Abstract: Faith-Based Organizations as Social Service Providers? Local Safety Nets in Three U.S. Cities (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

125P Faith-Based Organizations as Social Service Providers? Local Safety Nets in Three U.S. Cities

Saturday, January 16, 2010
* noted as presenting author
Scott W. Allard, PhD , University of Chicago, Associate Professor, Chicago, IL
Benjamin Roth, MSW , University of Chicago, PhD Student, Chicago, IL
Governmental and nonprofit agencies combine to spend around $200 billion for social services targeted at low-income populations each year. While a vast majority of funding for social services comes from federal, state, and local governments, typically services are delivered by nonprofit service organizations. Faith-based organizations (FBOs) play a particularly important role delivering social services to low-income populations and are key elements of local nonprofit social service sectors.

Several critical gaps persist in our understanding of the roles and needs of FBOs. Little research compares the capacity or characteristics of FBOs across different urban settings. Nor do any studies compare funding, organizational stability, or community connectedness across religious nonprofits in different urban settings. Such holes in the social science literature leave scholars, policymakers, and community leaders with little rigorous evidence or data upon which to base policies or programs intended to strengthen the service delivery capacity of FBOs.

This paper will answer several policy research questions that will provide a more complete understanding of faith-based service organizations in local safety nets: What types of assistance do faith-based organizations provide typically? Does service mission vary by type of FBO or across FBOs in particular cities? Do FBOs tend to operate in particularly impoverished neighborhoods? Finally, how well-connected are FBOs to other local help-giving organizations to form a more secure safety net?


To answer these questions, this paper will compare service delivery, program financing, and community collaboration among secular and faith-based nonprofit organizations interviewed by the Multi-City Survey of Social Service Providers (MSSSP) between November 2004 and June 2006. The MSSSP conducted telephone survey interviews with executives and managers from about 900 secular and faith-based non-profit social service providers in three cities (Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C.). Respondents were asked to provide detailed information on services provided, clients served, funding, location, and organizational characteristics, making this survey the most unique, comprehensive, and geographically sensitive sources of information about social service provision currently available.


FBOs tend to provide only material assistance, but many are located in the poorest neighborhoods of the study sites. Faith-based service providers have few formal programmatic relationships with public agencies and are less likely to receive substantial funding from government grants or contracts. Not surprisingly, therefore, faith-based agencies, even those in high poverty communities, are less likely to communicate with state and local political actors or administrative agencies. Nevertheless, both faith-based and secular nonprofits often participate in public advocacy activities.


Taken together, the results presented in this paper should be of interest to a wide range of scholars, community leaders, and policymakers seeking a more precise understanding of the varied roles that faith-based service providers play in urban America. The unique data from the MSSSP will provide greater understanding as to how faith and religion are intertwined in local safety nets. Findings from this project highlight areas where service delivery capacity is adequate or well-matched to need and areas where service delivery capacity is weak or unstable.