The Importance of Community Development
Strong Links Make Strong Chains
We’ve all heard the cliche: a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. At Friday, we believe that every link – every human – holds authentic strengths and lived experiences that have the potential to enrich the entire community. Effective community development intentionally taps into that potential, building opportunities to catalyze meaningful relationships and equitable prosperity.
Explore the following sections to learn how community development – when executed through a DEI lens, in the context of education and economic opportunity, and by thoughtful strategies – can help every person feel more connected and engaged at home:
What is Community Development?
Community development is a member-led process that seeks to improve the lives of individuals and the groups they form. Community development organizations contribute to this process in three ways:
- Provide the resources needed to identify and evaluate important issues affecting the community.
- Coordinate community and neighborhood members and the right corporate and philanthropic support to facilitate human-designed programs.
- Amplify community voices across the most effective channels and advocate for the right policy improvements.
To produce the most equitable outcomes, community development must be supported – but not driven – by community foundations or similar types of agencies.
DEI and ABCD: Effective Community Development Strategies
Successful community development requires an intersectional approach that mobilizes neighbors, business leaders, policymakers, and philanthropists and allocates resources where they will create the deepest impact.
However, leaders must ground this work in a fierce commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion at every level – from the exploration of ideas for community development to the metrics used to evaluate a project’s success.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)-driven community development often takes a strength-based approach. Instead of focusing on what a community is missing and seeking to repair the insufficiencies, strength-based community development, such as Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) builds upon the existing skills and knowledge of community members to accelerate progress.
ABCD seeks to discover and enhance a community’s existing assets (physical spaces, knowledge and skills, local associations and groups, financial resources) to address its complex challenges. Placemaking – or developing shared creative, social, or recreational physical spaces to support the needs of community members – reflects the principles of ABCD.
Though a holistic community development strategy (a service offered by social impact consulting agencies like Friday) can be an important first step to community development efforts, it’s not technically community development on its own. Again, member-led issue identification, action, and ongoing evaluation – rather than the action led by agencies – are key determinants of equitable outcomes.
The Purpose of Community Development
Economic Benefits of Community Development
- Expanded awareness of existing resources and economic opportunities (education, financial literacy, housing, childcare, etc.)
- Increased interest from investors
- Job growth and increased entrepreneurship
Systemic Benefits of Community Development
- Strategic continuity between community services and initiatives within those services
- Identification and reduction of duplicate efforts and inefficiencies
- Establishment of measurement frameworks to gauge success and guide optimizations for continuous long-term improvement
Physical Benefits of Community Development
- Improved physical well-being connected to more accessible, affordable recreational opportunities
- Broader awareness and access to health supports (food assistance, physical and mental health services, etc.)
- Increased physical safety resulting from decreased crime rates
Emotional Benefits of Community Development
- Greater sense of empowerment to control one’s destiny
- Improved connectedness and belonging to one’s community as a whole
- Stronger perception of trust and safety
5 Types of Community Development
Equitable community development aims to remove barriers to prosperity for the individuals and families who fill neighborhoods, run businesses, and give each other purpose. Here are some tactics and focus areas community development organizations and foundations can explore to further that goal.
#1: Virtual Community Development
Community development can be tied to both specific geographical locations (cities or neighborhoods) and virtual communities (Facebook groups, hashtags). Using a virtual communication strategy is a widely accessible way to promote available services and social events within large community development strategies and individual initiatives.
#2: Developing Community Reentry
Every family has members who are walking through complex, often isolating reentry journeys. Whether from prison, houselessness, or addiction, community development organizations that elevate and plan for the reentry experience build safety and resilience into the neighborhoods and workforces they serve.
#3: Building Community For Play
Whether they are toddlers or great-grandparents, every community member needs and deserves a place to find respite from the stressful day-to-day. Playgrounds, public libraries, walking trails, community centers, sports leagues, and mentorship programs provide opportunities for safe, inspiring, and fun intergenerational recreation.
#4: Housing and Community Development
Both rural and urban communities experience varying levels of extreme poverty and homelessness, making housing availability and affordability an integral community development focus. Community development organizations addressing social structures that inhibit or create equitable access to stable housing make their communities safer places for everyone.
#5: Community Development Through Advocacy and Education
Whether it’s mobilizing for environmental justice or affordable family services, community development organizations that integrate the power of organizational strategy, storytelling, and programming can educate key decision-makers and advance community member-driven policies at every level of government.
6 Conditions of Community Development
At Friday, we believe a healthy community development strategy is characterized by six conditions, each working in congruence with the others.
#1: Vision & Story
- How We Define It: A shared identity and vision for a more prosperous future
- Why It Matters: When residents have a shared understanding of what makes their community special, what is worth protecting, and what needs to change, they can tell their stories from a place of actionable hope, rather than scarcity and fatalism.
- Who Inspires Us: Community Heart & Soul, City Nation Place
#2: Engagement & Participation
- How We Define It: Connections to people, place, and culture
- Why It Matters: Building relationships with one another and the places we call home combats loneliness, increases civic engagement, and builds a culture of belonging.
- Who Inspires Us: IndyHub, Points of Light, Weave: The Social Fabric Project
#3: Talent & Leadership
- How We Define It: Development, attraction, and retention of critical talent
- Why It Matters: Investing in the knowledge and skills of residents allows communities to promote economic mobility, meet the workforce needs of local businesses, and capitalize on new opportunities from one generation to the next.
- Who Inspires Us: JobsFirstNYC, Kapor Center, UMN Making it Home
#4: Equity & Opportunity
- How We Define It: Diverse and inclusive communities with opportunities for all
- Why It Matters: By working to ensure every citizen is heard, valued, and celebrated for their unique experiences and heritage, communities can challenge biases, break down structural inequities, and build a culture of respect across lines of difference.
- Who Inspires Us: Coming Clean, National Urban League
#5: Health & Safety
- How We Define It: A compassionate safety net effectively driving social mobility
- Why It Matters: Supporting those in need and creating avenues for them to provide for their families builds a foundation of compassion critical to a community’s ongoing health and safety.
- Who Inspires Us: Children’s Institute, Tipping Point
#6: Business & Infrastructure
- How We Define It: A resilient economy and business community
- Why It Matters: Thriving businesses generate jobs that provide both purpose and prosperity, invest back into their communities, and create hubs of tourism and culture.
- Who Inspires Us: Main Street America, Rise of the Rest Initiative
We believe that organizations equipping communities to strengthen these six conditions will successfully leverage funds and build momentum that changes the trajectory of their community’s future.
Stewarding Prosperity And Joy In Every Community
Everyone wants to live where they’re excited to do business, comfortable raising their kids, and proud to call home. If your organization or foundation is ready to turn these universal aspirations into equitable realities, learn how our multidisciplinary team of strategists, creatives, and program designers can move your vision FORWARD.