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John Bartkowski interview

Friday, April 13th, 2001 - 20:00
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John Bartkowski
Radio show date: 
Sat, 04/14/2001
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John Bartkowski
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Arlington, Virginia

Saturday, March 3, 2001

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the co-chair of the Endowment for the Business of Government. We created the Endowment in 1998 to encourage discussion and research into new approaches to improving government effectiveness. To find out more about the Endowment, visit us on the web at www.endowment.pwcglobal.com.

We have a special show today. Today, we will discuss the use of faith-based organizations to provide services, which is the mission of the Bush Administration's new Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. We'll be speaking with experts in the faith-based social service delivery programs to find out what these are and how they operate. Our first guest is Dr. John Bartkowski. He's currently an assistant professor of sociology at the Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work at Mississippi State University. Dr. Bartkowski is the author of a study of faith-based welfare reform in Mississippi and has done research on the impact of community activism in Austin, Texas. He is also the co-author of a book under review on charitable choice called "Faith, Hope and Charitable Choice." His research interest is the nexus between religious involvement, social inequity, and family life.

In 1999, the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government funded a study of faith-based welfare reform in Mississippi, which you co-wrote with Dr. Helen Regis. Could you summarize your study's findings?

Mr. Bartkowski: Sure I could. First of all, I guess I'll say that we spent time interviewing pastors in Mississippi and then spent time in congregations, actually observing the type of relief practices that congregations engaged in, and really, a couple of key findings emerged from the study. First of all, we found that local faith communities employed a number of different strategies for providing aid to local poor populations. The first one we called intensive and sustained engagement with the poor. And basically, intensive engagement entails sustained face-to-face contact between congregations that are providing relief and poor populations that are receiving relief through local faith communities. Very often this is done by congregations that are situated in poor areas and that count poor families among their members. So this is a very, very powerful form of aid provision that a number of congregations provided.

And, the second one was what we called direct intermittent relief to the poor. Direct intermittent relief entailed some type of direct face-to-face contact between the aid-giving congregation and the aid recipient -- say, a poor family, for example. Direct intermittent relief, however, was typically infrequent, so where many of us are familiar with the winter holiday season, Christmas season, Hanukkah; congregations will get together and provide food baskets or other sorts of gift-giving that goes on around that time of the year. That's good example of direct intermittent relief to the poor, so, it's infrequent. There is typically some face-to-face contact, however, between congregations and the recipients of faith-based aid.

The third strategy that congregations here utilized is a parent church collaboration. Sometimes congregations will get together and they will pool their resources. They will set up an agency, say maybe down the street from each of them. They will be housed in the particular office where when people come and knock on their door and ask, you know, "Do you have some food?" or "Can you pay my utility bill for me this month, I'm running a little short," some congregations will send their aid solicitors down to some type of central office. Some pastors like this strategy because they feel like they can provide aid more readily to the poor if they have limited resources. Pooling their resources can be useful.

One of the drawbacks, of course, of that aid provision strategy compared with the others is that both intensive engagement and indirect -- or the direct intermittent relief entails some type of face-to-face contact with the poor. The parent church strategy, however, pulls basically poor people out of the lobbies and the offices in local congregations and puts them in some type of, you know, agency -- kind of semi-bureaucratic agency, even. So it really promotes social distance between poor recipients of church aid or faith-based aid and the congregational providers of relief.

Mr. Lawrence: Can you give us an update on the situation in Mississippi today?

Mr. Bartkowski: Sure. What's happening in Mississippi is actually a little bit hard to keep one finger on the pulse of because Mississippi started, actually, even prior to welfare reform legislation. You know, that actually was used to pass Charitable Choice, but before welfare reform came about federally, Mississippi led the nation in its Faith and Families of Mississippi program by trying to pair up adoptive congregations with needy families.

Mississippi is showing some indications of continuing to provide some type of support to faith-based organizations. There's a fatherhood initiative recently that I've read about, and so basically they're providing some funds in that direction.

