Community Development and Community Organizing

How Community Development and Community Organizing Work Together  As a change-maker, you’ve probably run into the phrases “community development” and “community organizing” many times. But did you know that these two concepts work together for mutual benefit? Today, we want to give you an overview of the key points you should know about these two […]

How Community Development and Community Organizing Work Together 

As a change-maker, you’ve probably run into the phrases “community development” and “community organizing” many times. But did you know that these two concepts work together for mutual benefit? Today, we want to give you an overview of the key points you should know about these two ideas. We’ll go over core differences between development and organizing and show you how they interact to bolster one another. 

What is Community Development

Community Development is a place-based, solutions-oriented approach to improving quality of life in a geographically defined area. It seeks to end present inequities, not just alleviate their effects. Typically, Community Development focuses on systems and environments that create injustice and poverty.  

Community Development looks for integrated, multi-faceted interventions. Since poverty is expressed in complex and unique ways in each community, it relies heavily on partnership and local buy-in. It’s impossible to reduce poverty on the whole by focusing only on one “issue.” A comprehensive, strengths-based approach is key. Common focus areas include: housing, environmental safety, economic development, access to services, and more. 

Read more about Community Development Here.

What is Community Organizing

Community Organizing is a way of engaging and empowering people with the purpose of increasing their influence in policy-making and decisions that affect their lives. Usually, Community Organizing activates members of historically underrepresented groups and enables them to act collectively for their own shared interests.

The end goal of Community Organizing often includes redistributing decision-making power, specifically making sure that the marginalized group has a voice in policies and actions that affect them before they come into effect. To generate this collective power, Community Organizing assumes that public conflict and struggle with institutions are essential and strategic. 

Community Development vs. Community Organizing 

We’re sure you’ve already noticed some differences between Community Development and Community Organizing approaches while reading these snapshots! It’s important to note that these two approaches complement each other. When both Community Development and Community Organizing occur in the same area, the neighborhood can achieve accelerated results. 

Key Similarities

Both Community Development and Community Organizing share the same goal: rectifying systemic injustice to improve the lives of people who are often marginalized. Both approaches focus on local, geographically defined action. Within a defined space, both Community Development and Community Organizing build partnerships with neighbors and rely on their voices to guide action. Perhaps most importantly, both of these approaches look for long-term solutions to injustice by reshaping systems and structures. Each of these approaches creates more opportunities for a neighborhood to thrive!

Key Differences

Community Organizing and Community Development complement each other because they differ in a couple of ways. Most strikingly, they take near-opposite approaches to conflict. Community Organizing assumes that conflict, especially with governments and institutions, is productive and essential for making change. At times, Community Organizers will mobilize around issues or events that will generate some controversy, in part to reach more people and garner influence. Community Development, in general, will take a more collaborative approach across various sectors, building consensus whenever possible. Most Community Development approaches do not require conflict. Both of these approaches are good! Organizing can create change by applying pressure to systems; development reshapes or recreates them within a local ecosystem. 

Because of this collaborative, cross-functional approach, Community Development tends to act on many aspects of neighborhood life all at once. It’s common for a development organization to be working on housing, access to services, education, all at the same time. Community Organizing often publicly draws attention to a more specific and defined area of change. 

Lastly, Community Development models tend to be organization-driven. Most often, Community Development efforts center on a nonprofit, NGO, or institution. As such, Community Development work tends to involve many professionals across organizational levels. Community Organizing tends to focus more on grassroots initiatives, gathering individuals to act in concert together. 

These two models differ in other ways, but those are some of the most prescient ones for our work here in Historic South Atlanta! 

How Community Development and Community Organizing Work Together 

In short: Community Development is not possible without some level of Community Organizing. This is especially true for Holistic Neighborhood Development (HND), which relies on strong relationships with neighbors. In fact, we recommend every Change-maker spend some time knocking on doors, pulling together focus groups of neighbors, and defining shared action goals and action plans before ever starting a Community Development program! Such activities are fundamental to Community Organizing. 

The reliance on Community Organizing continues as HND takes off. We recommend gathering neighbors regularly to evaluate how your program is going. And of course, sometimes (oftentimes) system-level change requires both philosophies around conflict: pressure and collaboration. Organized neighbors lifting their voices and advocating for structural change can pave the way for a Community Development organization to make inroads with the powers-that-be to make those changes real.


As Community Developers, we know that Community Organizers are our cousins and allies when it comes to making change. Just as we need a holistic approach in our development work, we need a holistic approach to making structural change that will eradicate injustice. Thankfully, a fundamental of Community Development is seeking partnerships! We don’t have to be experts at all things; that’s why building coalitions matters so much.

We hope this article has helped you better understand what Community Organizers in your neighborhood are up to. And we definitely hope you’re walking away with some ideas with how you could strike up a conversation about working together.