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Capacity Building for Advocacy

Does it take certain characteristics for a nonprofit to be effective at advocacy? Indeed it does, although perhaps not those you might expect. It turns out that it is not critical if a nonprofit’s leader has a deep background in the legislative process, or experience with the media, or connections to the statehouse – it turns out that what may be most critical for a nonprofit’s ability to serve successfully as an advocate is not specific programmatic skills, but a very solid operational foundation, (including core capacities such as a budgeting, fundraising, marketing, technology, and communications) and leadership that is visionary and inspiring. But overall, one of the most critical capacities for advocacy, according to a study the TCC Group conducted for the California Endowment, is adaptability – the ability of the nonprofit to observe, monitor, assess, and respond to internal and external changes, "such as networking/collaborating, assessing organizational effectiveness, evaluating programs and services and planning."  Source: "What Makes an Effective Advocacy Organization?" (California Endowment, 2009)

Whether you are a funder wondering whether or not to fund a nonprofit that engages in advocacy, or a nonprofit trying to explain to stakeholders that certain core strengths are needed in order to be more effective doing what you do, we hope that the resources offered here will be useful to you and your work.

What makes an effective advocacy organization?

Leadership that engages stakeholders in a cause, the ability to be flexible in an ever-changing, unpredictable environment, management capacity to ensure effective and efficient use of resources, and the technical ability to implement communications tools to help with advocacy work, are all important capacities needed by an organization engaged in advocacy work. Source: "What Makes an Effective Advocacy Organization?" (California Endowment, 2009). Also read this 2011 report from the TCC Group, Strengthening Organizations to Mobilize Californians, to see an example of an initiative that helped strenghten nonprofits in key areas, including "leadership, decision‐making, communication and fundraising."

What is the return on investment for advocacy?

The National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy has conducted regional studies through its Grantmaking for Community Impact Project (GCIP) that examine the return on investment for funders investing in advocacy as a capacity-building effort. These reports present a striking finding: The nonprofits leveraged foundation grants and generated as much as a $150 return for every dollar invested in their policy engagement efforts.

How should we evaluate our advocacy activities?

The Innovation Network has prepared a Practical Guide to Advocacy Evaluation for organizations that want to evaluate their advocacy activities, commissioned by The Atlantic Philanthropies. The guide suggests what to measure, how to collect data, and how to communicate the evaluation results to funders and others.