But it's been very, very difficult to tell exactly what Mississippi, and even a number of other states throughout the U.S., are doing regarding Charitable Choice. Actually, the Center for Public Justice has engaged in a tracking report study on Charitable Choice implementation, and they're an organization that really tries to basically maintain open communication between states that are interested in implementing Charitable Choice to help them kind of pool and exchange ideas. They actually gave Mississippi a failing grade for failing to provide sufficient information about what they're doing regarding Charitable Choice. It seems that a number of states are interpreting Charitable Choice as meaning that states have the choice about whether to participate in the program or not, and that's clearly not the intention.

Charitable Choice is a law that essentially says that state providers of aid, when they put out requests for proposals, cannot discriminate against religious organizations on the basis of their faith. So, it's not an optional program for states, but some states are interpreting it as something that's optional that they can choose to be part of or not. Actually, the Center for Public Justice is trying to re-educate states in that direction to say that this is a mandatory program, and if you're contracting out services, you cannot exclude service of faith-based service providers as potential providers of relief.

Mr. Lawrence: Have you followed the Bush Administration's faith-based initiative?

Mr. Bartkowski: I sure have, yes.

Mr. Lawrence: And could you describe what that is to us?

Mr. Bartkowski: Yes. Essentially, I mean, as I understand it, the Bush Administration is now providing additional money to provide extra services through faith-based organizations, but it's trying to provide a federal structure I think partly to educate states and also to help facilitate implementation of Charitable Choice. So basically, I mean, it's trying to set up structure whereby states with questions about Charitable Choice implementation will know where they can go in order to do this.

Prior to this point, the Center for Public Justice and a couple of other agencies, but primarily them, have seen themselves as educators of states, but of course, that's too large of a task for any nonprofit agency by itself to undertake. So as I see it, the Bush Administration is trying to set up a structure whereby states can feel like they will have assistance in implementing Charitable Choice locally.

Mr. Lawrence: What impact do you think this will have on the delivery of human services across the country?

Mr. Bartkowski: Well, I'm a sociologist, so I think social structures like organizations such as the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, are going to probably have a pretty profound impact on faith-based service delivery, and I guess service delivery in general.

Basically, I think that this is going to help address a lot of questions that some state policy makers may have, and they could probably position themselves as educators of states when called with questions or even some kind of circulating memoranda to try to make sure that the states are understanding precisely what Charitable Choice entails.

Mr. Lawrence: What type of impact do you think you will have, in terms of what kind of criteria?

Mr. Bartkowski: Actually, the criteria are spelled out in Charitable Choice legislation. So actually, let me just say there's two dimensions or choices in Charitable Choice law. One is the notion of giving faith-based providers the choice of competing for purchase of service contracts with the government. So previously, religious providers of social services had to strip away all kinds of religious imagery, icons, and language from their service provision efforts in order to compete for and receive public monies.

Charitable Choice kind of undoes that stipulation, so what Charitable Choice does is give faith-based providers the chance to kind of claim and retain their faith while competing for public monies. Then, the second side of Choice is that any type of recipient, a TANF client, for example, of public money cannot be forced to accept services from a faith-based provider. So, you have kind of religious freedom for faith-based providers to pursue public monies, and you're also supposed to have the religious liberties protected of the TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, recipient.

Mr. Lawrence: I'm talking with John Bartkowski, professor of sociology at Mississippi State. This is the Business of Government Hour. We'll rejoin our conversation on faith-based initiatives in just a minute. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and our conversation today is with Dr. John Bartkowski, professor of sociology at Mississippi State University, and we're talking about faith-based initiatives.

Well, one of the things people get very uncomfortable with, John, is the notion of religion and also the delivery of government services. How should we think about that?

Mr. Bartkowski: Well, actually, Charitable Choice helps us to think about that in some way, so there are some concerns that people have, you know, despite the change in the law.

As I had mentioned previously, Charitable Choice is supposed to protect the TANF clients or, you know, for instance, the poor families' religious liberty. They cannot be forced to accept services from a faith-based provider. There has to be a secular alternative there.

