NPF TIG Week: How to build advocates’ evaluation capacity–start with the advocates! by Sue Hoechstetter

Hi, I’m Sue Hoechstetter, lead developer and keeper of advocacy capacity assessment tools at Alliance for Justice’s Bolder Advocacy program.  I want to share with you about a new project to investigate and use advocates’ experiences to help evaluators, advocates, and funders better assess nonprofits’ efforts to “speak their truths” to policy decision-makers.

In these challenging times, nonprofits are incorporating advocacy strategies into their work more than ever before.  But do they have the advocacy capacity to do it?  How effective are they in their advocacy?  And how are groups adapting their work to meet changing times?  Those of us who help organizations and their funders answer these questions through evaluation can up our game by learning more from the people doing the advocacy.

Evaluators are increasingly assessing nonprofit advocacy work and providing resources that groups can use to self-assess. But do we really understand what works best for nonprofits?  It is often a struggle to make evaluation resources meaningful and user-friendly for advocates, as evidenced by survey findings on the limited use of evaluation tools by groups engaging in advocacy.

Now is a good time to research and develop appropriate resources to facilitate advocate effectiveness, and to support advocate/funder/evaluator communications.

Drs. Annette Gardner and Claire Brindis, both of the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), and I plan to help do this by raising up and integrating the perspective of advocates on evaluation.  To this end, we will conduct a survey of their advocacy evaluation successes and needs (complementing a 2014 survey by the Aspen Institute and UCSF to gauge evaluator advocacy evaluation expertise). We will then develop advocate-friendly resources that bridge the divide that too often exists between evaluators (often working “for” funders) and nonprofits about how to measure success. (Hint: We suspect that one of the greatest barriers might be overuse of jargon and ‘evaluation speak’ by evaluators; stay tuned!)

This project is an opportunity to expand evaluator and funder understanding of the challenges that limit advocate opportunities for learning as well as to develop tailored resources that meet advocates where they’re at, in language and concepts that make sense to them.  We look forward to updating you in the future!

Rad Resource: Our Bolder Advocacy team supports advocates’ objectives through legal expertise and advocacy evaluation tools.  To promote more advocacy assessment, in June 2018 we updated our free Advocacy Capacity Tool (ACT!) with several improvements including one that allows nonprofit Tool users to choose when they want to reassess their advocacy capacity, be reminded to do so, and view their old and new capacity scores side by side to more easily track their progress.


The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Nonprofits and Foundations Topical Interest Group (NPFTIG) Week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our NPFTIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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