this type of agency instills a sense of efficacy necessary in driving change and sustained activism. However, this shift in perception cannot be done absent trust.

Emphasis on Relationship Building and Networkinghands
With a people-based management lens, relationship building and networking are about establishing trust and building a connection that creates a shared vision, based on that trust. Lawrence Community Works uses an elaborate community networking structure that is the cornerstone of their organizing work. For CL/VU, traditional door to door grassroots organizing brings in a vast amount of the organization’s participants.

Prioritizing Constituency Agenda
In a people-based management model authenticity is earned through the demonstration of commitment to the priorities of stakeholders. While a mission should not shift with each new agenda, leading with a mission that is irrelevant or redundant, or worse exploitative of its constituency ensures lack of confidence and trust in the organization. Building authentic relationships assists the organization in understanding what is important to its constituency, adding legitimacy to the organization’s cause. Organizations cannot enlist community members in their agenda without knowing anything about what matters most to them.

Meaningful & Consequential Systems of Accountability
While increased layers of bureaucracy and red tape can often overburden an organization seeking to be responsive, progressive and flexible, a complete lack of structure can be equally oppressive, as noted in Jo Freeman’s Essay, The Tyranny of Structurelessness.  Accountability must be tangible and perceptible. Developing systems of accountability means to be intentional in the design of organizational structure. Building in constant self-examination led by a commitment to be aware and responsible for each interaction between the organization and its stakeholders.


Take an inventory of your organization. Are there aspects of the People-based Management model you’re already incorporating?

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