But there are some concerns that people have concerning or regarding Charitable Choice implementation. The ideal of the law is to protect religious liberty, but one of the concerns people have is, for instance, I guess in rural areas where it might be hard to provide a secular and a faith-based option right in the same locale, if you've got a highly dispersed population. There are some people who might feel like, if the faith-based option is much closer to home, maybe that's the one to go with despite any misgivings they may have about a particular congregation who's supporting them.

I will say that faith-based providers are forbidden from requiring the recipients or clients that they serve from attending worship services. So, for instance, if I'm a Catholic congregation, and I've partitioned for and received monies from the state government, for example. I cannot require that a client in my services program comes to mass every Sunday, or come to some type of, you know, Bible study or something else on a Wednesday evening, for example.

Still, there are a lot of folks who have concerns about the ideal law, I mean, the ideal principle, I guess, in the law is one of protecting religious liberty and religious freedom. But the concern is that on an everyday basis will that idea stand up? In other words, will congregations try to skirt around these types of principles to say, well so-and-so really isn't interested in receiving the full gamut of our services because this person isn't, say, coming to church on Sundays?

So there are concerns of like how are you going to actually monitor and manage Charitable Choice implementation? There's a lot of talk from the Bush Administration right now about how to evaluate programs, and, I mean, their answer is very simple, performance. If you can teach illiterate children how to read, you will be able to get the money and, you know, basically maintain the relationship if you can stay competitive. But, there are other issues beyond performance in terms of evaluating programs, and that's monitoring and making sure that the programs are keeping with the law.

Now, I'm not saying that congregations will try to skirt around the principle of the law, but I do think the ideal of the law lends itself to many different interpretations about what exactly does religious liberty mean. How committed is this client to our congregation if he or she is not showing around, other than to receive the services? So, there are kind of practical considerations that some folks raise that really give them some concern about Charitable Choice.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, we've talked about some of the potential issues, and especially in terms of the context of requiring people to attend services or however the religion is practiced.

But what are some of the strengths of using religious organizations to provide these services?

Mr. Bartkowski: One of the strengths is the social networks in religious organizations. Social networks, in religious communities especially are very, very powerful mechanisms for promoting social change. So, you know, here I am in the rural South thinking that, you know, if it weren't for a lot of the African-American congregations here, we probably wouldn't have seen the same civil rights movement that we saw in the 1950s and '60s.

So social networks in congregations can be very powerful engines for social change and transformation, and in the case of poverty relief, Mississippi congregations do a whole lot in that regard. Mississippi is actually the most giving state in the nation, despite the fact that it's the poorest state in the United States. It also marks the most monies spent in charitable contributions.

So essentially Mississippi, I mean, because it's a highly churched population, a lot of the culture in Mississippi and frankly, throughout the United States, is formed along the lines of church and faith community fellowships. So there's a lot of talk right now about civil society and moving away from a government centered model of social services, moving toward the voluntary sector. And, what I would argue is that religious congregations have long been a staple in the voluntary sector in terms of providing relief to people in need and providing for social support when people need it, so that's probably the strongest element of change that can come about.

Why wouldn't you just go with a kind of secular model? A lot of religious folks would say that, you know, what they're doing is distinctive and different than a secular model. They're appealing to, I guess, to use the term that some folks in Alcoholics Anonymous use, this kind of idea of a higher power. So, there's particular concerns and theological considerations that motivate human action and religious organizations in a way that they don't in other organizations, say, secular providers of social services.

Mr. Lawrence: What kind of management challenges do you think the Office of Faith-based Initiatives will face as they try to implement this?

Mr. Bartkowski: That's a great question. One of the challenges I think they're already facing is that certain religious communities are going to be jockeying for a position and for a kind of collaborative clout with the Office of Faith-based Initiatives. Essentially, I mean, one of the things we saw actually not too long ago was that some Jewish leaders from the Anti-Defamation League approached John Dilulio at the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives and basically raised concerns. You know, is the office going to support the Nation of Islam, or programs through the Nation of Islam?

