Understanding Your Social Agency


Armand Lauffer

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  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Dedication

    To Tohar and Yoav, and to Advah and Moshe for whom the pursuit of understanding is an ongoing adventure


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    List of Chapter Exercises



    Mary ParkerFollett
    A Social Work and Management Pioneer

    I've written this book with Mary Parker Follett in mind. Her insights and wisdom both preceded and complement many of the concepts described in Understanding Your Social Agency.

    Mary Parker Follett (1868–1933), an activist, educator, community developer, and social philosopher, was also the first American woman to author a management text (1924). Her lectures were collected and published posthumously in two volumes (1941 and 1949).

    Follett's work put the emphasis on individual contributions to the enterprise and on teamwork for effective decision making. A moralist, she found evil in nonrelationship and indifference. In her management lectures, she challenged the conventional wisdom that emphasized top-down authority and linear thinking, to champion process and interpersonal collaboration. Her insights into the relationship between experience and application anticipated the concept of learning organizations and postmodern theories of management.

    She took great pleasure in diversity, and saw difference as contributing to community and organizational wholeness. Enthralled by America's vibrant voluntary and civic institutions, she was convinced that the growth of democracy, though fragile, is an inevitable force for good. It nurtures the human spirit.

    Some representative quotes:

    “It seems to me that whereas power usually means power-over … it is possible to develop the conception of power with, a jointly developed power, a co-active, not coercive power.” (1949, p. 213)

    “By directly interacting with one another to achieve their common goals, the members of a group fulfill themselves through the process of the group's development.” (1924, pp. 136–137)

    “Democracy is an infinitely including spirit. We have an instinct for democracy because we have an instinct for wholeness; we get wholeness only through reciprocal relations, through infinitely expanding reciprocal relations.” (1918, p. 157)

    “All polishing is done by friction.” (1941, p. 2)

    We'll revisit her wisdom in several of the chapters that follow.

    Books by Mary Parker Follett
    Follett, M. P. (1918). The new state: Group organization: The solution for popular government. New York: Longmans, Green. Available online at http://sunsite.utk.edu/FINS/Mary_Parker_Follett/Fins-MPF-01.html.
    Follett, M. P. (1924). Creative experience. New York: Longmans, Green.
    Follett, M. P. (1941). Dynamic administration: The collected papers of Mary Parker Follett (H.Metcalf & L.Urwick, Eds.). London: Pittman.
    Follett, M. P. (1949). Freedom and coordination: Lectures in business organization (L.Urwick, Ed.). London: Management Publications Trust.
    Books and Articles about Mary Parker Follett
    Davis, A. M. (1997). Liquid leadership: The wisdom of Mary Parker Follett (1868–1933). A Leadership Journal: Women in Leadership-Sharing the Vision, 2(1). Available online at http://sunsite.utk.edu/FINS/Mary_Parker_Follett/Fins-MPF-03.txt.
    Graham, P. (1995). Mary Parker Follett: Prophet of management. Boston: Harvard Business School.
    Quant, J. B. (1970). Mary Parker Follett: From small town to great community: The social thought of progressive intellectuals. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
    Tonn, J. C. (2003). Mary P. Follett: Creating democracy, transforming management. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

    Introduction and Acknowledgments: Being in Control: How to Read and Use This Book

    Understanding Your Social Agency and other Organizations

    If you are employed as a paid staff member or volunteer in the human services, chances are that most of your work time is spent within an organizational context or shaped by it. The context may be that of a social agency, a hospital, a school, or some other organization that provides, advocates for, or plans human services.

    These are all formal organizations and often complex ones. They are bound together by their missions, technologies, formal rules and informal norms, operating procedures, authority structures, and patterns of relating to consumers and other important publics. You are undoubtedly a member, customer, client, and perhaps even a “victim” of many formal organizations. From birth to death (and some say beyond), you live in an environment in which organizations contribute to who you are and who you can become.

