11 July 2006

Shore, Bill. Cathedral Within. New York: Random, 2001.

Bill Shore's Cathedral Within is an inspirational instruction to make a difference. Shore, founder and executive director of the national anti-hunger organization Share Our Strength, uses the cathedral as a central metaphor for groups trying to change the world: both efforts take many years, many skills, and many people who believe that the end is worthwhile, even if they never see it. He appeals to those who feel that service can provide a missing purpose for their lives, but do not know how to begin.

Cathedral Within is inspirational, and somewhat instructive, because Shore uses a series of exemplars to demonstrate the entrepreneurial approach of truly effective, dynamic nonprofit organizations. By pulling lessons from his own work at Share Our Strength in Washington D.C., as well as the stories of City Year in Boston, the Chicago Children's Choir, Pioneer Human Services in Seattle, and others. As Shore puts it, "This is a book about. . . the new ideas and new leadership of extraordinary people who are expanding the range of what is possible" (10).

Through their examples, we see that solving social problems really is up to us and that short-term programs do not work. Not-for-profits must go beyond current standard practices to create their own wealth and build a lasting legacy. Doing so requires passion, and those who are successful ought find ways to share what they learn from the process. Shore's most impressive examples show how Nancy Carstedt is able to advance social justice in Chicago through the Children's Choir and how Gary Mulhair of Pioneer Human Services taps into the private sector by going directly into competition with it.

Each year, more than 3,000 children from forty schools take part in Chicago Children's Choir programs, and Carstedt's singers have performed at the White House and in South Africa, Russia, Italy, and Japan (79-80). She has a very real, positive impact on these young lives. The Choir offers caring relationships with adults, guidance, a peer group and develops self-worth. It helps children become socially competent, explore, believe in a positive future, and find ways to help others (94). Why are there not more programs like this?

The problem is two-fold: making a program work is very difficult, and replicating success is even harder. Shore notes three indisputable facts about nonprofit organizations: across the country, many community-based, locally supported programs exist to provide services. The quality of these programs is uneven, but they fill a serious gap in social support, and all of them, no matter how successful, are underfunded and unreplicated (88). Carstedt believes that the Choir should be able to support itself, however, and has explored ideas from building a recording studio to corporate licensing agreements and sponsorship for tours.

Pioneer Human Services is another example of this paradigm shift toward making nonprofits self-sufficient. What began as a halfway house in 1962 now employs nearly 700 people and reaches more than 5,000 at-risk individuals (129) by integrating jobs, training, housing, and support services (126). The employment is in Pioneer's own non-profit factories and shops, which through sales and contracts provide approximately 75% of the operating budget (131). Pioneer's steadily-expanding collection of businesses includes a light-metal fabrication shop, which has ISO 9002 certification and an exclusive contract with Boeing; a real-estate group; a café at the Starbucks corporate headquarters; a downtown hotel; a print-and-mailing shop; and a food-bank distribution program. According to Mulhair, this is part of a long-term vision "to create a self-supporting, outcome-driven, wealth-creating, entrepreneurial nonprofit organization" (133).

The unifying feature of businesses Pioneer enters is their numerous entry-level jobs. These jobs provide opportunities for Pioneer clients to learn the work and social skills necessary to be successful citizens. "Instead of giving us money," Mulhair says, "give us work. We'll convert that into jobs and hire the people you won't hire" (133). He sees his real task as providing jobs for those who need them most, and a contract for services does more to this end than a cash donation.

Shore suggests that all nonprofit agencies need to become self-sufficient in order to establish permanent, institutional organizations, and offers the following advice (213-24). First, nonprofits need to redefine partnership with the business community. Instead of simply asking for money, show how the relationship benefits both giver and receiver. If, as in Pioneer's case, a corporate partner truly gains by the exchange, it is likely to last. Secondly, make use of the assets on hand, whatever they may be, and actively search out those not previously considered or recognized. Shore defines assets as anything, physical or ethereal, that can be leveraged to create community wealth. Mailing lists and community goodwill both have value that can attract revenue. Finding ways to take advantage of hidden assets can not only increase revenues, but may also increase community exposure and organizational reach. The goal, after all, is to solve a problem and take that solution to scale, as the YMCA, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the Red Cross, or the Boys and Girls Club have done.

A third key to success is avoiding mission creep. Identify the core values and activities, focus on these, and avoid expanding into other, unrelated areas while doing the very best work possible in the core area. Finally, get whatever help is necessary to succeed. Hiring management professionals, as staff or as consultants, is eventually necessary for all growing organizations.

Returning to the cathedral metaphor, Shore derives five basic "principles that can give meaning and purpose to our lives, help our work endure, and make our communities stronger" (19-20). Knowing that a task cannot be completed need not diminish effort and dedication. Efforts must be shared by the entire community, and will build upon earlier efforts. They must generate their own support to succeed, and finally, they must share their stories. These principles are true for any community development project, whether constructing a house of worship or a single better life.


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