Annie E. Casey Foundation: Assessing capacity needs for more effective advocacy

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Annie E. Casey Foundation: Assessing capacity needs for more effective advocacy


Grantees wanted help prioritizing their organizational needs and finding the right technical assistance to equip them to drive policy change for children and families


Between 2014 and 2016, grantees increased organizational capacity scores in all six target competency areas, resulting in significant state policy gains for kids


For two decades, the Annie E. Casey Foundation had supported KIDS COUNT, a grantee network of 53 state-based organizations dedicated to advocating for policies that ensure all children have what they need to thrive. While network members were collecting state-level data on the most critical needs of children and families and helping shift policies to better support kids, capacity across the network varied. The foundation found itself frequently responding to urgent grantee needs rather than equipping grantees to proactively build their capacity for more effective advocacy.

Beginning in 2011, the Casey Foundation partnered with Community Wealth Partners to develop a customized tool to help grantees assess their capacity. We began by working with the foundation and network to develop a list of core competencies that they defined as essential for high-functioning child advocacy organizations. We worked closely with the foundation and grantees to design a self-assessment—to be completed by grantees and their stakeholders—that would give grantees a clear picture of their strengths and opportunities for growth and inform the foundation’s investments in building the capacity of this grantee network.

So that the foundation could strengthen trust with grantees and make them comfortable with the process, we served as an intermediary. We sent grantees the assessment, collected and analyzed their responses, and then created two types of reports:

  1. a report for the Casey Foundation that showed only aggregated information across the portfolio of grantees;
  2. individual organization reports for each respective organization’s leaders, which included recommendations for improvement. The foundation never saw the individual organization reports.

The foundation’s capacity building support continues far beyond the assessment: To equip grantees to get the support they deem most important, all KIDS COUNT network members have access to a diverse array of technical assistance providers and an online resource library, which is organized by competency areas. As a technical assistance provider, we partner with grantees to provide customized support, including leadership and team coaching.

Equipping grantees to

proactively build their capacity


Since 2011, we have administered the assessment every two or three years. All 53 grantees have taken the assessment at least once. While the individual organization reports help grantees home in on their needs, the aggregate reports inform the foundation’s decisions to ensure the network has access to the most important capacity building support. For example, when the foundation saw in 2014 that the network scored lowest in the “racial equity and inclusion” category, it engaged more technical assistance providers with racial equity expertise. The aggregate results also provide insights on competencies that are most likely to lead to greater impact. For example, data show that organizations that assessed themselves as strong in “strategic leadership and decision making” successfully advocated for nearly 25 times more public dollars and reached more than four times the number of children and families as those whose scores indicated they were not as advanced in this area.

The capacity indicator assessment, customized technical assistance, and leadership and team coaching for grantees have been some of the ways we have partnered with the Casey Foundation for more than a decade to help grantees build capacity to achieve the outcomes they seek.

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