    At work, you may play a wide variety of occupational roles, and participate in many groups, some of them permanent, others of short duration. Many roles are performed entirely within your job setting; others cut across many settings. Both the work and the setting contribute to the way you and others see you. They help define your personal and occupational identity. So gaining a better understanding of organizations can be useful to you in surviving and thriving within your social agency. It can also help you make your social agency into a better place for your colleagues, and for the volunteers, clients, and others affected by the agency.

    Social agencies are purposive organizations—deliberately constructed to achieve certain goals or to perform tasks and conduct programs that might not be as effectively or efficiently performed by individuals or informal groups. But agencies are also political organizations—responsive to the interests of such stakeholders as donors, regulators, powerful community groups, organized consumers, and their own managers and staff members. Each of those publics may understand your agency differently and impose disparate expectations on it, expectations that may stem from their own needs or interests.

    Being in Control of What You See and What You Do

    Think of this book as providing you with a complex of lenses that you can use for looking at a social agency from the outside in, and from the inside out. These lenses are drawn primarily from the social and behavioral sciences and from the experiences of talented managers and practitioners.

    For some readers, Understanding Your Social Agency may be a first exposure to organizational theory. However, the book is not really about organizational theory, per se. It is about how to apply organizational theories to challenges you confront at work, and to uncover other challenges you may not yet be aware of.

    Understanding Your Social Agency is divided into 10 chapters. Part I introduces you to the historic and social contexts within which American social agencies became what they are today and to the practice theories and scientific concepts that can be used to better understand your agency. Parts II and III address specific concerns ranging from improving performance and satisfaction at work, to working with boards, volunteers, partner agencies, and funders. Chapters 2 through 10 include vignettes taken from a variety of situations. They were included to illustrate many of the challenges you and your colleagues face at work. They furnish concrete references for the theoretical materials presented.

    To provide some continuity in the storyline I have consolidated experiences from multiple settings into two composite agencies: All-Families, a multiservices center, and ViVa, a women's cooperative serving minority communities. The issues addressed in each chapter and tools presented can be read in any order. For example, if your current interest is in the relationships between jobs and careers, there would be no reason not to begin with Chapter 5. Each chapter can be read on its own, in any order, and its tools applied to your own situation. Use the references to connect to other chapters that address complementary issues.

    No need to wait until you've read the entire book to make use of what you know. You are in charge of your own learning.

    How to Read This Book—Some Suggestions for Increasing Your Control

    Over the years, I've found that I can get more out of a professional book if I ready myself to read it. Here's what I suggest:

    Take a Quick Tour

    The best way to prepare, I've found, is to check out what I might find useful. Based on my own experiences and those of others, here's a 30- to 60-minute quick tour I recommend:

    • Look over the chapter titles.
    • One chapter at a time, read over the introductory page or pages and the concluding exercises. This should give you a sense of what will be covered and how you may be able to use it.
    • Then jot down the questions you'd like answered in those chapters that interest you the most.
    • To be sure you've covered all the bases, survey the book's appendix to see if the book covers additional issues of interest.
    As You Read
    • Look for answers to your questions.
    • Jot down any additional questions that occur to you and refer to them periodically. If you don't find the answers in one chapter, you might find them in another.
    • Complete the exercises. These might also lead you to some answers as well as to new questions.
    On Completing the Book
    • Reexamine and update your questions. Did you find some of the answers you were looking for? How can you apply them? What do you want to know more about?
    • Create your own personal learning inventory for the future. Within the context of Understanding Your Social Agency, what else do you want to learn about or learn to do?
    • Using the reference sections, identify some potential sources of information.
    • Using the Internet and your preferred search engines, seek online resources that might be helpful.
    • Consider how you might design additional exercises (or redesign those currently in the book) to better achieve your learning goals.

