Since 1990, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has been committed to supporting its KIDS COUNT® network of organizations in their efforts to advocate for kids and families. After helping grantees achieve moderate success in the early years of the KIDS COUNT network, the Casey Foundation soon recognized that it needed to modify its approach to more effectively help network members advocate for policy change.
To help organizations achieve maximum impact, the Casey Foundation has broadened its initial focus on data to include advocacy and strategic communications. In fact, it’s become increasingly clear that building advocacy capacity among organizations is key to shifting public policy.
How Casey Helps Network Members Build Capacity
By taking this capacity-building approach, Casey is empowering its network of grantees to improve their data analysis, strengthen their leadership, and more effectively appeal to policy-makers. To inform this approach, in 2011, Casey created a working group of KIDS COUNT network members, Foundation staff members, and professional capacity-building consultants who had been working with the network. The working group identified 90 competencies that are essential for a high-functioning child advocacy organization. These competencies — which were whittled down to six core categories — gave network members shared language to identify and organize their needs so that the Foundation could provide targeted capacity-building support.
The Casey Foundation provides several ways for KIDS COUNT network members to make a long-term investment in capacity. One is the Advocacy Learning Lab, a virtual institute of free, online resources, tools, and technical assistance.
While the Advocacy Learning Lab is the self-serve option for capacity-building resources, direct technical assistance offers more tailored and interactive support. The Foundation engages about 20 technical assistance providers, each of whom supports network members in one or more of the six core competencies.
The providers help organizations build their capacity to analyze data, create communications strategies, use research software, convene partners to push forward a policy agenda, understand how racial disparities show up in their state, and much more.
The KIDS COUNT network is already reaping the benefits of this capacity-building approach. Following the 2016 U.S. presidential election, many network members engaged in urgent advocacy efforts to preserve the Affordable Care Act. They also fiercely advocated against policies that threatened the stability of children in immigrant families. It is likely that the years of targeted capacity-building work have positioned organizations to be more nimble — and respond more quickly in the face of policy threats.
Building advocacy capacity among organizations is key to shifting public policy and improving outcomes for families.
Findings & Stats
Embedding Equity into Advocacy
In the 2014 report, the Casey Foundation saw that the network scored lowest in the “racial equity and inclusion” category. The Foundation responded by engaging more technical assistance providers with racial equity expertise to partner with organizations on deepening their understanding of equity and embedding it into their organizational culture and work.
Improving Outcomes through Technical Assistance
The report also showed that in eight out of 10 cases, intensive technical assistance investments were correlated with above-average improvement in the related competency, indicating the value of technical assistance like coaching and individualized capacity-building support.
Investing in Succession Planning for Organizations
From 2014 to 2016, there was a more than two-fold increase in the number of organizations undergoing a leadership transition, highlighting the need to provide readily available resources for new leaders and organizations undergoing meaningful change.
Statements & Quotations
These findings show that stronger advocacy capacity can influence high-level policy decisions, impacting the well-being of children and families.
In no small part, the strong progress we have made for children in our state is steeped in an advocacy case that relies on the capacity we’ve been able to build.
You can have the best intentions, but without capacity and without long-term, patient investment in that capacity, you’re not going to get the outcomes you want.
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