Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Sociology
Why are some local, voluntary groups more effective than others at achieving the goals for which they were founded? The majority of research on the effectiveness of organizations in the voluntary sector has studied large, incorporated, nonprofit organizations that operate at the regional or national level or with local chapters tied to a national organization. Thus, knowledge of the non-federated, small, local voluntary groups that undergird civil society in towns and cities across the country is extremely limited. I add to this limited research base by studying a particularly vibrant form of local, voluntary group – community gardens – in Greenridge, a mid-sized, Southeastern city. Drawing on data from over 100 in-depth interviews, content analysis of group documents, and group site visits, I examined how different forms of group capacity relate to group goal attainment, specifically material resources, internal group structure, sociopolitical legitimacy, and participation.
Analyses revealed that, although theorized to boost organizational effectiveness, sociopolitical legitimacy and material resources did not account for differential group goal attainment due to the institutionally supportive and resource-rich environment for community garden groups in Greenridge at the time of the study. Through an examination of the broader context surrounding community garden group establishment in Greenridge in the last decade, I show how a convergence of certain conditions can create resource-rich organizational environments that challenge the assumption of competitiveness underlying much of the work in social movements and organizational sociology. Moreover, I show that only when a local, voluntary group has a leader with the knowledge and skill to mobilize a participant base to capitalize on favorable conditions does a resource-rich environment contribute to the likelihood of group goal attainment. In doing so, I support recent work that brings leadership and leader development to the forefront of analysis in social movements and the study of civic associations.