With community development, there can be multiple forces and sources of action to implement changes and improvements. A community seeking to improve itself is not limited to what is directly within its reach. It is possible for the average citizen to be the primary participant in the community development process, but they often have help from larger groups within and outside of the community. While this can include federal organizations and government assistance, it also includes community-based organizations.
This article will explore community-based organizations and what they can do for those going through the community development process. The basics about community-based organizations and what makes them different from any average non-profit organization. The different types of community-based organizations and the advantages and disadvantages of the concept in regards to community development will also be discussed. Additional information will include how a community can develop its own community-based organization, should they choose to do so.
Community-based organizations, or CBOs, are local non-profit groups that works to generate improvements within a community on the local level.1 They are basically the community development process in the form of a formal organization. They are usually locally formed, locally staffed, and their actions are specific to the location they operate in. Most CBOs are mainly volunteer organizations, with few paid positions as most of their funding is delegated towards completing the group's objectives. Their local status also means that they may be limited in what resources they have access to, depending on the geographical location of the CBO and the community it serves.
Since they are so localized, a CBO is only going to tackle issues within the community they operate in. This does not mean that CBOs only focus on minor things; large scale issues like crime and poverty are common areas of interest for CBOs. These groups are free to look at issues that exist outside of their community that are affecting the community itself, but they will just look at how those issues impact things within that particular space. In some instances, a CBO may collaborate on an issue outside of its community with another CBO. This usually happens when there is some overlap in regards to their areas of interest, such as shared geographic boundaries between the two communities. They may also look at how a larger issue is being handled in other communities and by other CBOs in order to find guidance or alternative solutions. Otherwise, it will remain within a specific community and not venture outside of it.
It should be noted that will most CBOs are considered to be a type of non-profit and may operate similarly, they are not the same thing. Non-profits are usually large operations that have a particular area of focus and methodology that they are addressing through multiple projects and actions. A CBO is far more limited, usually handling a single project pertaining to an area of focus purely within the community they are present in. Aside from the collaboration exception mentioned previously, a CBO will not exist outside of the community they act in. They can be a part of or connected to a larger organization like a regular non-profit, but they will not act as a branch of that organization outside of their geographic focus.2 This does not mean that communities going through the community development process are limited to working with either a CBO or a larger non-profit; they can work with both if they so choose.
Within community development, CBOs tend to serve primarily as the middleman for resources and actions. Many larger groups, like non-profits, and intersecting communities use CBOs as a way of interacting with those who are already at work on issues within the community.3 A CBO is often how volunteers find public service projects that they can participate in, as CBOs tend to be in the thick of things within the community. In a way, an established CBO can attract and filter resources necessary for the community development process.
CBOs also have a role in community development as the public voice of the community. One of the best features of a CBO, due to their localized focus, is that it is a wealth of information regarding the issues it is focused on within the community. They highlight issues that need to be addressed and then include every relevant piece of data regarding those issues for those that will be working on them. This includes details about what is wrong in the community, what should be done to remedy the situation, what needs to be done, the resources available, and the effects the issue is having on the community. For anyone who is attempting to instigate the community development process in their community, including a CBO in the process can help make things go smoothly.
Just as with any organization, not all CBOs are alike. The localized nature of a CBO means that each one is going to be unique to the community it serves and to the interests it has within that community. However, there are certain categorical types that these varied CBOs tend to fall under. Each type usually dictates the structural and legal features of the CBO and impacts its operations. The most common include4:
- Common Interest Groups-Also referred to as CIGs, these are usually organizations that involve community members who have shared goal(s) and interest(s). These can be rather simple and are flexible enough to be modified while still retaining its core structure. As a result, CIGs are a fairly common CBO type present in communities and community development.
- Micro-Finance Institutions-These are CBOs that are focused on financial elements in the community, like lending and savings. MFIs are not banks, per se, but they do offer similar services for poor communities.5
- Village Development Committees-VDCs tend to be CBOs that act as a collective governance in villages. They have a set of rules that govern not only the VDC's actions, but the community as a whole. A VDC can also be set up in addition to a village's current government, and the two can work in tandem.
- User Associations-Technically a type of CIG, user associations are similar to clubs where the resources they provide to the community are applicable primarily to the association's members. They can operate, maintain, and fund facilities using resources and money obtained publically and/or privately.
