Tools track impact of advocacy grants

By Ret Boney

The Alliance for Justice has published a set of tools to aid grantmakers in their funding and assessment of advocacy work.

The Washington, D.C.-based association of advocacy groups developed the tools to open the way for more funding of nonprofits’ efforts to influence the laws and policies affecting the people and issues they care about.

Some funders steer away from funding advocacy in this age of increased accountability, in part because they don’t know how to measure outcomes, says Sue Hoechstetter, foundation advocacy director for the Alliance.

“We didn’t want concerns to deter people from meeting the need to have nonprofit voices heard by decision-makers,” she says.

At the request of the George Gund Foundation of Cleveland, the Alliance created the tools to be used by funders and grantees to gauge the effectiveness of advocacy efforts as well as grantees’ capacity to conduct advocacy campaigns.

The Advocacy Capacity Assessment Tool is designed to help funders determine a current or potential grantees’ level of readiness to engage in advocacy work, and to help them develop a plan for increasing their capacity for advocacy work.

The Advocacy Evaluation Tool was created to help nonprofits set realistic advocacy goals that are clear to both grantee and funder, then measure progress toward meeting those goals.

There are ways to show the effectiveness of advocacy work, Hoechstetter says.

But given that such efforts are generally long-term initiatives involving multiple constituencies and often incremental progress, she says, standard program assessment methods are inadequate.

“Advocacy is long-term,” she says.  “Your organization is always building its capacity by virtue of its advocacy work, and the next time out the organization will be stronger and faster.”

Indications of success are often intangible and can include lessons learned, contacts made and critical relationships forged.

At the same time, advocacy efforts are often stymied by forces outside grantees’ control that alter the policy environment, including personnel changes among policymakers and their staffs.

“You have to have some understanding of how advocacy works,” says Hoechstetter. “If you do, you will understand that getting one key person’s support can mean a tremendous success. We try to base the tools’ questions on the nature of advocacy.”

The tools are being coupled with the Alliance’s publication, “Investing in Change: A Funder’s Guide to Supporting Advocacy,” which outlines legal rules for funding advocacy, and can be ordered from the Alliance for Justice website.

“I hope that it will advance the understanding of how advocacy works, both with grantee organizations and funders,” Hoechstetter says.  “I hope it will help people pay more attention to what you need to sustain an advocacy campaign, and think proactively about where you want to build that capacity.”

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