USC Dornsife College Of Letters Arts and Sciences

University of Southern California

Opening the Gates

Technical Assistance

Through the process of interacting with pastors and ministry leaders around the issue of gang violence, we realized that technical assistance relating to organizational capacity issues was an important aspect of increasing the effectiveness of faith-based organizations, whether on gang violence or any other issue area. While some individuals and organizations simply required inspiration, others were experiencing pracitical organizational challenges that discouraged them from engaging in the issue of community violence.

For example, many small and midsize congregations do not have full time clergy and staff. Thus, their capacity to take on social programs is limited. Furthermore, these organizations are often out of compliance with state and federal nonprofit regulations and municipal codes. And very few of them have a strategic plan for developing their programs or even know the basics of how to create such a plan. Indeed, some congregations we surveyed were reluctant to share organizational information for fear of revealing their issues to public scrutiny.

Moreover, while organizational inertia is common to all organizations, it is particularly true for religious organizations. One reason for this is that theology and congregational authority are bound together. Leaders have enormous power, usually supported by religious teachings that members should respect and follow the directives of their leaders. Making significant changes in the organization, even in the face of major shifts, such as new demographic realities, commuter churches, and other factors, becomes more difficult because of the presence of the pastor in all aspects of congregational life and programming.

Congregations often have big dreams, but as discussed above, they lack the organizational capacity and structure to actualize these dreams. Many times the programs and projects envisioned by congregations are too large for one small congregation with a part time pastor and no staff support. While this can result in program paralysis because of the daunting requirements to get the effort going, it can also function to motivate churches to partner with other organizations in the community. However, an intermediary such as IVP may be necessary to inspire small congregations to pursue partnerships, as well as receive help in getting their organizational structures in order.

In response to these needs, Mark Whitlock, Frank Jackson, and Cecil Murray, provided practical information on a variety of topics to strengthen congregations and nonprofit organizations, such as outreach in transitional communities, legal aspects of establishing a 501(c) (3) organization, and tax workshops for religious and nonprofit organizations. The workshops, which we designed to run as a parallel track with the other IVP training, proved to be highly successful, both in providing tangible skills and for identifying areas for further technical assistance.

We provided each participant in the institute with the opportunity to receive a technical assistance assessment in the area of corporate governance. The assessment included a review of the organization’s corporate minute book, including but not limited to its articles of incorporation, bylaws, Secretary of State and Internal Revenue Service compliance status, and procedures and policies. Based on the results of the assessment, IVP staff established an action list to address non-compliant items and, in most instances, designated a staff member to follow-up with completion. In instances where legal representation was required, the Institute for Violence Prevention received assistance through a pro-bono referral arrangement with O’Melveny & Myers LLP’s corporate transactions practice group. Through this arrangement, OMM entered into pro-bono engagement agreements with two organizations led by alumni of the Institute for Violence Prevention.

The IVP staff provided the following technical assistance support:

  • Information on the formation of an organization (drafting of articles, bylaws, review and comments to IRS regarding nonprofit status, tax exemption application) and reviewed and commented on a business plans for several organizations, including the HOOPS Foundation (Rev. Bryan Jones, executive director), Joy Youth Foundation, (Dr. Gloria Mitchell, president), and Prevention Alternatives for Neighborhood Empowerment Inc., (Darrell Glover, president).
  • Reviews of state and federal compliance and reports delineating the necessary steps required for reinstatement as entities in good standing with the California Secretary of State to three organizations.
  • Conducting a retreat for several organizations affiliated with inner city youth mentoring programs affiliated with Falcon Youth and Family Services (Rev. Keith Johnson, president).
    This training extended the impact of the Institute for Violence Prevention beyond the 65 participants. In addition, Mark Whitlock provided introductions to funders, which resulted in an infusion of new grants.
  • Planning support related to the formation of new community development entities for two organizations: Church of God Prophecy (Rev. Peter Ortiz, pastor) and Victory Outreach Church–El Sereno (Rev. Rey Rodriquez, pastor).

Funding is another major issue that limited the effectiveness of the congregations and organizations. Pastor T. Marvene Wright put it this way: “We’ve got the ideas. We’ve got the motivation. We’ve got the people who are interested, but our limitation is resources.” Not only are congregations limited in how they can fund community oriented programs, they are often limited in supporting the basic costs of running a church. For example, a recent survey conducted with a similar cohort of African American pastors in southern California found that pastors have limited support from their churches, and have little or no paid staff support. A survey of IVP fellows prior to the practicum phase of the program found that 95 percent reported that their organizations lacked funding, and that 77 percent had never written a grant proposal. Moreover, prior to IVP, 81 percent of participants did not feel competent when it came to applying for grant-based funding. Thus, without external support of some sort, it is difficult to imagine how these congregations can develop significant and effective community programming.

IVP provided training in fundraising during workshops designed to build organizational capacity. Rev. Whitlock conducted a grant-writing seminar that, combined with instruction throughout the IVP program, produced encouraging results. After the conclusion of the program, half of the IVP participants indicated that they were “equipped and knowledgeable” about applying for federal or private funding, representing a significant step toward surmounting the funding barrier. Clearly, though, this area is one that will require ongoing training and development.

Even after completing the institute, fellows have continued to seek ongoing technical assistance from staff, which is one reason we established the Cecil Murray Center for Community Engagement; CMCCE is briefly described in the Postscript to this report. “IVP established an ongoing partnership with various churches and nonprofits,” said Rev. Mark Whitlock. “Their desire for support hasn’t gone away.”

Richard Flory is the executive director of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.

Donald E. Miller is the co-founder of the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture.

Brie Loskota is the former executive director (2016-2021) of the USC Center for Religion and Civil Culture.