Organizers generally have a hard time explaining to outsiders what they do. Running the gamut from the glib “I’m a trouble maker”, to the dated “I’m like a union organizer but in the community”, to the quaint “I’m a community organizer”, to the inoffensive “I train leaders how to build organizations”, to the ingratiating “I work for a foundation”, the answers are generally unsatisfying to the inquiring audience.
If that’s a problem, what about how to name the new creations organizers organize?
Community organizations or CO’s? No. Most ventures are now larger in scale.
Broad based organizations or BBO’s? Sounds dangerously odiferous.
Citizens organizations? Most now include the undocumented.
How about IBCO’s (Institution Based Community Organizations)? Is that an abbreviation for chemicals in the West Virginia water supply?
I prefer Broad Based Community Organizations but BBCO’s doesn’t beat IBCO’s or BBO’s by more than a nose if at all. For the moment I’ll use IBCO’s because that’s what the only national studies of what the authors call "the field" use.
IBCO’s are a growing phenomenon by any measure. In 2012 Richard Wood and Brad Fulton place their numbers at about two hundred.
Their numbers like their moniker don't matter much. What does matter is what they have done, do now and may do in the future. Given their growth, geographic expansion and potential impact, that’s a question worth exploring.
Frank C. Pierson, Jr.
Frank Pierson retired after forty years of work with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) as a professional organizer. He began his career in 1971 in Chicago, moved to Queens, New York City and migrated west to work in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. He resides with his wife, Mary Ellen Kazda, in Oracle, Arizona. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org