    For the original idea of the book, I owe thanks to Professor Beth Reed, whose team of faculty and students developed training materials to orient the employees of a new complex of social agencies mandated by the State of Michigan Governor's Office. Contributors to that effort included Matt Lampe, Lynn Nybell, Carla Overberger, and Lawrence Zeff. Understanding Your Social Agency was first published in 1977 as one of the initial volumes in the Sage Human Services Guides series, published in collaboration with the University of Michigan Program for Continuation Education in the Human Services. The “continuing education” and practitioner orientation of the original materials continues to inform the current edition.

    Over the years, colleagues—students and faculty at the University of Michigan—made numerous suggestions for updating and expanding the book. Among them were Steve Burghardt, Cheryl Hyde, Eugene Litwak, John Tropman, Diane Vinokur, and Meyer Zald. Several Sage editors saw this and earlier editions through a number of iterations. For the concepts, conceptual frameworks, and theories described and applied in the book, I am indebted to the thousands of scientists and practitioners whose work is distilled in its pages.

    For their insightful suggestions and support over the years, I want to thank members of the Sage Publications editorial team: Mitch Allen, Kassie Graves, Terry Hendrix, and Jim Nageotte. Several reviewers made helpful suggestions on the first draft of this edition. Among them were Adele Sanders, Nancy Francisco Stewart, and John Whelley Copy editor Taryn Bigelow was more than generous with her time and suggestions. Rickie Lauffer not only tolerated my periodic disappearances as I worked on the text, but actually read and commented on it as it went through several iterations.

    ArmandLauffer, Jerusalem
  • Epilogue

    The board asked Carl to serve as interim director of All-Families while the executive search continued. With Harvey and Yolanda having left for other positions, and Millicent wavering between All-Families and Catholic Social Services, the agency had still not replaced Bill. I must have seemed like a safe bet, Carl assumed. He'd planned to stay on, for a few years anyway, to help in the transition to a new management team. To his own surprise, Carl's style was just what the staff and the board needed. He gave them what Bill had always expected from him as the agency's financial planner—clarity about the options and the probable costs and benefits of making one choice over another. When Millicent announced that she was taking the Catholic Social Services job, Gracia Mendoza approached Carl to ask if he'd accept a 3-year appointment as the exec. “We appreciate the clarity of your presentations and your respect for our opinions,” she said. “I'd be honored.” he replied.

    When the 3 years were up, Gracia approached him again. “Would you be interested in continuing on for another 3-year appointment?” she asked.

    Millicent became director of Catholic Social Services just weeks after the start of the U.S. housing crisis in 2008. “It might seem like a bad time to bring in a new director,” she told members of the board, “but it's a great time to be in the people-helping business.” Within weeks, she'd met with key members of the clergy and laity of the archdiocese. There's not much room to cut, but we can consolidate some services and activate parish members to provide volunteer help, she realized. And we can think more creatively. Within months, the archdiocese, with Catholic Charities, had created a number of new initiatives.

    One was a Housing Emergency Loan Program (HELP), set up to take advantage of federal loan guarantees. It also built on years of close work between the Church and local banks. The agency also promoted development of a Consolidated Archdiocese Food Enterprise (CAFÉ). As in Latin American villages, Millicent reflected, we build on strength, refuse to succumb to despair, and change the realities as best we can. It takes a lot of faith, she realized. Faith-based programs may be all about faith in people, she reflected. And given the slowness of the recovery, maybe that's a good thing!

    Bill continued teaching courses at the college. Once, when an agency in a nearby state found itself without an executive, Bill was asked if he'd take the position for a 3-month stint “to hold things together.” He took it on, it, but he did not much like it. He found that it interfered with his private time, which he had come to value, and with his part-time teaching at the college, which he loved. He still met periodically with Carl, who was now directing All-Families, but politely refused invitations to come to board meetings, unless it was at Carl's request.

