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Building Effective Cross-Sector Collaborations: A Learning Module from Harvard University on Faith-Based Collaboration



Building Effective Cross-Sector Collaborations: A Learning Module from Harvard University’s Executive Session on Faith-Based and Community Approaches to Urban Revitalization

In 2002, Harvard University’s Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations launched an Executive Session on Faith-based and Community Approaches to Urban Revitalization which contributes to FASTEN’s efforts to equip public administrators for effective collaboration with local faith-based communities.

An Executive Session is a process developed at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government that enables practitioners and academics to work together to find the best possible ways to describe and act on an important public problem. 

This Executive Session is an ongoing and cumulative dialogue since August 2002, among 30 of the nation’s most innovative mayors, faith-based and civic leaders. Drawing on the expertise of these practitioners, Harvard scholars have researched innovative practices and explored the central question: When and how do cross-sector partnerships (i.e., collaborations among government, civic and faith-based organizations) generate better solutions to community problems? 

For this learning module, the Executive Session has developed a set of resources to enhance faith community-city hall collaborations. We have grounded the resources in real-life leadership situations, presented here in a set of “living cases” which capture the innovative leadership of mayors and religious leaders in the process of its unfolding. These resources are organized around two key areas: (a) strategies for leadership; and (b) substantive policy areas.

Module Overview

This one page document provides a visual overview of the components of the learning module and how they relate to one another.

Executive Session Participants List

Find out who was part of the Executive Session on Faith-Based and Community Approaches to Urban Revitalization.

Leadership Strategies for Mayors

The resources in this section are aimed at answering key questions such as:

Ø    How and why do mayors engage with the faith community?

Ø    How do mayors shape collaborative efforts with faith-based organizations?

Ø    What strategies do mayors use in managing their relationships with faith-based organizations?

City Hall and Religion: When, Why and How to Lead, Stephen Goldsmith

This paper examines the work of several large-city mayors considered to be national leaders in the creation of successful collaborations with faith communities.  They include Mayors Manuel Diaz of Miami, Glenda Hood of Orlando, Patrick McCrory of Charlotte, Martin O’Malley of Baltimore, William Purcell of Nashville, Graham Richard of Fort Wayne, Indiana, R.T. Rybak of Minneapolis, and Anthony Williams of Washington, D.C.  The paper explores the types and purposes of mayoral/faith-based collaborations, and discusses some of the strategies used by mayors as well as some of the pitfalls they face.

Recommended Resource:
Mayoral Leadership on Faith Based and Community Resources Workshop, Report from the U.S.Conference of Mayors

This report summarizes the June 2003 workshop, which focused on the leadership roles and effective practices of mayors providing faith-based outreach in cities across the nation.  The workshop also examined the role of the mayoral designated faith-based liaisons in coordinating and facilitating these efforts for the mayors as well as the various partners involved such as the federal government, foundations and the private sector.

Leadership Strategies for Religious Leaders

The resources in this section are aimed at answering key questions such as:

Ø     How do religious leaders organize for partnership with mayors?

Ø     When and why do religious leaders engage in partnerships with city hall?

Ø     What are the key dilemmas?

Ø     How are different understandings of faith, politics, and power expressed and negotiated in partnerships?


Churches, City Hall, and Community Renewal, Brent Coffin

This case study focuses on the public ministry of Rev. Dr. Cheryl Sanders in the context of Washington, D.C.Mayor Anthony Williams' new interfaith council. The case explores questions of how a mayor chooses to structure a relationship with the faith community and how religious leaders are or are not able to work with public officials to frame issues they deem critical to their ongoing mission in urban neighborhoods.

Citizen Empowerment: Faith and Community Organizing (Executive Summary) Ronald Thiemann, Rev. John Heinemeier

This is an executive summary of a forthcoming paper that will raise new and provocative questions by analyzing the work of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), a national network of multi-ethnic and interfaith organizations operating primarily in poor and moderate-income neighborhoods in American cities.  The paper offers three vignettes from Pastor Heinemeier’s ministry to urban communities with the hope of lifting up the viewpoint of those who seek to create programs and initiatives through citizen empowerment and organizing.

