Factors Contributing to Successful Youth Ministry Government Contract Grant Relationships

Executive Summary of David Campbell’s Reconsidering the Implementation Strategy in Faith-Based Policy Initiatives

By Alison Burkhardt

In the journal article Reconsidering the Implementation Strategy in Faith-Based Policy Initiatives (2011), author David Campbell discusses research looking at California faith-based organizations that received government funding for work placement programs and their implementation strategies. The questions the research focused on were:

  1. Do faith-based initiatives produce lasting partnership by meaningfully integrating small community and faith-related organizations into the existing service delivery networks in communities?
  2. In particular, is the way faith-based initiatives are implemented meeting this objective? If not, what alternative approaches are needed? (Campbell, 2011)

Campbell framed these questions based on the insights of Robert Wuthnow’s research (2004) in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley, discovering that many clients of faith-based organizations received services from multiple organizations (including secular organizations) simultaneously (Wuthnow, as cited in Campbell, 2011). Renz and Herman (2004) have also suggested that strategies support “network effectiveness,” because the outcomes valued by participants are products of community collaborations that include many organizations (Renz and Herman, as cited in Campbell, 2011). Other researchers cited in the study have come to similar conclusions in communities across the country. Campbell notes that, “despite this research, many faith-based policy initiatives are not crafted with this collective spirit in mind” (Campbell, 2011).

The goals of California’s Community and Faith-based Initiative were to a) expand access to workforce development services and hard-to-employ populations, and b) to build the capacity of participating organizations to function effective as government workforce development partners. The theory was that funding faith-based organizations would get the funds deeper into the community, and therefore more easily reach the populations that needed the service. The funding model was a top-down approach, where individual organizations received grants in various communities (Campbell, 2011).

Over a two-year period beginning in 2002, 40 organizations received government funds. Out of the 40, 18 were given to organizations that had no previous experience with government grants and were all faith-based. These 18 faith-based organizations also reported budgets of less than $400,000 and staff size of no more than six. The remaining 22 organizations included 12 that were faith-related, with budgets ranging from $600,000 to $25 million and a staff size of 10 or more (Campbell, 2011).

Of the 18 faith-based organizations that had no prior experience with government grants, none of them had the workforce program in place by 2008. Of the 22 organizations that did have prior experience with government grants, only three of the 12 faith-related organizations sustained a workforce program, compared with six of the eight secular organizations (Campbell, 2011).

Campbell’s research into the organizations that sustained the programs beyond the government funding showed that almost all of the organizations showed positive short-term results in terms of numbers of people served. The organizations that held long-term sustained programs worked in collaboration with a variety of related services in the communities (Campbell, 2011).

As of 2008, seven of the faith-based organizations had closed their doors and ceased to exist. Six of the seven were among the group with no previous government grant experience. By comparison, all 10 of the secular organizations and 11 of the 12 faith-related organizations with previous grant contract experience were still operating (Campbell, 2011).

Campbell identified a couple of potential factors contributing to the demise of the unsuccessful faith-based organizations, one of which was the inability to work collectively with neighborhood organizations with similar or related programs. A second contributing factor was that one of the primary goals of the government granting agency was to help the organizations to properly manage and fill out the reporting paperwork, while the primary goal of the organizations is missional and focused on reaching people.

Implications for Youth Ministry

  1. Missional Fit: Is the contract grant suited to the primary mission of your ministry, or rather a tangential goal of your main mission? Depending on the primary goals of the grant, it may not actually be a missional fit for your organization, therefore not sustainable after the government money is gone.
  2. Capacity: Does your ministry have a qualified, trained staff person who has the real time in their work-week to properly document and manage both the grant monies and the reporting paperwork to the granting agency? Tasking a mission-oriented person without the proper training (or time allocation) with these objectives is often counterproductive and can lead to burnout and potential damage or mistrust in the relationship between the ministry and the granting organization. 
  3. Holistic Approach: Is your ministry working with existing programs and services in the community that are related to the primary goals of this ministry? Campbell’s research shows that organizations that work on a continuum with other community programs provide the greatest service results, as well as program sustainability (Campbell, 2011).
  4. Modeling and Leadership Development: Understanding your organization’s strengths and weaknesses to effectively manage and implement ministry programs provide wonderful opportunities to include your student leaders in leadership and ethical discussions around decision making. Asking questions such as “How does our willingness and ability to fill out tedious paperwork honor God’s provision,” and “What can we do to better serve Him in responsible ways within our community” can help shape your young people’s ethics while challenging them to explore what they really think and feel about their faith.
  5. Long-Term Impact on Youth: If your ministry often has to hire people and let them go based on government contract grants, how does this affect the development of youth in your community? Long-term commitment produces greater ministry results for most at-risk populations, which are often the target of contract grant programs. Consider weighing this potential obstacle with the potential impact of the ministry.

Works Cited

Campbell, David. (2011). Reconsidering the Implmentation Strategy in Faith-Based Policy. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 130-148.

Renz, David & Herman, Robert (2004). More Theses on Nonprofit Effectiveness. ARNOVA News, 33(4), 10-11.

Wuthnow, Robert (2004). Saving America? Faith-based Services and the Future of Civil Society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Two students smile on the El train.