Now I don't wish to point out, you know, these two religious groups. There are a lot of religious groups that have some degree of historical antagonism between them, or are at odds on certain theological, practical, and social issues, and I think that this is one of the big challenges they're going to face.

Other sociologists have echoed this claim, how is one going to determine which religions are legitimate and which ones are not? As a sociologist, I'm very uncomfortable with any one person or a board of directors or a particular office making choices about what religions are legitimate and what are not. I guess I would recommend and support the Office of Faith-based Initiatives in a sense that they're really trying to promote a message of religious diversity. So they're saying that, hey, you know, Muslims, Christians, and Jewish leaders and community and congregations, and other faith communities are all welcome to the table here. And, I agree that that's a very, very important move.

But I would say, once you get all those people to the table, you're going to be probably facing some antagonism and some power dynamics that play out there that are going to really require some careful adjudication.

Mr. Lawrence: Based on your research, what lessons could you pass along to other religious organizations that are planning to become involved in service delivery?

Mr. Bartkowski: The first message that I would pass along is one of education, and I would say in this way. Again, I'd think the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives is an important development because religious congregations have felt kind of out of the loop; a number of them, anyway that we've spoken to, and just even basically kind of reading work of other people. Some of them are really hooked into their local communities quite well. So it's very common for religious congregations to collaborate with, you know, social workers and other people in the Department of Human Services on a local level.

But one of the things they need to know is that Charitable Choice happens largely at a state level, and so one of the things that religious congregations need to do is to educate themselves about what Charitable Choice entails. For example, that if I participate in this program and provide relief to a client or some type of money to a client or social services in some fashion, I cannot require that that client attend my worship services, and that client cannot be penalized for failing to do so.

In another way, religious congregations can educate themselves about financial management issues, what it takes to become an incorporated organization to compete for contracts with the government, and how to set up an account if they receive those monies.

So, there are these types of issues that I think congregations need to be educated about. It's not just placing the responsibility at the congregational level, but I think the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives, as well as state governments, have the responsibility to help build bridges to congregations so that the only hand extended isn't coming from the religious communities, but it's also coming from the state and federal government.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, John, that's great. I want to thank you for taking some time to join us today.

Mr. Bartkowski: It's been a pleasure. Thanks very much, Paul. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's show is about faith-based initiatives.

We're speaking now with Robert Goodwin, the president and CEO of the Points of Light Foundation. Mr. Goodwin is credited with organizing the 1997 Presidential Summit for America's Future, where all living presidents appeared on stage together to discuss and promote volunteering in America. He has also served as executive director of the U.S. Department of Education's White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Formerly, Mr. Goodwin was the assistant deputy chancellor for external affairs at Texas A&M University.

Well, thanks for joining us, Bob.

Mr. Goodwin: And thank you very much, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, let's begin by finding out more about the Points of Light Foundation. Could you tell us about its mission and its current activities?

Mr. Goodwin: The mission of the Points of Light Foundation is to engage more people more effectively in volunteer service that's aimed at solving serious social problems, so there is a quality and a quality aspect to our work and strategies.

Today, we are working in three key strategy areas: advocacy: building and supporting the local delivery system to which the volunteer services are administered, or what is sometimes thought of infrastructure; and the development and growth of model programs which can be replicated around the country and particularly through the national network of volunteer centers that are our local affiliates.

Mr. Lawrence: And I know that you follow the discussion of the Bush Administration's Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.

Could you describe the impact that this office would have on your organization?

Mr. Goodwin: We're still in conversation with representatives from the Bush Administration about the areas of intersection with the work of the Points of Lights Foundation. But philosophically, it will certainly add immensely to both the emphasis and focus of our work.

