Frequently Asked Questions
Advocacy Capacity Tools

What is the Advocacy Capacity Tool (ACT)?

The Advocacy Capacity Tool (ACT) is a self-assessment tool that nonprofits, coalitions, and groups can use to assess their current capacity – or readiness – to engage in advocacy.

Completing this tool provides a comprehensive snapshot of your current advocacy capacity: the skills, resources, knowledge, and practices that you have in place that make advocacy possible.

What is ACT! Quick?

ACT! Quick is a short version of the ACT tool that is designed to be completed in 10-15 minutes. Completing this tool provides an overview of your advocacy capacity but does not go into as much depth and detail compared to ACT.

Who should use these tools?

ACT and ACT! Quick can be used by any organization, group, or coalition who already engages in advocacy – or is planning to get started with advocacy. These tools can be used by one or multiple people (board, staff, and/or volunteers) within your organization or coalition.

With sufficient notice, Bolder Advocacy’s evaluation staff can provide assistance with data aggregation and interpretation of results. If you are interested in receiving this type of technical assistance, please get in touch with Shannon Williams, Advocacy Evaluation Manager, at [email protected].

Nonprofits

Nonprofit organizations can use these tools to:

  • Spark discussion about advocacy within your organization or coalition
  • Identify areas of capacity to strengthen in order to accomplish your advocacy goals
  • Help build a plan for building your organizational capacity to support advocacy
  • Facilitate productive conversations with funders about strategic investments in your capacity
  • Track your progress as you build capacity by using initial results as a baseline, then retaking the tool at regular intervals, e.g. every 6-12 months

Funders

Funders can use ACT and ACT! Quick to better understand their own organizational capacity to engage in advocacy, or to better understand the capacities of their existing or potential grantees.

For example, these tools can be used by funders to:

  • Inform their understanding of a grant proposal
  • Determine what additional forms of technical assistance and support their grantees may need to advance their goals
  • Track grantees’ progress in building organizational capacity to engage in advocacy
  • Assess the strengths and gaps that may exist within a grantee cohort that the foundation has convened around an issue area
  • Spark discussion about advocacy within the foundation

Evaluators

Evaluators working with nonprofits or funders can incorporate use of these tools into an advocacy evaluation plan. All of our capacity assessment tools are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

We are also happy to work with you to adapt or modify our tools to better fit the needs of your evaluation plan. To discuss logistics, please get in touch with Shannon Williams, Advocacy Evaluation Manager, at [email protected] to discuss details.

How do these tools work?

Both ACT and ACT! Quick consist of 18 indicators divided into four sections that are designed to span the breadth of “what it takes” to do advocacy:

  1. Advocacy Goals, Plans, and Strategies
  2. Conducting Advocacy
  3. Advocacy Avenues
  4. Organizational Operations to Sustain Advocacy

Each of these sections consists of 3-6 indicators. As you complete each section, you will be asked to review a series of statements and rank your organization’s current capacity using the following scale:

  • Very Strong / Always = 4
  • Moderately Strong / Usually = 3
  • Somewhat Strong / Sometimes = 2
  • Not Strong / Rarely / Never = 1
  • I Don’t Know / Not Applicable = N/A

In Sections 2-3, you will also be asked to consider the extent to which your organization relies on partners.

If you use ACT, you will be asked to answer the following question: “To what extent does your organization rely on partners for this indicator?”

At the end of the tools, you can calculate your score in all 18 capacity indicators and can reflect on which areas you would like to prioritize in terms of strengthening your organization’s advocacy capacity. And if you complete the tools online, we do the math for you!

Should I plan to use ACT or ACT! Quick online or offline?

If this is your first time using either ACT or ACT! Quick, we recommend that you download a copy of the PDF to get familiar with the content first before completing the tool online.

If you are already familiar with the tools, then we recommend completing the tool online.

Our online capacity tools:

  • Are mobile friendly and can be used in low vision mode
  • Provide an option to “save and continue later” in case you need to take a break!
  • Calculate your scores for you automatically
  • Email you a PDF copy of your results for your records after you click submit

Any data you provide us online is confidential and protected! Check out Alliance for Justice’s data privacy policy for more details.

How do I decide whether to use ACT or ACT! Quick?

Knowing which tool will best meet your needs depends on the context in which you plan to use it. There are also some important differences between the two tools regarding how scoring works, discussed in greater depth below.

For example, your organization might be engaged in strategic planning as it gets ready to launch a new advocacy campaign. Using ACT might be the best choice here if you would benefit from having as much information as possible as planning gets underway.

Alternatively, you could be part of a coalition that has limited time to spare – but is interested in getting a quick snapshot of the strengths of different organizations. In this case, ACT! Quick might be a better fit to use because the results can be aggregated and analyzed quickly across multiple organizations.

