Non-Profit Organization = Community-Based Organization?

I’m applying for an internship with the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training (GIFT) and I got stuck at this particular question: “What is your experience working with community-based organizations?” I felt stuck trying to answer that questions because i’ve been working with an HIV/AIDS service organization that has certain aspects which resemble a community-based organization, but at times, seriously makes me doubt its authenticity.

So i did a Scroogle search of “community-based organization” and found this policy statement by AIDS Commitee of Toronto (ACT).

They spell out what it means for an organization to really serve its community. Essentially, this means knowing:

A) Which specific communities does the organization represent? And, of these communities, which maintain or are relinquishing primary control?

B) What type of responsiblity do the persons in the organization elected/chosen to represent “the community” have when acting and speaking for the community?

C) How does an organization balance the tension between trying to identify with constituent communities versus maintaining relationships with big funders that often don’t have the best interests of the community in mind (government, corporations, foundations)? This is an especially sticky point for which several HIV/AIDS organizations have gotten unplugged or cut severely when they pushed advocacy into areas that the feds felt uncomfortable with.

It seems to me that the only defense against the government ending its support is to actively ask for donations from a wide variety of sources and to form strong, cohesive networks with potential competitors for funding so that if the government threatens a cut, the ally organizations that might otherwise be competitors would step in and protest.

This is what actually happened a few years ago when Communities Against Rape and Abuse faced the specter of a funding cut by the City of Seattle, but mobilized its constituencies and other Washington anti-rape/anti-violence organizations and defeated the threat. The folks at CARA had gone its grassroots consciousness-raising amongst its membership and within its network of anti-violence organizations pretty well.

Which brings me to the question: How has HIV/AIDS work gotten so de-politicized? Is it because a lot of the most political people themselves were killed off by the disease? Or did the discovery of the anti-retroviral cocktails and the subsequent change in how many gay white men die of AIDS dissolve the primary impetus of such groups as ACT UP? Or is it somehow related to how HIV/AIDS has become more prevalent in the African American communities, the same communities that have, until recently been quite dormant regarding HIV because the disease was seen as a “gay” disease and therefore a “white” disease?

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