Crawl, Walk, Run, Fly to Advocate

One of the great pieces of Measuring the Networked Nonprofit is Beth Kanter’s model for organizations–carried over from her first book–as progressing through the stages of development (in adopting network mentality, or systematically evaluating their work)–that characterizes them as first crawling, then walking, running, and flying.

Because I spend so much of my time with my kids, this especially appeals to me. I see how my kids change, as they grow, and how that doesn’t mean getting ‘better’, but just maturing, and changing, in ways that do take on a rhythm. I like the child development analogy, too, because, even now that my youngest can walk, that doesn’t mean that she still doesn’t crawl sometimes…progression isn’t always steady or neat or even. But it’s still forward movement. And organizations, just like kids, can do more when they’re walkers, or runners, than when they’re still crawling.

I’ve been thinking about how this crawl, walk, run, fly schema would apply to organizations and their advocacy capacity. There are a lot of advocacy capacity measurement tools out there, some of which do categorize organizations based on the display of different attributes, but none that I could find that really hypothesized about how organizations build on their prior capacity, towards a full complement of skills and resources.

I don’t have this finely-tuned, for sure, at this point, but this is my first stab at applying this model to advocacy in nonprofit organizations.

  • Crawl: The organization expresses interest in advocacy, perhaps seeking out some professional development, participating (not as a leader) in coalitions that have an advocacy function, and/or beginning to research issues that would warrant their advocacy attention. The organization does not have a mechanism to engage constituents in the advocacy, and most activity is concentrated in the CEO.
  • Walk: The organization participates in advocacy activities, perhaps attending lobby days as part of a larger group, monitoring legislation, issuing alerts to internal stakeholders, and/or building some connection (maybe not around policy priorities) to elected officials. The CEO engages at least some other staff and/or Board members in advocacy conversations, and there may be some effort to involve clients, as well. The organization struggles to quickly respond to changing dynamics in the policy landscape, because advocacy decision-making is somewhat cumbersome and fraught with contemplation of risk.
  • Run: The organization has an advocacy agenda with delineated issues that demand their attention. Someone on staff has some advocacy responsibilities (although they may be somewhat isolated from the rest of the organization), and the organization takes the lead on some advocacy actions related to their priorities, although this may be less sustained than ideal. There are some mechanisms to involve constituents in advocacy, and the Board of Directors expresses considerable support, perhaps through taking the 501(h) election. The organization has good relationships with policymakers, although these may not be very deep or broad. The organization is fairly nimble in its decision-making, and it can use a variety of strategies–in a variety of policy arenas–to achieve its advocacy goals.
  • Fly: The organization understands that advocacy is integrally connected to its overall mission. Advocacy is part of the organization’s vision and strategic plan, and resources are dedicated to achieving advocacy goals. There are mechanisms to facilitate client leadership in advocacy, including in shaping the organization’s issue priorities. The organization is seen as a leader in at least some advocacy campaigns, and strong relationships with policymakers animate its engagement.

Does anyone use something similar to think about how their organization–or others–are moving towards greater advocacy capacity? What strikes you as useful about this way of thinking about advocacy capacity? What needs to be modified? What does it look like to ‘fly’ as nonprofit advocates? How can you start crawling, if you’re not even quite there yet? What would it look like to measure advocacy capacity this way, within your organization? What specific decisions would you track? Who would you watch the most closely–your Board of Directors, your CEO, your direct staff, your constituents?

What about those who we are trying to activate? Kanter relates the model, from the marketing world, of moving from awareness to interest to desire to action, to nonprofit social change. In your work, what do people look like at each of these stages? What is the action that you’re trying to get them to perform–sign a petition, talk with a legislator, change their purchasing habits, foster a child, make a donation? What does it feel like to be part of a flying advocacy organization? What does it look like to policymakers?

And how do we get there?

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