Important differences between ACT and ACT! Quick regarding scoring

Scoring for ACT

ACT is designed to be comprehensive. In this tool, each indicator consists of four core measures and one to three “advanced” measures. “Advanced” measures are optional and do not get factored into your score. Where applicable in sections 2-3, you will also be asked to answer: “To what extent does your organization rely on partners for the above indicator?”

Upon completion of ACT, your score for each indicator will be between 1-4 based on the rating scale used:

  • Very Strong / Always = 4
  • Moderately Strong / Usually = 3
  • Somewhat Strong / Sometimes = 2
  • Not Strong / Rarely / Never = 1
  • I Don’t Know / Not Applicable = N/A

Scores for each indicator are determined by calculating the average of your responses to the four core measures. Selecting “I Don’t Know / Not Applicable” for any question does not negatively impact your score. Where applicable, you will receive a separate score related to how often your organization relies on partners.

For example, for Indicator 8 – Media Relations, your overall score could be 1.75 out of 4 with a “rely on partners” score of 3 out of 4. These scores suggest that Media Relations is an area that your organization is “sometimes” strong in, and that you “usually” choose to rely on your partners to meet your needs in this area.

Scoring for ACT! Quick

ACT! Quick only asks one question per indicator. Where applicable, “rely on partners” can also be selected as an answer option. Choose this option in cases where you choose to primarily rely on others outside your organization to meet your needs in this area.

Once you complete the tool, you will receive a score between 0-4 for each indicator:

  • Very Strong / Always = 4
  • Moderately Strong / Usually = 3
  • Somewhat Strong / Sometimes = 2
  • Not Strong / Rarely / Never = 1
  • Rely on Partners = 0
  • I Don’t Know / Not Applicable = N/A

For example, for Indicator 8 – Media Relations, your score could be 2 out of 4, which suggests that your organization is “somewhat strong” in this area. But unlike ACT, you will not receive a separate score related to how often/frequently you rely on partners.

How can I analyze and interpret my results?

As you review your scores, keep in mind that the goal is not to get the highest score in every indicator. No organization, coalition, or group has it all. Scores reflect your organization’s capacity, not the quality of your work.

Context matters when it comes to interpreting what data means. Certain indicators may be more relevant than others for your organization, coalition, or group depending on many factors, including:

  • The type of advocacy work you are engaged in – or plan to engage in
  • The size of the organization or coalition (staff and budget)
  • The level of advocacy experience you have (beginner v. advanced)

View your results as a way to spark strategic conversations around what the future could look like. Here are some questions to guide individual or collective reflection around how to interpret and use your results.

Start out with some general reflection on your results overall.

  • Do the results resonate with your understanding of the organization?
  • Did anything immediately jump out to you as important? Why?
  • Did any of the results surprise you?

For the capacity indicators where you have the highest scores, consider the following:

  • Why are you strong in this area?
    • Is it because of investments your organization has made?
    • Or do you have staff or board members who have significant expertise?
  • How do you currently use this strength?
  • Are there other ways you might take advantage of this strength?
  • Is this area critical to future advocacy work? If so, what do you need to do to sustain your capacity in this area?

For the capacity indicators where you have the lowest scores, consider the following:

  • Why are your scores lower in this area?
    • Is it because you are primarily relying on your partners (not a bad thing)?
    • Is it because it is less critical to the success of your advocacy work?
    • Is it because you have not had the resources to invest in this area?
  • Is this area critical to your future work? If so, what should you focus on improving first?
  • Should you work more closely with partners to meet any needs you have in this area?

When considering the extent to which you rely on partners, consider the following:

  • Who are your partners?
    • How do you currently work together?
    • Are there other areas where you could potentially collaborate?
    • Do your partners’ priorities align well with your own?
  • Are there other groups with whom your organization should partner?
  • Should you consider building your organization’s internal capacity in the areas where you currently rely on partners? Why or why not?

As you consider which areas you would like to become stronger in, ask yourself:

  • What do we need to accomplish our goals?
  • What do we need to prioritize?
  • What challenges might we face in moving our goals forward – and how can we mitigate them?
  • How do we maintain and/or grow resources to continue the work?
  • Are there any easy “wins” where a small investment in building our capacity would make a big difference?
  • What types of growth will require a more significant investment of time and resources?

Plan to use these tools again in the future.

These tools are most beneficial when you use them to assess changes in your organizational advocacy capacity over time.

We strongly recommend that you plan to complete ACT or ACT! Quick at regular intervals, e.g. every 6 to 12 months.

Keep a copy of your initial results to use as a baseline, then compare your new results with your earlier scores to assess your progress toward your goals.