We recently wrapped up an evaluation of a national advocacy campaign, where advocacy organizations were funded in states throughout the country to push forward a common agenda. The evaluation findings highlighted how different advocacy organizations bring different capacities to the table. While technical assistance can expand that capacity, it can’t change the reality that no organization can be the expert in everything!

In other words – most organizations are not experts at policy analysis, coalition building, lobbying, media engagement, grassroots organizing, AND grasstops organizing. Usually, our organizations only have expertise in a few of these areas.

Yet, how many funders can raise their hands when you ask,

“When is the last time you released an RFP that asked grantees to have three, four, or even five distinct types of advocacy skills?”

And, how many advocacy organizations can raise their hands when you ask,

“When is the last time you responded to a RFP that asked you to be good at more things than your organization normally takes on?”


Alright, so what should we do differently?

Some funders are already tackling this issue through funding a field of advocates. In other words, they are funding multiple advocacy organizations within the same advocacy environment (such as a state) to work collectively on a common advocacy campaign or even just on a broad advocacy goal. If you’re a funder, the question becomes – what capacity do you need in that field? And, is it enough to fund a field, or do you also need to require them to come together and work in active coordination? These are important questions for funders to tackle together, along with their advocacy partners.

If you’re an advocacy organization, the opportunity is the same. We all partner with other advocacy organizations regularly, but do we partner to seek funding? What would look different if the organization down the street that does an amazing job at grassroots organizing had a grant funding the same policy priorities as our grant that pays for policy analysis and coalition building? Starting the conversation with funders as a team, with two or more organizations collectively providing a diverse set of advocacy skills, not only has potential to make your advocacy efforts more appealing to funders, it may also make them more successful!


What capacities really matter ~ do we need everything?

Advocacy organizations don’t have to start from scratch to answer this question. National leaders in advocacy evaluation have done the legwork to find out what really matters – what does effective media capacity look like, and what about grassroots capacity? Check out:


[info_box style=”note” icon=”none”]Alliance for Justice’s Advocacy Evaluation website. They identified the most important advocacy capacities and turned them into an assessment tool. Also, you can use their evaluation design tool to think about how you might evaluate the impact of your work.[/info_box]


[info_box style=”note” icon=”none”]The Aspen Institute’s Advocacy Progress Planner. This tool is helpful in planning your advocacy campaign, identifying advocacy capacity benchmarks you want to meet, and evaluating the work.[/info_box]


Regardless of whether you use a formal tool or go through an internal process of assessing your advocacy strengths and gaps, by the end of your process, you should have a clear sense of what is missing from your capacity. What’s next? Finding the right partners! But that’s a whole different blog… (stay tuned!)