An Advocate’s Takeaways on Advocacy Evaluation Practices and Needs

By Susan Hoechstetter

Along with Annette Gardner and Shannon Williams, I co-authored a new report–Amplifying Nonprofit Voices: Bridging the Advocacy Evaluation Gap–that offers fresh insights into advocates’ evaluation practices, perspectives, and needs. The report contains a wealth of information, and I encourage you to explore it to find what resonates with you.

As a long-time advocate and advocacy evaluation trainer, I wanted to offer the three key points that really resonated with me.

1. Advocates prioritize time-efficient evaluation methods that support their own reflection and learning.

Advocacy work often demands quick responses to legislative actions, regulatory changes, shifts in public sentiment, and unexpected events. Limited organizational resources further compound the challenge, often relegating evaluation practices to a low priority in terms of how staff use their time.

According to our report, 84% of survey participants identified a lack of time as a barrier to evaluating their advocacy work. It was the most common evaluation challenge mentioned.

In a related finding, advocates said after-action reviews were the most frequently used and the most useful evaluation method. These reviews are typically conducted immediately or shortly after advocacy activities, and make use of fresh memories and ease of gathering involved individuals. Additionally, discussing and analyzing recent occurrences comes naturally to most people, requiring minimal planning and preparation.

Implication: Time considerations must be at the forefront of plans to enhance and improve advocacy evaluation efforts.  Using or improving after action reviews might be a good place to start building capacity for some groups.

2. Advocates want more evaluation support for particular kinds of advocacy tactics.

The top five priorities for evaluation support included:

  • Public awareness campaigns
  • Public mobilization campaigns
  • Community organizing
  • Advocacy capacity building
  • Coalition building.

Implication: While more information is needed to determine whether these are top priorities because of resource constraints, high engagement in the activities, or other reasons, follow-up actions include developing, enhancing, or making more accessible resources that address the assessment of these particular tactics.

3. Most nonprofit advocates rely on their own staff to assess their advocacy efforts.

About two-thirds of the surveyed organizations that evaluate their advocacy rely on staff who have evaluation as part of their work responsibilities. Furthermore, most of these organizations lack access to professional evaluators, with only 10 percent having an evaluator on staff and 17 percent using external evaluators.

Implication: Offering increased support to nonprofit staff members responsible for evaluation has the potential to reach a significant number of organizations and enhance evaluation capacity.

About the Author

Susan Hoechstetter is a freelance writer, advocacy technical assistance provider, and coach. She spent over 20 years working with the Alliance for Justice, and played a lead role in developing advocacy and community organizing capacity assessment and evaluation resources that are available through the Bolder Advocacy initiative.