Recommended Resource:
Perfect Fit or Shotgun Marriage? The Power and Pitfalls in Alliances of “Partnerships”, Xavier Briggs

Partnerships or strategic alliances allow us to tackle hard problems together and, when things go well, to "co-produce" solutions that no one party could produce on its own. Useful partners may bring money, materials, expertise, relationships, reputation, and other resources to help us accomplish things that matter to us--and, ideally, to our partners as well. Unfortunately, much available advice either celebrates partnership uncritically or focuses on just a small part of the landscape. The "Perfect Fit" tool shows how to ask--and answer--the four strategic questions that make or break partnerships.

Related Links:
Mayor’s Mentoring
Charlotte, NC
This website provides an overview of Mayor Patrick McCrory’s (
Charlotte, NC) Mentoring Alliance – a group of over 100 nonprofit organizations and corporations engaged in mentoring.

Baltimore Believe Campaign
Baltimore, MD
This website provide an overview of “Baltimore Rising,” Mayor O’Malley’s Youth Violence Reduction Initiative  Link is currently broken. 

Combined Jewish Philanthropies
Boston, MA
On this website you will find information about Combined jewish Philanthropies – the central fundraising and planning arm of Boston’s Jeiwsh community, supporting over 80 organizations about the world.

Policy Focus: Exploring Collaboration in Affordable Housing

The resources in this section are aimed at answering key questions such as:

Ø     How should the Mayor’s Office and faith leaders work to maximize opportunities and manage risks entailed in addressing housing issues collaboratively?

Ø     What kind of capacity do city governments and FBOs need to invest in in order for the partnerships to be effective?

Mayor Purcell and the Faith Community Confront Nashville’s Housing Needs, Xavier de Souza Briggs, Brent Coffin, Brady Banks

This case looks at the efforts by the Mayor's office and faith-based and secular affordable housing groups in Nashville. It emphasizes the distinctive histories and strategies of the players involved, as well as options for making a powerful impact on local housing needs.

Recommended resource:
Faith and Mortar: Religious Organizations and Affordable Housing Strategy in Urban
America, Xavier de Souza Briggs

This paper provides an overview of faith-based activity in affordable housing over the past 40 years, examines the comparative advantages and strategic roles of faith based organizations in this arena, and reviews strategies for increasing the effectiveness of faith-based players, religious leaders and mayors working to advance affordable housing agendas. 

Policy Focus: Exploring Collaboration in Mentoring

The resources in this section are aimed at answering key questions such as:

Ø     What are the unique capacities of the faith-based community in mentoring initiatives?

Ø     What are the challenges of taking a program to scale? How does this affect the nature and quality of the program?

Starting Amachi: The Elements and Operation of a Volunteer-Based Social Program, Howard Husock

This case written for the Executive Session by the Kennedy School of Government Case Program tells the story of the establishment of the Amachi program and raises a number of issues about operationalizing partnerships of a substantial scale.

Recommended Resource:
Moving Beyond the Walls: Faith and Justice Partnerships Working for High-Risk Youth

This report examines the development of partnerships among faith-based institutions and juvenile justice agencies in a national demonstration intended to provide mentoring, education and employment services to young people at high risk of future criminal behavior. Given the range of services–and the needs of the young people–collaborations are critical to the communities' efforts. The report addresses the following questions: Can small faith-based organizations work together effectively? Can they develop effective partnerships with juvenile justice institutions? What are the benefits and challenges of both types of partnerships?

Related Links:
Amachi Mentoring Program

On this website you will find information about Amachi – a mentoring program for children of the incarcerated, founded by Rev. Dr. Wilson Goode. (Philadelphia, PA)

Lawndale Christian Development Corporation

On this website you’ll find information about the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation, which focuses on holistic urban revitalization through economic empowerment, affordable housing, education and community advocacy. (Chicago, IL)

Partners in Education

On this website, you’ll find information about “Partners in Education,” – a nonprofit established by the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, which provides a tutoring program for 500 children from nearby Chicago Housing Authority Projects. (Chicago, IL)


On this website, you will find information about “Policylink” – a national nonprofit organization that focuses on research, capacity building, and advocacy around equity issues. (Oakland, CA)

What Do You Think?

We are eager to hear your thoughts pertaining to issues of cross-sector collaborations.

Ø     How can we increase the faith-based literacy of present and future public officials? Reply

Ø     What are the unique capacities that faith-based organizations bring to cross-sector collaborations? Reply

Ø     How can we develop the skills of religious leaders to engage in cross-sector partnerships in community problem solving? Reply

Ø     Are you aware of any key resources that address the above questions? Reply

Ø     Are you aware of any examples of effective and innovative cross-sector collaborations involving faith-based organizations? Reply












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