Marcia Egbert, The George Gund Foundation


Bolder Advocacy

Egbert talks about how funders can use AFJ’s Advocacy Capacity Tool to determine which potential grantees have the greatest likelihood of success.

To understand the potential uses of AFJ’s new tool for assessing the advocacy-related work of nonprofits, AFJ spoke with Marcia Egbert, the senior program officer for human services at The George Gund Foundation.

AFJ: How do you think the Advocacy Capacity Tool is most useful to funders?

EGBERT: The tool is great because it’s both flexible and clear. Advocacy can be a murky business; this tool helps funders and advocates bring some real clarity to the process.

The ACT is useful for understanding whether an applicant is really ready to undertake the work it is proposing. There are four main applications of the tool that occur to me:

  1. A funder can use it as a handy checklist for engaging an applicant.
  2. A funder could go through it with an applicant, jointly.
  3. The funder could ask the applicant to complete it on their own and return the information to the funder.
  4. Or fourth, the funder could ask the applicant/grantee to use it as an internal organization tool to inform and help structure the proposal.

AFJ: Could foundations use the ACT internally?

EGBERT: They certainly could use it internally for a whole host of reasons. It could inform an RFP around an advocacy issue. The tool could also function as a learning tool for use with the board of directors — highlighting the kinds of things you’d be looking for in an advocacy-related grant, what you’d want to understand about an organization up front, and so forth.

Also, the ACT would certainly be helpful as a professional development tool with staff or consultants.

AFJ: Is there any way in which the ACT can help funders who are struggling with evaluating advocacy-related projects?

EGBERT: It’s obviously designed to work in conjunction with the [Alliance for Justice’s] advocacy evaluation tool. It could be useful to you when you’re looking at a grant that’s already in progress or at the end of the grant period.

The ACT is designed to be used in advance of a grant award, but it’s still helpful during a grant period in identifying the kinds of skills a grantee would need to have to be successful with its advocacy-related project. The ACT assesses an organization’s communication capacity, for example — you could use the tool as a checklist to see how they’re doing on the communications piece during the grant period. It’s as relevant throughout the course of the grant as it is up front.

AFJ: How can the foundation use the ACT in the context of working with a field of grantees?

EGBERT: A funder could take a specific issue and use it to examine the individual and collective capacity of multiple grantees.

Say you’ve got four grantees doing this work: One is quite grassroots and good at community organizing, another is very active around its statehouse, another one has a focus on turning research into effective communication pieces, and then maybe the fourth is a policy analyst. The ACT enables you as a funder to look across grantees and see strengths and weaknesses. It can help funders identify gaps in skills and capacities in a program and use that as a basis for either recruiting a partner organization to fill the gap or adding an existing partner.

AFJ: How can this tool support collaborative efforts among grantees?

EGBERT: This tool is ideal for helping funders understand how a set of grantees can and should work together.

For example, we’re working with a set of grantees that all work on advocacy around juvenile justice issues. Each of them has a separate expertise. Collectively, they’re infinitely more influential and powerful than they would be on their own. And I could use the tool to say, okay, one focuses on litigation and legal advocacy, one focuses on policy analysis and lobbying, while the other looks at identifying and implementing best practices in juvenile justice reform.

We could use the tool to help build up their strengths; to work across organizations to develop complementary strengths.

AFJ: How can it help funders determine the effectiveness of their grantmaking?

EGBERT: As I said, it’s not an evaluation tool, but the ACT does help grantmakers be effective in terms of determining which grantees, or potential grantees, have the greater likelihood of success.

There are a lot of good organizations. Sometimes the heart and head of an organization marries up and sometimes it doesn’t. The key is to find the appropriate level of ambition for an advocacy goal but put it in the context of real accomplishment. You want to find that good balance between their heart and the head. You don’t want someone who’s just tilting at windmills and has no ability to pull it off.

We don’t expect everyone to be 1,000% ready, of course, but better to know that up front. That way you can do what it takes to make sure you are betting on the right horse to cross the finish line.