In my last post, I described advocacy as giving voice to a cause — say homelessness prevention, or gun violence prevention, or downtown viability – so that it might progress and succeed.
And I said that in advocacy, 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, for example, and 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, and subsequent improvement.
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 continued general operating support.
The discerning reader can see that terms “outcomes” or “results” as conventionally used in philanthropy 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 trustees, evaluators, and nonprofits alike is that “signs of progress” provide better options for showing evidence, which in turn allow for more flexible and responsive metrics. The above signs of progress would of course look different for the National Conference of Gun Violence Prevention, the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless, and the Downtown Council.
But there’s nothing wrong with that; demonstrable progress is demonstrable progress.
*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