Greater Boston Interfaith Organization Refounding (2020)

This report details the refounding campaign of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO). The campaign, beginning in 2019, aimed to bring in 10 to 20 new member institutions to GBIO by the end of 2020. Ultimately, GBIO brought in 18 new member institutions in early 2021.

Connecting across lines of religious difference is foundational for interfaith organizations. For interfaith organizations that are organizing around local issues, religious difference is just one set of lines that must be crossed in order to be impactful and sustainable. Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) is one such organization. 

GBIO’s Past

Since 1998, GBIO has worked “for the public good by coalescing, training, and organizing people across religious, racial, ethnic, class, and neighborhood lines” at the neighborhood, city, and state levels. GBIO’s mission is to “build power by developing local leaders so we can act together on issues that matter to our communities.”

The issues that matter to communities, the communities most impacted by those issues, and the leaders of those communities are continually changing. Any organization looking to build power to enact change for the public good must constantly reevaluate how to best meet this change. Nahma Nadich, a member of GBIO’s Strategy Team (GBIO’s version of a board of directors), explains that “any organization that thrives and survives and sustains itself is going to disorganize and reorganize all the time. It’s going to evolve and morph.” 

Like many such interfaith broad-based organizing institutions, GBIO is historically rooted in Christian and Jewish values. GBIO is affiliated with Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), the largest network of local faith- and community-based organizations whose mission states, “The work of the Industrial Areas Foundation flows directly from a commitment to the values embodied in our Abrahamic religious traditions and our democratic political traditions.”

 At the time of its founding, GBIO was composed of mostly white, and exclusively Christian and Jewish institutions; according to Nadich, “GBIO at some point was about one third Jews who were predominantly white, which obviously does not reflect Greater Boston.” Since its founding, GBIO has actively sought to have its member institutions and its leaders proportionally represent the demographics of Greater Boston—an ongoing effort: Nadich shares that GBIO has “gone through a few iterations of saying ‘We don’t look enough like Boston.’” GBIO leaders themselves recognize that GBIO membership has not been representative of Greater Boston, and as neighborhood demographics and community needs change, so too must GBIO. 

Though GBIO has become more religiously and ethnically diverse in its leadership and membership since its founding, GBIO recognizes that its leaders and members are still not fully representative of Greater Boston. And this mis-alignment means that their organizing impact suffers. This is particularly true around issues that disproportionately impact marginalized communities. GBIO noted that issues like immigration “do not reflect the self-interests of the people of GBIO deeply enough for us to effectively organize power. For example, Metro Boston is 19.1% Hispanic and 9.7% Asian. GBIO currently has 0 predominantly Latino and 0 predominantly Asian member organizations.”

Current Refounding Effort

At the GBIO 2019 delegates assembly, 100% of GBIO member institutions—and 141 of 150 delegates—voted to refound. Currently, GBIO has 41 member institutions. The major outcome of the refounding will be adding 10-20 new institutions to GBIO. This refounding effort commits more resources than ever before to making GBIO more representative of Boston and more embedded in the communities that are most impacted by the issues that GBIO campaigns on.

We made a commitment to not just make incremental changes, but to try to pause most of our external action and to make a concerted intentional effort to reach out to institutions and leaders of color in Boston and make sure that GBIO looked more like Greater Boston, which is the essence of the refounding work. [1]

To that end, GBIO determined that—at least during refounding—the primary work of its organizers and clergy leaders will be to build relationships with new institutions that reflect the diversity of Boston. These efforts include hiring organizers from non-Abrahamic traditions and leaning on leadership best connected to institutions and communities that are currently under-represented or not at all represented among GBIO’s membership. In particular, they are building relationships with institutions led by and representing communities of color and low to middle income families.

GBIO asks its members for leadership and investments beyond their financial dues: “You’re going to be on the core team and have people who are participating as facilitators and liaisons for GBIO. It’s not just like you send a check and you’re good.” Delegates from member institutions raise and ratify the issues that GBIO will address, and elect the strategy team and two strategy team co-chairs. Strategy team members are leaders from member organizations, elected to serve three-year terms. The strategy team authorizes new issue campaigns, raised by the delegates, reviews campaign progress, attends to the financial and organizational aspects of GBIO, and hires a Lead organizer. 

This structure ensures that members are represented in all of the major decision making processes throughout the organization. The addition of new member institutions will enable leaders from those communities to do more than just provide their opinions; more importantly, they will be constitutive members of GBIO and at the center of setting future priorities and strategies of engagement.

GBIO’s Future

Though GBIO is working on a healthcare campaign alongside its refounding effort, the relative suspension of external action has allowed current member organizations and leaders to focus on training, leadership development, and local action. Pausing most external action until the refounding campaign is complete will allow new members to immediately shape the direction of GBIO upon joining. According to Nadich,  “A major part of the conversation on refounding was, if we are successful, if we bring in new institutions, they’re not going to join a train that’s left the station. That means that we have to be open to new leaders shaping the direction of the organization, deciding what campaigns we have.” The leadership structure of GBIO combined with the temporary suspension of most external action creates the conditions for increased representation that will result in substantive transformation in the direction of campaigns and allocation of resources. 

The internal decision making processes allow for issue and leadership decisions to emerge directly from the members. Combined with the choice to bring new members in before determining the next campaigns, GBIO is making space for an acute but structured transformation of what the priorities of GBIO are and who the leaders will be to meet those priorities. In this way, intentionally expanding their membership transforms GBIO’s ability to effectively organize power. 

For GBIO, relationships are at the core of building and sustaining power. In refounding, GBIO is effectuating an encounter of commitment and mobilization of power across lines of difference through what Nadich calls “the thickness of relationship”: “What you want and ideally work for is people having the thickness of relationships that make them committed to working for things that matter to people that they are in relationship with even if they’re not affected in their own organization.” GBIO’s refounding demonstrates the self-reflective work, commitment to relationship, and vision that is essential to the ongoing process of pluralistic encounter.

For more information, please read our profile of GBIO.  

[1] Nommi Nadich, GBIO Board Member. Interview conducted by Jimmy O'Leary on August 4, 2020.