The largest, or perhaps the most significant question, I think, facing the American citizenry as we go into this new millennium is whose responsibility is it to administer aid and care and to make connections with people who are often thought to be on the outside looking in. And rather than the answer being it's big government's responsibility, or major institutions throughout all of our various societal sectors, the real answer to the question, it is every individual American's responsibility. Churches and their communities of faith are represented by people who, in most instances, share this sense of responsibility. And, if we can be useful in helping to provide places for people to serve, providing training and technical assistance so that their service might be more effective, and working not only with the individuals who respond to this challenge of answering the question of their own responsibility, but also helping to ensure that the agencies and the organizations which recruiting used volunteers have the most effective means and techniques to do so.

Mr. Lawrence: What kind of challenges do you anticipate that the Office of Faith-based Initiatives will face implementing this initiative?

Mr. Goodwin: The most obvious question that I think many people have about this strategy and the announcement of the work of this office is the question of the separation of church and state. And people of goodwill from all sides of the political spectrum have raised the question of whether or not it is appropriate for the federal government to invest in organizations which have as their primary mission the changing or the affecting of people's spirits. And so that clearly will be a big question.

On the other hand, many of the organizations, which are doing the best job of delivering social services, come from mainline and sometimes grassroots religious organizations. Whether it's the Salvation Army or Volunteers of America or Catholic charities or various other denominationally affiliated organizations, there's a long history in tradition of these types of organizations delivering very critical services.

So I think once we get beyond the question of whether or not there's any precedent or what are the safeguards to ensure that federal money does not go for proselytizing, we can focus on the real question of what's the best way, the most efficient way, for public monies to support the work of private organizations who have wonderful track records in truly changing the quality of life of people.

Mr. Lawrence: Based on your experiences with the Points of Light Foundation, what lessons have you learned that you can pass along to the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives?

Mr. Goodwin: The Points of Light Foundation enjoyed a high degree of visibility during President Bush's, the father, or 41st, I guess as many people who refer, the 41st president and his association with the notion of Points of Light. And this has both presented wonderful opportunities, as well as some challenges. People were quick to assume that there was a political ideology being pursued in this notion of everybody being a point of light, and that caused them to often overlook the real power of the message that was transmitted by then President Bush's challenge.

I think that this office will face some of the same challenges, that people who even recognized the power and the potential of social services being delivered through grassroots and mainline, denominationally related organizations will be perhaps distracted by their view of whether or not there is some political ideology being pursued here.

The real political ideology, I believe, both in the notion of Points of Light and in the notion of the faith-based initiatives, is the restoration of the body politic. That is the ideology that I believe is intended here, and so the real challenge will be to clarify the intentions, ensure that the guidelines are consistent with the accepted tradition in law, and then to focus people on the real outcomes that are envisioned by empowering people to do a better job in their delivery of social services, even if they are affiliated with faith-based organizations.

Mr. Lawrence: What impact do you think this initiative will have on other organizations that provide services across the country?

Mr. Goodwin: The impact for other organizations, I think, can be immense for several reasons. First of all, we have now had 10 or more years of fairly high-level and persistent emphasis on the power of volunteering and service as a strategy to help ameliorate or address our most serious and seemingly intractable social problems. There was a time when people felt that volunteering was nice but not necessary. And through the emphasis of President Bush, the father, and President Clinton, and now President George W. Bush, I think more and more people are coming to a realization that service is not simply nice, but truly is necessary, and this emphasis on faith-based initiatives will reiterate that position. And therefore, other organizations who have at the core of their mission and purpose to garner and harness volunteer and other philanthropic resources to serve will be given a higher priority in the minds of their stakeholders and supporters.

So I would imagine, and certainly hope, that many of the organizations that are in the business to serve others will find that they have more receptive ears hearing that message, and who can provide valuable support, whether it's time or money, to advance those missions.

Mr. Lawrence: Thanks for joining us today, Bob.

Mr. Goodwin: Thank you so much, Paul.

Mr. Lawrence: This is the Business of Government Hour. We'll rejoin our conversation on faith-based initiatives in just a minute. (Intermission)

Mr. Lawrence: Welcome back to the Business of Government Hour. I'm Paul Lawrence, a partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers, and today's show is about faith-based initiatives.

