Evaluating Advocacy, de nuevo

It’s “update” week at Classroom to Capitol.

As I read through previous posts for my summer maternity break hiatus, I found a few that I really wanted to revisit, rather than repost. This is the last of the three that I have chosen for this week, with new thoughts and, of course, new questions.

One of my academic interests over the past couple of years has related to questions of how we evaluate advocacy efforts: How do we know advocacy “success”, short of absolute policy change, so that we can build on it? How can we assess organizational capacity for advocacy (to have a better sense of who will succeed, and also to know where to invest)? What kinds of interim goals should form part of an advocacy strategy, and what kinds of benchmark measures should mark our progress?

Over the past year, I’ve had the chance to apply my study and training in this area to practice through work with the Sunflower Foundation and its advocacy initiatives. It’s tremendously rewarding to be able to not only help individual advocates and nonprofit organizations seeking to develop an advocacy voice figure out how they’ll gauge their work, but also to be part of this evolving field and to work alongside a funder investing so much energy in contributing to good practice around these questions, too.

I love it.

More recently, my work with the Sunflower Foundation has allowed me to contribute to some of the Alliance for Justice’s conversations about how they evaluate advocacy, both on the front end (in terms of organizational capacity) and as advocates and their donors seek to determine the relative impact of different advocacy strategies. I’m very excited about AFJ’s revised advocacy capacity tool, which will be available online soon, and particularly about their approach to this work, which is aimed at getting as many organizations as possible to evaluate their own capacity (in a variety of areas; it’s a pretty thorough look at the inputs that we believe position an organization to succeed in advocacy) in order to build the field of knowledge about what makes a difference in ultimate advocacy success.

In Kansas, our hope is to eventually be able to help a given nonprofit organization know where it sits, on some of these capacity measures, compared to an aggregate of its peers, and also to develop strategies that are at least likely to lead to enhanced capacity in those same areas, so that we can build a strong cadre of advocate organizations across the geography and in different fields.

Refining these measures, and these tools, is important not just because we want to know what works in advocacy (so that we can get better and better and win more and more often), but also because being able to demonstrate how our theory of change is leading to tangible results should push more funders to feel comfortable supporting advocacy (or, at least, to expose that their real fears are taking a stand on controversial issues, and we need to know that, too!). We’ve come quite far in the past few years, such that advocates are no longer left to flounder to come up with benchmarks, and no longer grasping for what might make sense for measurement. It’s tremendously exciting, for the academic side of me, but especially for the promise that these tools hold in making our advocacy more robust, more acclaimed, and, ultimately, more integrated into what nonprofit organizations do all day.

And it’s great to be part of it.

If your organization is interested in advocacy evaluation and/or assessing your organizational capacity for advocacy, we should talk! I’d love to connect you to resources and (full disclosure!) include you in some of our field-building efforts, too. Because once we know what works, we just have to gather the courage to go after the money to do it.

And, then, we’re unstoppable.

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