Faith & Organizations Project

Faith Communities founded most of the nonprofits in the United States and play a key role in social welfare, health, education, and community development today.

Clarifying specifically religious aspects of the relationship between founding communities and their organizations and effective best practices are key concerns for faith based organizations and the religions that created them. The Faith and Organization project was created to provide communities, organizations, and policymakers with concrete information and targeted materials to address this issue.

Project Information

PROJect background
connections study

Connections Study



Maintaining Vital Connections Between Faith Communities and their Nonprofits

Connections Between Faith Communities and Their Nonprofits

Organizing Faith Based Services

Article discussing two models for organizing faith based social services: Institutional (Catholics, Jews, Muslims) and Congregational (Mainline Protestant, African American Christians, Peace Churches, Evangelicals) using pilot study findings for faith community and faith based organization leaders and researchers.



participating sites

Participating Religions & Denominations



Fellowship, worship, and service of African Americans is distinctive in the US because it has grown out of an experience of slavery and oppression. The Black Church has made its home within several Protestant denominations including Evangelical, mainline Protestant, and Pentecostal traditions. While the denominational affiliation influences worship style and what has been called in this project– “stewardship systems”, the Black Church tradition is more similar than not when it comes to outreach and service in the wider community. African Americans faced discrimination and exclusion from many “public” benefits such as education, political representation, and participation in economic opportunities and accordingly, many congregation-based programs continue to support these three broad areas. Thus despite differences in denomination and organizational approach, similarities among various African American include outreach which focuses on three broad areas: political action and advocacy; economic development and the uplift of the community, and education.

This study included five African American congregations and seven organizations within three Protestant denominations. The organizations comprised of two community development corporations, a public charter school, a Head Start program, a marriage education program, a human and economic development program, and an alternative education program for older, out of school, youth. Another distinctive observation which this study supported was the high level of connectedness that African Americans maintain between a congregation and the non-profit organization.



Educational, health care, and social service organizations are typically attached to the Catholic Church in one of two ways: by being supervised and supported either by a parish and/or diocese, or else by a religious order. Parish grade schools and some high schools are examples of the former, as are social service organizations functioning under the aegis of diocesan Catholic Charities. Other high schools, almost all Catholic colleges and universities, and Catholic hospitals have traditionally been funded, administered and supported by various religious orders. There is no single overarching governing body in the United States — or in the Vatican — that governs, coordinates, or finances Catholic FBOs beyond the level of the diocese or order.

This arrangement has changed somewhat in recent years. Many of the religious orders have declined in membership and are no longer able to administer, staff, or financially support their FBOs. The orders are experimenting with various “sponsorship” arrangements, whereby the largely lay boards of these organizations will be mentored and encouraged in the task of maintaining their religious identity and ethos. Catholic hospitals, which have consolidated across several different orders into large health care systems, are currently in the process of being certified by the Vatican as “Public Juridic Persons,” which would make the systems’ boards the new guarantors of their component hospitals’ religious identity in place of the founding orders.

The Faith and Organizations Project Connections study included a mix of diocesan-, parish- and order-sponsored organizations: two parish grade schools, the Catholic Charities in Washington DC and some of its component agencies, high schools run by two different religious orders, an order-run hospital and the larger health care system of which it was a part, and two order-run social service agencies. In addition, the Project studied two independent organizations, St. Ambrose Housing and Our Daily Bread, which were not formally connected with either a diocese/parish or a religious order, although both received much informal help from Catholic parishioners and religious order members.



Researchers have noted that it is difficult to describe the history of charitable action in the evangelical tradition, because in reality there are multiple histories. Evangelical Christianity is not a cohesive, organized body but a shifting canopy that covers many independent but like-minded groups. The Evangelical label encompasses an array of Protestant denominations and denominational branches, as well as independent churches. The Evangelical community additionally includes a number of national parachurch organizations that carry out specific functions across denominations or independently from denominations, including service organizations such as Prison Fellowship Ministries and international aid organizations such as World Vision. Ultimately, Evangelical affiliation is not a matter of institutional membership but theological and cultural orientation. This page includes an overview report on Evangelical strategies to support their non-profits and histories for most of the organizations that participated in the first phase of our study.

The Faith and Organizations project Connections study included two types of Evangelical organizations: 1) ministries founded by a single congregation, often still closely tied to that congregation and 2) organizations founded by lay persons with a spirit led commitment to address a particular issue founded independently of any congregation. This second type of organization relied on networks of people who shared to same religious vision for support, often drawing supporters through virtual networks using the internet and other mechanisms. The project included four organizations closely tied to congregations: a blessing room run out of a single congregation, several ministries affiliated with a Pentacostal church, a home school program affiliated with a single congregation and a large, multi-site Lutheran organization with support from both Missouri synod and ELCA Lutheran churches. Another school had started as a congregational project, but had split off and now relied on school parents for support. Two other organizations fit the second network model, including an urban center and a multi-site crisis pregnancy center.



Jewish communities in the U.S. organize support and guidance for their Faith Based Organizations at the community wide level, with Federations serving as umbrella organizations that centralize fundraising, planning, leadership development and sometimes other supports for that local community and its member non-profits. Synagogues and Temples are independent from the Federations, which usually serve as neutral institutions where Jews from all branches of Judaism and “cultural” Jews – people of Jewish descent who do not actively practice the religion, are encouraged to join together in support of the community. This page includes an overview report on Jewish strategies to support their non-profits and histories for organizations that participated in the first phase of our study.

The Faith and Organizations project Connections study included the Associated, Baltimore’s federation along with three of its member organizations (a hospital system, a community development corporation, and the Jewish Community Center) and a synagogue school that received some funding and other supports from the Federation. In the Washington DC metropolitan area, the project included two Federation member organizations: a senior services organization and a JCC. The project also included two organizations independent from the local Federation, a community development organization and a senior services organizations jointly sponsored by a synagogue and several local Mainline Protestant churches.



The Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) developed in England in the 17th century as an experiential religion which focused on members worshiping in silence to seek the will of God. Quakers have long believed that there is “that of God in everyone” and developed a wide range of organizations to promote social equity, address peace and justice issues and provide education to Quakers and others. Organizations generally start out as the “leading” of one or two people that are then tested and supported by their local worship community, called a Meeting. While Quaker organizations can form independently of Meetings, most start out “under the care” of either one Meeting or several Meetings. Occasionally, an organization is affiliated with a larger conference of Meetings, usually a Quarterly Meeting (a small group of Meetings that are geographically nearby gathering together four times a year) or the regional Yearly Meeting. Sometimes, organizations become independent of Meeting structures, but still remain tied to Friends by requiring that a percentage of their board be Quaker or using Quaker business practice. This page includes an overview report on Quaker strategies to support their non-profits and histories for organizations that participated in the first phase of our study.

The Faith and Organizations project Connections study included a mix of organizations, ranging from large, established organizations to small, younger organizations. These included one large Meeting that had founded a school and two senior services organizations, a second school under the care of a small Meeting, and a retirement community under the care of a Yearly Meeting. The project also included two Quaker organizations with no formal affiliation with Meetings — a regional American Friends Service Committee Office (AFSC) and a small crime victim’s services organization.