These articles are meant to strengthen the capacity of all faith-based organizations to live out their faith-based missions. If you are already a Sacred Sector Community participant, log into the Participant Portal to access the toolbox resources. If your organization is interested in becoming a Sacred Sector participant, click here.
How can faith-based organizations make themselves relevant to the particular cultural, political or news-cycle moment? The media often reports on what government is doing or what individuals are doing, but rarely focuses on all the communities and organizations in which we live our lives. These communities — family, church, school, neighborhood associations, civic groups, after-school programs, food banks — play a primary role in shaping us as human beings and advancing solutions to some of the most complex challenges we face. This is true on a local level, but it is also true on a global level.
Especially neglected in public discourse is the role of the nonprofit sector — and faith-based nonprofits in particular. Standards for Excellence® is a national initiative that promotes ethical practices and accountability in nonprofit organizations. The Center for Public Justice, through Sacred Sector, is a replication partner of the Standards for Excellence® program. As Amy Coates-Madsen, Director of the Standards for Excellence Institute, noted in a recent presentation, “Local news outlets used to have beat reporters, people covering nonprofits specifically. This is not the case anymore for the majority of media. There is no longer a high degree of journalistic expertise around the nonprofit sector.” The same is true of reporting on religion and religious organizations.
In a day and age where faith-based organizations (FBOs) are overlooked by the media and broader public, organizations must be equipped to publicly share their indispensable contributions to society.
Accord Network, a community of faith-based organizations, exemplifies the capacity for a distinctively faith-based contribution in the international relief and development sector. In an interview Jonathan Creasy, Director of Member Services for Accord Network, highlighted the role of FBOs in addressing international poverty: “I think it is vitally important that our member organizations do work based on faith. Our mission reflects that everyone is created in the image of God and that everyone deserve life and health.”
Accord Network is a member organization and community where Christ-centered organizations, churches and individuals leverage their combined learning to achieve the best in relief and development. Accord represents almost 90 organizations, but members are not limited to their own learning curve — they have ready access to the knowledge of 110,000 employees that collectively leverage over $4.4 billion of resources annually. By creating access to shared resources, Accord enables FBOs to reach their full potential.
Accord demonstrates that effective faith-based nonprofits must integrate every aspect of their organizational lives into their missions. To help reframe the public’s understanding of the importance of faith-based nonprofits in addressing our most acute challenges, it is essential for faith-based nonprofits to understand the public policy context in which they are operating, adapt organizational practices aligned to their sacred mission and look for strategic opportunities to position themselves as relevant to a timely, newsworthy issue.
Understanding and Engaging the Public Policy Context
In our interview, Creasy emphasized that Accord’s vision of creating enduring solutions to international poverty is not achievable through programs and services alone; faith is also essential to this work.
Accord was founded in 1978 by five members of existing Christian international relief and development organizations. It made history as one of the first faith-based networks to obtain a large government grant, and it distributed the grant to network members — Christian relief and development organizations — according to size and activity. In this way, Accord enabled members to discover collaborative solutions unavailable to individual organizations.
Creasy explained that at first, many of Accord’s member organizations defaulted to a defeatist stance toward religious freedom. Members believed either that they were powerless to impact government, or that there was no need to advocate for religious freedom because it wasn’t currently threatened. Yet religious freedom is necessary to the preservation of diversity and distinctiveness in the faith-based nonprofit sector.
Sacred Sector has created resources for faith-based organizations to more fully advance their missions. These resources include Sacred Sector toolboxes on key subject matter areas related to the faith-based nonprofit sector. According to the Religious Staffing Public Policy Toolbox:
Twenty to 35 percent of public-serving nonprofits are religious, with an even higher percentage of religious providers in some services. Because of these major contributions to social well-being, and because of First Amendment guarantees of freedom of expression, religion and association, government rules and policies should protect — not suppress — faith-based services. Those rules and policies should enable all nonprofits to operate and flourish by being faithful to their missions, whether sacred or secular.
Creasy said that once members came to D.C. to discuss religious freedom they “realized that they do have a voice and that their legislatures do want to hear from them.” With Accord, members were empowered to exercise and defend their ability to do faith-based relief work.
As member organizations began to use their political engagement to promote a distinctively religious voice in addressing international poverty, they often discovered the advantages of government partnerships. One member, Hope International, originally perceived government partnerships as unnecessary. Yet Creasy said that with Accord’s assistance, “a leader at Hope [International] is writing to his senator about issues such as religious staffing and the charitable deduction.” By connecting organizations, government agencies and political leaders across the political spectrum, Accord cultivates collaborative partnerships that can address international poverty issues.
Accord also helped member organizations recognize how government assistance can lead to stability, thereby allowing them to effectively carry out their missions. For example, Compassion International is a member organization that traditionally refused government funding and was absent from conversations or advocacy efforts in Washington D.C.
That all changed when India began limiting access to faith-based organizations — including Compassion. This meant Compassion’s impact was significantly curbed.
“Compassion realized that they needed government relationships so that they could demonstrate that Compassion is doing work in India that is important and has a positive impact on the local countries and communities,” said Creasy. “They are engaging children overseas that are less likely to be militaristic in the future, and are playing a role in preventing extreme national security problems in the next generation by raising up children to with relational capital, education and vocational training.”
This is what it looks like for a faith-based organization to effectively engage in public policy. Compassion recognized that by building U.S. diplomatic relations they could demonstrate the importance of their work. As a result, Compassion has been able to advocate for measures that promote global stability and enable them to accomplish their faith-based mission. Learning about and engaging in one’s public policy context is an essential first step for any FBO as they seek to become more included in public discourse.
Accord’s ability to foster relationships between government and member organizations illustrates how faith-based organizations make substantial contributions to the international relief and development sector. When faith-based organizations collaborate, they can shape policies that preserve their faith-based identities and strengthen their ability to reduce international poverty. As Creasy highlighted, “Our goal is to connect faith-based organizations across the U.S. to provide collaborative and enduring solutions to poverty on an international level. This is our vision.”
For more information on how nonprofits can engage with public policy, login to the Participant Portal or sign up for Sacred Sector to access the Religious Staffing Public Policy Toolbox.
If you are not a Sacred Sector participant and would like access to resources on public policy, organizational practices and public positioning for faith-based organizations, sign up to become a Sacred Sector participant here.
Kathryn Mae Post is an intern with the Center for Public Justice (CPJ). She contributes to two different initiatives at CPJ: Sacred Sector and the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance (IRFA). She is graduating from Calvin College in May of 2018 with a BA in both political science and English.