In my last post, I described advocacy as giving voice to a cause. This could mean homelessness prevention, gun violence prevention, downtown viability. The goal of advocacy is to advance the cause, so that it makes progress and increasingly succeeds. A fundable goal for advocacy is to build strong networks of support for solutions. And a goal for evaluation is to document “signs of progress.”
One of the big signs of progress is demonstrably expanded and motivated networks of support for solutions to a particular social issue.
So if our issue is homelessness, we want to advance solutions that fix the problems of homelessness. One of the big opportunities for investment is to expand and motivate a network of support to help move promising solutions to implementation.
I see it this way: in the world of private and civic support for improved quality of life, an encouraging sign of progress, and therefore an opportunity for further investment, is evidence of more capable, more energized, more informed, more engaged, and more influential networks of support.
For example, the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless used grant support from a number of Minnesota-based foundations* to engage two part-time Field Organizers, as well as a Communications Director, a Policy Director, and a Field Director, who worked to achieve this kind of progress:
Increased the number of key people who know more about and are more sympathetic or supportive about the issue.
Built new partnerships with newly-informed, energized, creative, capable, and/or connected partners through relationships built on trust.
Expanded the demographic diversity of the network, giving added legitimacy to the cause.
Cultivated, informed and engaged champions both inside and outside the halls where policy is deliberated.
Coalesced political energy that raised resources (like $40 million to bond construction and rehab of affordable housing).
Strengthened a state-wide coalition that works to generate policies, community support and local resources for housing and services to end homelessness in Minnesota.
In my opinion, an organization that creates such progress has earned the right to continued general operating support.
The discerning reader can see that we don’t use terms like “outcomes” or “results” or “impact” in evaluating advocacy. We think these terms are limiting and insufficient since they suggest a final or conclusive state of affairs. “Signs of progress” or “early signs of impact” are better terms since they suggest the on-going and continuous stream of events that define “change.”
The good news for nonprofits, grantmakers, and evaluators alike is that “signs of progress” provides better options for showing evidence – just look at the above list! All of these count in responding to the challenge of demonstrating progress. And demonstrable progress is demonstrable progress, so funders should take note.
*Bremer Foundation, The Minneapolis Foundation, Greater Minneapolis Housing Fund, Phillips Family Foundation, Northland Initiative Fund, Headwaters Foundation, and Minnesota Family Housing Fund.
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Steven E. Mayer, Ph.D. / Effective Communities Project / January 30, 2013
Lightly revised July 3, 2020