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Monday, November 1, 2010
2:00 pm EDT
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GIH Public Policy Audioconference Series


  • Monday, November 1, 2010 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern/1:00 p.m. Central/Noon Mountain/11:00 a.m. Pacific


  • Kristen Grimm and Ed Walz, Spitfire Strategies
  • Christie McElhinney, The Colorado Trust
  • Gara LaMarche, The Atlantic Philanthropies


The election season and political shake-ups mean nonprofits will soon be seeking funding to support advocacy efforts. This interactive session explored approaches to determining which advocacy efforts complement a foundation’s theory of change, guiding nonprofits in the development of plans for successful advocacy, and assessing the soundness of an advocacy strategy presented in a proposal.

Kristin Grimm provided a strategic framework for planning and evaluating advocacy activities. She stressed the importance of identifying and articulating a theory of change which describes a pathway and interim milestones for achieving a particular goal. This theory of change provides a conceptual model which can be used to further identify requisite policy change objectives, advocacy needs, and promising grantmaking strategies. Ms. Grimm summarized a systematic approach to framing these strategic decisions through a series of questions designed to elicit thoughtful consideration of potential options, opportunities, and barriers.

Gara LaMarche and Christie McElhinney shared their perspectives on the framework and approach Ms. Grimm had described. Mr. LaMarche noted that advocacy for policy change is a core component of Atlantic Philanthropies’ approach to bringing about lasting changes in the lives of people who are disadvantaged by their economic situation, race, nationality, gender, age, disabilities, immigration status, sexual orientation, political affiliation or religion. He highlighted several examples of how Atlantic Philanthropies has utilized advocacy, including how the Health Care for America NOW (HCAN) initiative raised the visibility of abusive practices within the health insurance industry during the national health care reform debate. Ms. McElhinney described how The Colorado Trust had only recently adopted advocacy as a strategic intervention and discussed the theory of change, ten-year vision, and strategic plan the organization developed to achieve the goal of universal access to high quality, affordable health care for all Coloradans.

Ed Walz summarized five critical capacities needed for effective advocacy related to (1) policymaking, (2) people, (3) politics, (4) plan, and (5) power. Mr. Walz provided several examples to illustrate how these capacities influence advocacy effectiveness and how foundations can assess the capacity of potential grantees in each of these areas.

Ms. McElhinney and Mr. LaMarche discussed how their organizations have integrated capacity assessments into their advocacy strategies. Ms. McElhinney described the intensive evaluation methods The Colorado Trust has adopted and emphasized that evaluation design and results should inform the strategic direction of the foundation and individual grantees. Mr. LaMarche stressed the need for responsive approaches that can adapt to changing environmental and political realities and encouraged funders to develop their own internal policy and political intelligence.

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