    “I know this may sound weird, coming from me,” Harvey confided to his wife, Cindi. “Since I've been with the foundation, I've been on the lookout for agencies that need help in pulling themselves together. Do you think I'm becoming a gatherer instead of a hunter?” “No,” she responded. “I think you've shifted your role from community organizer to clinician!” “You're probably right,” Harvey laughed. Later, in reflecting on the conversation, Harvey considered that he and Cindi were both a bit off the mark. Helping agencies assess and accept their realities does not preclude getting to act on and change those realities, he realized. Millicent would probably have said that it sometimes takes community organizing to be a good clinician and to be a good community organizer takes more than a little clinical skill.

    Now, 15 years after coming to All-Families, Sam still felt a bit unsure. I guess I'll never stop being something of an outsider. I was one in Lebanon and I am here … even in All-Families, he admitted to himself. Taking over as assistant director of the agency for community programs did not appear to dispel those feelings. But being something of an outsider gives you another perspective. In America, we're all outsiders—no matter how many generations ago our ancestors immigrated. Maybe that's why All-Families has been able to change with the times. As we become more and more multicultural, we've become more and more American.

    Ali had completed her BA degree over several years. She decided not to continue on for an MSW, but did go on to earn an MPH (Master's of Public Health). She now worked as a training coordinator at the County Health Department. “I needed to break from where I'd been,” Ali confided to Millicent. “I guess, maybe, it was my way of going through a similar journey to yours. You were always encouraging. But more than that, you were my role model.” Whether or not she was aware of it, Ali had become a role model for many of the students who interned at the agency. Her office door was always open. “Tea or Coffee?” a sign next to the hot water jug near her desk read, “Help yourself!”

    There was never enough money or enough time,Yolanda reflected, but we've had a lot of successes. An inventory of specific ViVa accomplishments, like the creation of a volunteer-run new immigrant referral service, and the annual fundraising fair now in its fourth year, would have been impressive enough. But what pleased Yolanda the most was what one of her board members had reported at an annual meeting that “Despite the hard times, we had more people at the fair and made more money than last year. But that's not the way we should measure our success. The real measure is whether what we accomplished has increased our ability to be successful in the next challenge!” Success, Yolanda realized, can be empowering!

    Neither Zingermann's nor Stonyfield Farm is a social agency, but they do support and work with social agency programs. Zingermann's Deli in Ann Arbor opened up a new restaurant, established a bakery, and initiated a catering service and several other local enterprises. But the firm resisted offers to franchise in other communities. “We like being part of and growing with our own community, contributing to its well-being. We get lots more in return,” one of Zingermann's owners explained at a community service award dinner. “See, we didn't even have to cater this dinner!”

    Stonyfield Farm continues to produce a premium yogurt, support local community development, and promote organic farming. The firm sets aside 10 percent of its profits for environmental causes supported by its Profits for the Planet program. It established CROPP cooperatives that coordinate the marketing of milk from dairy farmers in New England and the Midwest. In 2006, Stonyfield launched its Les 2 Vaches (The 2 Cows) brand in France, and expanded to Quebec a year later.

    About the Author

    Armand Lauffer's books are widely read. Since Community Organizers and Social Planners appeared in 1972, he has authored 20 books and edited two anthologies on organizations, community practice, training, fundraising, continuing education and staff development, and management in nonprofit organizations. Understanding Your Social Agency has been continuously in print since 1977. The current edition is much expanded. It draws on both classic and contemporary practice and theory to provide users with hands-on tools for understanding their social agencies and improving their performance.

    A series editor for Sage since 1977, his books have been published by a number of firms, among them Sage, John Wiley, McGraw-Hill, Prentice Hall, and the Free Press.

    A cofounder of ACOSA (the Association for Community Organization & Social Administration), Lauffer pioneered the establishment of a number of professional associations and academic units, both at the University of Michigan, from which he retired in 2001, and abroad. His consultative work on nonprofit management, community organizing, and fundraising have taken him across North America, Israel, Europe, and the former Soviet Union. He currently makes his home in Jerusalem.

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