The Assets Model of Community Development

The “assets model of community development,” as distinct from the “deficits model,” has really caught on in philanthropy in the last 30 years.  Articulated first by John McKnight at the Asset-Based Community Development Institute, the notion has increasingly made its way into grantmaking guidelines and community development design principles, thanks to intensive effort by the Institute and other activist knowledge workers. This publication offers my views on the assets model, as offered at the Mile High United Way in Denver in 1991.

Download The Assets Model of Community Development  (PDF)

Lessons for creating more effective philanthropy

The change in view from a deficits model to an assets one is essential for creating a more effective philanthropy. The assets model shifts us from thinking that people are broken and we need to fix them, to everyone and every community has assets that they can develop given the opportunity and the right support.

The assets view is a growth model.  It’s constructive, creative, and progressive. One can see everywhere that community development is successful. One can see it in the prospect of venture capital philanthropy, impact investing, and pay for success models of philanthropy.

Lessons for conducting program evaluation

Adoption of an assets view of programming allows for a shift in how we conduct program evaluation. Such a shift in view changes the goal of a project from need-reduction to asset development.  It therefore allows us to change how we evaluate, from choosing deficit-related criteria (“reduced mental illness,” or “reduced recidivism”) to asset-related criteria (“increased mental health,” or “increased reintegration.”

Lessons for upgrading nonprofit management

A shift in paradigm from a deficit view to an asset view allows a substantial change in how nonprofits manage their programs. If your people are ready and able to take things to the next level (and most of them are, given the opportunity), then pitch your project that way.  Tell your donors what you’re wanting to build, either for your client/stakeholders, or for your own organization – or better yet, both.

Lessons for supporting community development

Since the assets model is so “in” these days – and for good reason – it would be good to push your favorite community development program in that direction.  Help them fundraise with asset-building in mind.  Help them tweak their programming to be more asset-focused.  Help them focus on “building” more than “servicing.” It doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition; one can shift incrementally.  It’s more than reframing, it’s re-structuring the approach to the problem, enlarging the uses of money, and re-structuring “the deal.”

Download The Assets Model of Community Development  (PDF) , Steven E. Mayer, Ph.D., Rainbow Research, Inc, 1991

Post by Steven E. Mayer, Ph.D. / Effective Communities Project / October 9, 2018 / Revised November 7, 2021