It Takes a Village – But the Village Needs a Vision: The Role of the “Quarterback” Organization in Comprehensive Community Development

Nathalie Janson

This following paper explores what housing organizations can gain from engaging in partnership-driven forms of comprehensive community development. It specifically looks at housing and community development organizations that are acting as “quarterback” or “backbone” organizations for such initiatives, helping to assemble resources, guide the project’s vision and strategy, build and support relationships, and collect data. In contrast to traditional leadership models, working as a “quarterback” or “backbone” organization involves the facilitation, not the control, of an initiative. Although these lead organizations play a critical role in ensuring the sustainability of comprehensive community development initiatives, little research has been conducted about the challenges and opportunities that they face.

A case study methodology is used in order to understand the experience of housing and community development organizations working as “quarterback” or “backbone” organizations. The three organizations and initiatives that are studied vary in location, scope, institutional form, and focus. They include The Neighborhood Developers and Connect; The North East Community Action Corporation and the Tri-State Development Summit; and Little Tokyo Service Center CDC and Sustainable Little Tokyo. Together, the three case studies point to many of the opportunities and challenges that housing organizations face in acting as “quarterbacks” or “backbone” organizations in comprehensive community development initiatives.


Nathalie Janson was a 2015 recipient of the The Edward M. Gramlich Fellowship in Community and Economic Development, a fellowship is co-sponsored by JCHS and NeighborWorks®America.