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Global Interdependence Initiative
CONTINUOUS PROGRESS Better Advocacy Through Evaluation
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"Evaluation is very hard to do, when it comes to public education campaigns…. You can go really deep in many cases, but there are often so many external influences that it is hard to really know what impact you're having."
— Matt James, Kaiser Family Foundation

Attribution or Contribution

As a grantmaker you also have to report results: to your boss, to a board and perhaps to many other stakeholders. When it comes to return on investment and proving results in the short run, advocacy grantmaking does present its challenges. How can you best discern attribution, and be able to clearly determine the impact of your advocacy grantmaking? How can grantees tell you whether the goal was reached, thanks primarily or exclusively to their work? Unfortunately, grantees are rarely able to prove causality. Unless your issue community is extremely narrow, advocacy work is usually quite complex and there are many players involved; in fact, most advocacy victories happen as a result of a number of players working in a coordinated fashion. But do not be discouraged. There are some evaluation methods you can use to better understand the impact of your advocacy dollars.

If the regular reporting of your grantees is not providing you with enough information to discern attribution, they—and sometimes, you—can learn about the effects of their actions by proactively requesting feedback from their target audiences: for example, their constituents, the media and policy makers. You can encourage grantees to ask what happened, what didn't and why. Sometimes, it might be easier for you to have access to people in the target audience and refer them to the grantee. You and your grantees might not get the answers you are expecting, and it may be difficult to get answers at all. But it's definitely worth a try, and it will benefit both of you.

The value of contribution
Here is where you can play a unique role as an advocacy grantmaker. Attribution is nice; we would all like to be able to attribute success fully to our efforts. But that is usually a false claim. Claiming to make a contribution to a desired result is more credible. And if your institution embraces a longer-term vision for your policy advocacy grantmaking, then contributing to success should be enough. In fact, you may currently be investing in public education, constituency building and other longer-term advocacy activities that can lay the groundwork for sustainable policy change, based on your own theory of change. You can consider yourself successful if your grantees present you with strong indications that your grantmaking is contributing to developments consistent with your theory of change. The key here is to have a frank and realistic discussion with your grantee about how their advocacy work contributes towards the desired policy change and towards building the capacity to sustain your joint efforts over time.

The guide's section on building learning organizations provides you with some ideas and insights about how to develop advocacy capacity. The section on “Discussing Advocacy Goals and Benchmarks with Grantees” will help you and your grantee identify some capacity building goals, benchmarks and indicators.


  • While you may be tempted to invest in evaluation only if you believe that it will prove that your effort caused a positive change by itself, think again: evidence that you are contributing to change could be very encouraging for you and your board; and provide you with credible information on the effects of your advocacy investment.