We're speaking with Janet Sharma, the executive director of the Volunteer Center of Bergen County, New Jersey. She also serves as the chair of the Volunteer Center National Network Counsel, which represents volunteer centers across the country as a local delivery system of the Points of Light Foundation. Volunteer Centers work in partnership with the Points of Light Foundation to engage more volunteers more effectively in volunteer service to solve serious social problems.

Welcome, Janet.

Ms. Sharma: Thank you, Paul. It's nice to be here.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, let's begin by finding out about the mission of the Volunteer Center Network. Could you tell us about it and some if it's current activities?

Ms. Sharma: Sure. The Volunteer Center National Network is comprised of about 500 volunteer centers that represent thousands of communities across the country. Altogether, we reach about two-thirds of the population.

Our mission is to work in partnership with the Points of Light Foundation to engage more people more effectively in volunteer service to meet important needs in our communities. Volunteer centers do this at the local level through four key competency areas. Number one is that we connect people with opportunities to serve. Number two is that we promote volunteerism. Number three is that we build capacity for effective volunteering through training and technical assistance, and number four is that we participate in strategic partnerships that address needs at the local level.

Mr. Lawrence: I know that you're familiar and you follow the discussion of the Bush Administration's Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives. So I'm curious, what impact will this initiative have on local organizations that provide services?

Ms. Sharma: Well, I know speaking for the volunteer centers, we recently did a study of centers all over the country, and virtually all of them are already working with faith-based organizations. A good deal of the work being done at the very local community level is being done by faith-based groups. I know in my own community that there's a very large network of homeless shelters that's operated through churches and through synagogues. There are also numerous food pantries and so forth, and I think that's true in many communities. Of course, there are also the larger nonprofits that have been around for many years, providing excellent service, like Catholic Charities and Habitat for Humanity and Jewish Family Services and things like that. And we, as volunteer centers, also always work with them.

So actually, what I'm getting at is that this isn't really new, we've been doing it. What I think is new is that right now there are no parameters around what constitutes a viable faith-based organization. The ones we've been working with are generally already 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofits, but the Bush Administration seems to be opening that portal, so more faith-based groups can participate.

Mr. Lawrence: What are some of the success stories that you've experienced in the partnership between faith-based and community nonprofit organizations?Ms. Sharma: Oh, I think there's no doubt about it. As I said, in our own community, which is my community in Bergen County, New Jersey, which is in the New York metropolitan area, there is a very large network of homeless shelters, and also a program that feeds the homeless and people who are in crisis.

And without that, I mean, there would be no services provided for these people because they do get some government funding for the actual food and so forth, but not for the sheltering. And it's a huge program, especially in the winter months, when there are more people who need the shelters, so it's really a huge, huge benefit to our community that's already faith-based.

Mr. Lawrence: What kinds of challenges do you anticipate the Office of Faith-based Initiatives will face implementing this initiative?

Ms. Sharma: Well, I think there are certainly a lot of viable faith-based organizations. I think there are also others that are on the fringe, and that maybe do not have the most viable accounting procedures or whatever. I mean, I think there just has to be accountability built in so that everyone knows that someone is looking after to make sure these funds are used wisely.

Mr. Lawrence: How would you advise people to worry about the linkage between religion and service?

MS. SHARMA: Well, I think the government has to make clear as to what funds are going to buy. If they're going to buy services that are open to the broad community without regard to religion, then that's fine, that's the way it should be. But if somebody has to attend a service before they can get food, then that's wrong, that's proselytizing, and that should be definitely not part of the picture.

There still has to be a division between church and state, as far as people having to become a believer in order to get the service. That, I think, is not acceptable. There has to be some sort of clear delineation, and it's not clear at all who's going to be the police on this effort. And again, there could be an inordinate amount of government funding spent on policing this whole effort.

That's why, from the standpoint of volunteer centers, one clear delineation is a 501(c)(3) status of a nonprofit. And, you know, that's not that hard to get for any organization, and there are plenty of people like volunteer centers who can assist other organizations in getting that status.

