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We’re all in this together: Why partnership makes advocacy work better

We recently wrapped up an evaluation of a national advocacy campaign, where advocacy organizations were funded in states throughout the country to push forward a common agenda. The evaluation findings highlighted how different advocacy organizations bring different capacities to the table. While technical assistance can expand that capacity, it can’t change the reality that no organization can be the expert in everything!

In other words – most organizations are not experts at policy analysis, coalition building, lobbying, media engagement, grassroots organizing, AND grasstops organizing. Usually, our organizations only have expertise in a few of these areas.

Yet, how many funders can raise their hands when you ask,

“When is the last time you released an RFP that asked grantees to have three, four, or even five distinct types of advocacy skills?”

And, how many advocacy organizations can raise their hands when you ask,

“When is the last time you responded to a RFP that asked you to be good at more things than your organization normally takes on?”


Alright, so what should we do differently?

Some funders are already tackling this issue through funding a field of advocates. In other words, they are funding multiple advocacy organizations within the same advocacy environment (such as a state) to work collectively on a common advocacy campaign or even just on a broad advocacy goal. If you’re a funder, the question becomes – what capacity do you need in that field? And, is it enough to fund a field, or do you also need to require them to come together and work in active coordination? These are important questions for funders to tackle together, along with their advocacy partners.

If you’re an advocacy organization, the opportunity is the same. We all partner with other advocacy organizations regularly, but do we partner to seek funding? What would look different if the organization down the street that does an amazing job at grassroots organizing had a grant funding the same policy priorities as our grant that pays for policy analysis and coalition building? Starting the conversation with funders as a team, with two or more organizations collectively providing a diverse set of advocacy skills, not only has potential to make your advocacy efforts more appealing to funders, it may also make them more successful!


What capacities really matter ~ do we need everything?

Advocacy organizations don’t have to start from scratch to answer this question. National leaders in advocacy evaluation have done the legwork to find out what really matters – what does effective media capacity look like, and what about grassroots capacity? Check out:


[info_box style=”note” icon=”none”]Alliance for Justice’s Advocacy Evaluation website. They identified the most important advocacy capacities and turned them into an assessment tool. Also, you can use their evaluation design tool to think about how you might evaluate the impact of your work.[/info_box]


[info_box style=”note” icon=”none”]The Aspen Institute’s Advocacy Progress Planner. This tool is helpful in planning your advocacy campaign, identifying advocacy capacity benchmarks you want to meet, and evaluating the work.[/info_box]


Regardless of whether you use a formal tool or go through an internal process of assessing your advocacy strengths and gaps, by the end of your process, you should have a clear sense of what is missing from your capacity. What’s next? Finding the right partners! But that’s a whole different blog… (stay tuned!)


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Systems Transformation for Underserved Populations – The Colorado Daylight Project

Systems transformation, which we explore further in our Resources for Igniting Systems-Wide Change Blog, can be applied to just about any type of population with a defined need. In this week’s blog, we’ll explore how one project is approaching systems transformation for a particularly underserved population: the deaf and hard of hearing in Colorado. This effort, called The Colorado Daylight Project (CDP), is a collaborative approach to systems transformation led by the Mental Health Center of Denver and the Colorado Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.


Getting the Right People in the Room

Good systems transformation efforts begin by taking the time to make sure they have all the right stakeholders involved. Sometimes these stakeholders are obvious – for example, representatives of the various agencies providing services – but it is important to look beyond the ‘usual suspects.’

In 2008, providers who wanted to advance access to behavioral health services to Coloradans who are deaf and hard of hearing were brought together from mental health, substance abuse, adult and aging services, deaf and hard of hearing, education, and consumer and family advocacy organizations. By bringing together publicly funded behavioral healthcare providers from throughout Colorado, the Colorado Daylight Project was able to leverage a wide range of expertise in working with deaf and hard of hearing persons and create opportunities for cross-training and sharing resources. But it also went further, bringing in a variety of advocacy organizations, some with a focus on deaf consumers, others focused on hard of hearing consumers, and yet others who advocated for behavioral health services but had not historically advocated for or made their efforts accessible to deaf and hard of hearing consumers.


Laying the Foundation

Another important step in making sure your systems transformation effort is successful is the thoughtful, informed creation of a clear plan of action.

Once convened, The Daylight Project’s key stakeholders formed a Task Force that was able to develop an Action Plan where all the goals, strategies, and actions are built on three essential components: Governance Structure, Standards, and Consumer and Family Leadership. The Task Force used a variety of strategies to create the plan, including a statewide needs assessment survey, a consumer survey, research into the practices underway in other states, and facilitated planning sessions.



Having made their plans, the Daylight Project then moved on to implementation by breaking the action plan down into manageable pieces and forming seven overlapping teams to move forward on individual elements, with each team reporting regularly and receiving advice and feedback from the full group of stakeholders (called the Implementation Team). The teams worked for a two year period to develop, among many other things, the standards of care outlined in the Action Plan, guidance for the standards of care, and multiple trainings. Similar to the planning process, research was used to support these activities, including best practices research to inform the standards; evaluation to provide ongoing feedback to the initiative, including to improve the trainings; and needs assessment to guide the work with provider agencies.

The Core Team

A “Core Team” composed of ½ deaf and hard of hearing leaders and ½ consultants and staff to the project were responsible for carefully coordinating, connecting, and overseeing the many teams focused on different topics.

The Consumer/Family Team

One of the teams played a critical role in guiding the work of the Daylight Project – the Consumer and Family Advocacy work group. They developed culturally competent advocacy trainings accessible to deaf and hard of hearing individuals, families, and natural supports in the community. Their focus was building a cadre of advocates who could not only inform the work of the Daylight Project, but advocate for systems change in the behavioral health system more widely.

The Provider Team

Another team was the Learning Collaborative, a group of eight provider agencies who made an organizational commitment to adapting and adopting best practices to promote the delivery of effective practices for deaf and hard of hearing consumers. They worked internally in their organizations, supported by coaching from Core Team members, and also came together quarterly to learn from each other. This combination allowed for action to occur steadily within each organization as well as opportunities to celebrate successes and hold each other accountable for making progress on their organizational changes.



The Colorado Daylight Project’s approach to transforming the behavioral health system for the deaf and hard of hearing in Colorado is worth watching – this comprehensive and culturally competent effort is well underway to achieving its goals. Want to learn more and think about how to implement a similar systems transformation in your community? Below are resources that can help you!

  • For more information about the Colorado Daylight Project please visit the website, or contact Mary Sterritt, MSW, LCSW at, 720.949.7484 (videophone), or 303.504.6521 (voice).
  • For more information about the strategic planning process used in the Daylight Project, please contact Jewlya Lynn, the facilitator, at