Local Government Innovation & Redesign

To support local government redesign efforts and recognize the innovative work already underway, the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center has partnered with state associations to create the Local Government Innovation & Redesign Guide and host a yearly Local Government Innovations Awards ceremony.

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Jackie Aman

Return on Investment for Civic Engagement

Yesterday I attended a forum on funding advocacy and civic engagement to increase community impact, hosted by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy. The event was co-sponsored by Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and Minnesota Council on Foundations and highlighted the impacts of advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement among nonprofits in the state of Minnesota. A sample of 15 organizations were included in the study and concluded that just a small number of grantmakers in the state consistently fund advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement efforts. They concluded with the following recommendations for funders:
1) Increase the percentage of dollars devoted to advocacy, community organizing, and civic engagement;
2) Engage board members and donors in dialogue about how advocacy and organizing can help a grantmaking institution achieve its long-term goals;
3) Strengthen peer learning and strategizing about advocacy and organizing;
4) Engage nonprofit partners in strategic planning;
5) Apply a racial lens to grantmaking;
6) Provide general operating support and multiyear grants.

Both the executive summary and full report are available online on NCRP's website.

An additional piece of data included in the report worth noting is the quantification of the return on investment (ROI) for civic engagement and advocacy efforts. Their calculation of ROI included dividing the aggregate dollar amount of all wins by the aggregate dollars invested in advocacy and organizing. The ROI shows how collective financial support by grantmakers and other funding sources for a set of organizing and advocacy groups in a location over time has contributed to the collective policy impacts of these groups. Curious to know the aggregate ROI of dollars spent on organizing and advocacy efforts benefited Minnesota? 138 - For every dollar invested in the advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement activities of the 15 groups (in the sample), there was $138 in benefits to Minnesota communities. PubTalkers, what are your thoughts? Is it possible to quantify the intangible impact of public policy work?
--Kim Borton


Thanks for the pointer, Kim. I linked this article on the Horizons blog.


Thanks for posting this, Kim. Having organized on several of the projects mentioned in this report I completely agree with the recommendations put forth. However, I believe that organizing has to be the primary focus and foundations have to provide resources for organizations to develop not only strategic plans, but performance measures. Oftentimes, the "advocacy" area of nonprofit work is dominated by ego. this dominance of ego limits a program's effectiveness and potential for increased public engagement. Pushing a focus on organizing rather than advocacy takes away ego and places a greater importance on empowerment and getting good results for groups of people.

Many people will say it is impossible to quantify the impact of policy/organizing/advocacy work. It is difficult, but not impossible. The biggest hindrances are lack of understanding regarding the importance of data and a general sense that numbers are antithetical to the art that is organizing. Naive and lame excused, IMO. If you cannot demonstrate that you do good work and you're empowering people, why do you deserve any money?? Embracing data and standardizing internal processes are just as important to the success of the campaign/organization as any one-on-one meeting in the field. Geek rant complete.

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