Author: Kenneth T. Andrews, Marshall Ganz, Matthew Baggetta, Hahrie Han, Chaeyoon Lim

Key Question: What explains varied levels of effectiveness amongst membership-based, grassroots environmental organizations?

Research Products: 


The goals of this project were threefold: description, explanation, and action. We described what the Sierra Club looks like at the chapter and group level by collecting and analyzing baseline data on local groups including their leadership, the extent of membership participation, and the effectiveness of their programs. Second, we identified key factors that could explain why some groups were more effective than others. Third, we engaged national, chapter, and local leaders in an organizational self-assessment that provided the basis for action.

The central research question asked why some local Sierra Club groups were more effective than others. We argued that group effectiveness must be examined using a multi-dimensional framework. Building on prior scholarship in the fields of organizational behavior, nonprofit organizations, social movements, and interest group politics, we assessed the effectiveness of Sierra Club groups and chapters along three major dimensions: (1) public influence, (2) engagement of membership in group activities, and (3) leadership development. 

Leadership: One predictor of group effectiveness may be the leaders themselves: how they do the relational work to sustain the engagement of members, their contribution to group motivation, or how they handle strategic choices. In addition, the background of group leaders including the skills and relationships from civic associations, congregations, other movements, and their occupations can be very consequential.

Organization: Group efficacy may also be related to organizational factors, including a group’s history, governing processes, leadership selection processes, collective identity, strategy, access to resources, and interaction with other organizational units.

Membership: Particular characteristics of a group’s membership itself may facilitate or constrain its effectiveness. These include attributes of the individuals involved in the organization, as well as aggregate characteristics of the membership as a whole – such as education, mobility, size, and geographical distribution.

Community: Some research suggests associations are most influenced by the broader context in which they operate: community demographics, political context, civic infrastructure, and environmental conditions. Our research design allows us to assess the impact that these factors have on group effectiveness.

Hahrie Han


Director of @SNFAgoraJHU, Professor of PolSci, Director of P3 Lab @JohnsHopkins. Studying organizing, movements, civic engagement, democracy. All views my own.