Mr. Lawrence: On the flip side, what are the strengths of combining religion and service?

Ms. Sharma: Well, I think that in the faith community, it's been proven, regardless of what the religion is, there is a real commitment to people and a compassion in putting service where your heart lies so that you really have a commitment and you see a moral duty to help other people. And so certainly in a community of faith, you already have that kind of motivation, and sometimes all they need is just someone around to help build the capacity, so they can take the motivation and get out in the community and do good work.

And some of the most important programs in the community are faith-based. As I said, the Catholic Charities, Habitat for Humanity, I mean, they've just done wonders, and a lot of that is because they feel they have a moral obligation that's fueled by their religious background to help others in need.

Mr. Lawrence: And many worry about the effectiveness of non-government organizations. What's been your experience about their effectiveness?

Ms. Sharma: I think they're very effective. I think they're more efficient, in many cases than the government because they don't have to go through so many levels of decision-making.

I know in my own volunteer center, we don't have a lot of discretionary funds, but with what we do have, we're able to add quickly. For instance, in a time of disaster, we can rally forces and really get to work quickly without having to go through a lot of layers of bureaucracy to get the work done. We're also right where the people are, and right where people are in need, and so we see what needs to be done and can respond immediately. We can convene people together, we can work at the very local and neighborhood levels to get things done.

Mr. Lawrence: Based on your experiences, helping to encourage and coordinate volunteer efforts through your volunteer center, what lessons have you learned that you could pass on to the Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives?

Ms. Sharma: Well, that motivation isn't enough. People need to be trained, people need to be managed. Just like in any job, people need to know what to do. They need to have somebody tell them what to do. If you just get a whole bunch of volunteers together and say, "Okay, fix the problem," well, that's fine, but that's going to take some time. People need direction, no matter what kind of work they doing. They need some kind of direction.

The worst thing you can do with a volunteer is not give them a clear sense of what needs to be done. We've learned through years and years of volunteer management, and this holds true regardless of what the task is and whether it's faith-based or not, that people need real jobs. They need a description of what the ultimate outcome is, so they'll know what's expected of them, so you don't have a lot of people just running in circles and not really accomplishing anything.

So I think it's just, you know, sensible management needs to be there in order to be effective.

Mr. Lawrence: Is there enough capacity in the faith-based organizations to handle as many cases or as many people as might be needed?

Ms. Sharma: I think there's the potential for that. I would think if you just said, okay, now, faith-based, it's up to you to solve all the problems in your community, that's a pretty tall order.

But if you give them some resources, so they can get the training and the capacity building, and also learning how to work with other organizations as some community building kind of work that's done, so that people can be effective; it's just like a business. I mean, whether you look at it as a nonprofit or a morally-based business, it's still a business, and you have to be able to have good business practices to get things done.

Mr. Lawrence: And my last question concerns just the kind of set-up they have. I mean, I know you described earlier many of the big faith-based organizations, but I think a whole lot of people have the perception the smaller ones are in fact small.

Do they have the infrastructure to handle this?

Ms. Sharma: Some do and some don't. It completely depends. I know that right down the street from us, there's a very small community development corporation that's run by one church, and they're just starting to do things at the very local level. But they're very organized, and they're doing a lot in the way of helping families who have gone through one crisis or another with substance abuse or whatever; a lot of problems.

But they're very organized, and they're very keen on knowing that you have to recruit volunteers who have some sense of direction and so forth. So yes, it can be done at the local level. There are also a lot of mentoring programs, certainly a lot of youth programs and after school programs that are run through churches and synagogues that are doing a very good job. So there's some excellent best practices out there and role models that can serve, you know, to help other organizations figure out what to do.

Mr. Lawrence: Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Janet.

Ms. Sharma: My pleasure.

Mr. Lawrence: This has been the Business of Government Hour, featuring a host of conversations with nationally known experts on faith-based initiatives. To learn more about our programs and research, visit us on the web at www.endowment.pwcglobal.com.

See you next week.

John Bartkowski interview
04/14/2001
John Bartkowski

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