- Faith-Based Organizations-FBOs are CBOs and non-profits with a religious twist to them. They can have similarities to other types of CBOs, depending on how they are initially set up. There is quite a bit of controversy and criticism regarding FBOs, which does mean that some of the disadvantages listed later in this article many be more of an issue for this type than others.6
There are far more variations when it comes to CBOs than what is listed here. CBOs can be formal or informal, public or private.7 Their features can range along an entire spectrum and back, so a CBO can take on any form that it needs to in order to accomplish its goals for the community.
A CBO offers a lot of advantages in the community development process when one is included. Since a CBO is a type of non-profit organization, and the two will often be associated with one another, several of the following are advantages that are also applicable to the inclusion of a non-profit.
- Tax-Exempt Status-CBOs are legally defined as a nonprofit organization, and thus have a similar legal standing.8 Not having to pay taxes for the actions taken by the group can actually help if there is limited funding in the first place. Any money that the CBO earns on its own-e.g. through fundraising-can be used to fund its efforts in full. Tax-exemption status also as additional financial advantages, such as access to public service announcements (a.k.a. PSAs), advertising discounts, and reduced mail rates.
- Direct Benefits-A CBO is designed specifically for the community it operates in, thus ensuring that any benefits the organization offers goes to those it is intended for. Because the CBO's efforts are not going to those that don't necessarily need it or are being divided in any way, the community is getting help in full. It makes it easier to make sure that the issues in the community are getting as much attention as they need in order to find and administer a solution.
- Perpetuity-Since a CBO is an established organization, it is separate from any one individual and is eligible for organizational perpetuity. Even if the person who initially began and operates the CBO leaves for whatever reason-quits, retires, dies, etc.-the organization isn't going to necessarily end because they are gone. It's a kind of immortality that allows it to continue so long as it has a purpose.9
- Liability Protection-The separation that CBOs have from individuals as organizations means that they have some built-in liability protection in place. If a member's personal actions lead to consequences like fines or lawsuits, the CBO isn't going to be impacted on a legal standpoint. Should a CBO be sued directly or have any kind of legal consequences for its actions, they it is able to have its own liability insurance coverage to protect it as it is considered a type of non-profit.10
Just as there are advantages, there are also disadvantages for CBOs. Again, these are similar to what would be applicable for a standard non-profit due to the connection between the two formats. Some of these disadvantages may be more applicable for certain CBOs due to their type and other details.
- Financial Restrictions-Money is often going to be an issue for any CBO, as their actions are going to be dependent on the funding they have. Progression towards the group's goals and their movement through the community development process can be delayed if there are any financial issues at hand, like a lack of money. Fundraising and donations are often the only source of money for a CBO, and that can restrict their abilities if there isn't enough.
- Workforce-CBOs are dependent on people being involved in the organization, and their workforce is primarily made up of volunteers.11 While this can be a good thing-volunteers tend to have a genuine passion for their cause(s)-it can backfire if there isn't enough volunteers to get things done. People are busy, they have other responsibilities, and that may mean that they don't have enough spare time to offer. They are a necessary resource for CBOs and community development, and one person can only do so much.
- Social Pressures-Even when there is support within the community for CBOs and community development, there can also be resistance.12 The goals and/or methods of a CBO may not have widespread acceptance in the community. It is incredibly important in this regard for a CBO to pay attention to the atmosphere of the community and the attitudes of its residents when it takes action. This is often the case with FBOs, as the religious tenants of these organizations are not necessarily going to mesh with the beliefs of everyone in the community.
How to Create a Community-Based Organization?
Depending on what it is you want to accomplish with a CBO in the community development process, setting one up is actually a rather straight-forward process. The simple way to create a CBO includes the following13:
- Identify Needs and Goals-Why are you creating a CBO in the first place? What is it that you hope to accomplish? What needs are there in the community that need to be met? This is the purpose of the CBO, so you need to establish that before you can do anything else. You may want to put together a mission statement detailing the CBO's purpose and goals.
- Choose Type, Structure-Consider how the CBO is going to be set up. You can have an informal or formal group, which can impact things like the CBO's legal status and operational reach in the community. It's best to choose the structure that fits the needs and objectives you wish to fulfill. Take into account how you wish to accomplish those things, not just what you want/need to accomplish.
- Paperwork-If you are creating a CBO with a formal structure and are seeking legal status as a non-profit, then you need to fill out and submit the proper paperwork. Check with your local and state laws to determine what is needed to do so
- Management-A CBO needs some kind of leadership in order for it to work, so the details of its management need to be determined. Even a simple setup of a single leader plus volunteers needs to be decided upon first.
- Resources-Before the CBO can really do anything, resources need to be identified and acquired. This means funding, volunteers/staff, and other materials necessary for the CBO's operations.