A community organizer is someone who works to empower a community of individuals, such as the residents of a specific area, low-income citizens of a city, people who suffer from a particular illness, or individuals who work in a specific field. Many community organizers focus on low to moderate income individuals, and they have an interest in social justice issues. The goal of most community organizers is to get a community to work together to achieve a common desire, whether that desire is something like municipal garbage collection, the right to vote, or unionization.
Most community organizers belong to organizations or churches. For example, many Quaker churches have outreach programs which include community organizers. A community organizer works in the office to gather information about the community and to collect data which could be useful, and he or she also works in the streets, talking directly with members of the community, organizing meetings, and promoting community empowerment. Ideally, a community organizer wants to turn responsibility over to members of the community: he or she is just there to get the ball rolling.
Community organizers also network with a wide range of organizations. For example, a community organizer working with low-income HIV/AIDS patients might work with the Department of Public Health and social services agencies to get more care and services to people who need them. Community organizers are often skilled diplomats, as they must represent the views of the community they are supporting to government agencies and other local groups.
Many cities have a long history of community organizing, and community organizing is often a vital part of civil rights movements. Community organizing is hard work. Not all members of a community are open to being organized and encouraged to speak for themselves as a collective, and therefore a great deal of field work, often door-to-door, is involved. Community organizers must get a community mobilized and fired up about a cause and keep the community focused.
No formal training is required to be a community organizer. Most community organizers come from a background of study in social justice issues, social services, and sociology, and an interest in promoting safe, healthy, happy communities definitely helps. Many organizations which do community organizing offer training which includes workbooks and mentoring for people who want to become community organizers, and many community organizers start out as volunteers in such organizations, getting the lay of the land before they start their own careers.
Community organizing is also not terribly profitable. Community organizers rely on income from grant money and donations to support their work, and their pay is often minimal. The reward for a community organizer is watching a community develop the tools it needs to take charge.