Beldon Fund

Final Impact Assessment: Legacy #4

The Beldon Fund:
Final Impact Assessment

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Beldon encouraged the use of tools, technology, metrics, and evaluation in ways that were new to many grantees at the time but now represent a best-practice in the nonpartisan civic engagement field.

Beldon introduced both its grantees and other funders to tools, technology, metrics, and evaluation practices that were just emerging in the 501(c)(3) civic engagement world at the time. Beldon promoted these new tools and practices by providing training to grantees, holding convenings for grantees and funders, presenting at conferences, funding the development of new tools, and encouraging grantees to use these tools and adopt new practices. Beldon also placed a premium on measuring and evaluating progress toward civic engagement and advocacy goals and on modifying strategies and work plans based on the evaluation results.

“I think Beldon’s emphasis on tools and capacity-building and bringing a rigorous data-driven emphasis has helped both those organizations at the state tables and at a national level. It’s part of our national civic engagement landscape that wasn’t here before.”

In particular, Beldon was an early and vocal funder and advocate for the use of voter files as a key tool for nonpartisan civic engagement and advocacy work. The use of voter files for 501(c)(3) work was at its infancy in Beldon’s time, and Beldon encouraged their use as a foundation for more effective advocacy and organizing and as a shared data source where collaborating groups could track their nonpartisan voter engagement and broader advocacy activities. The use of voter files for advocacy was an especially vital tool for collaboration, allowing groups to divide up work in a more efficient manner and track their activities and evaluate their success in a transparent database that all groups could review and access. It also allowed for far greater accountability-for individual organizations to measure outcomes against their goals and plans, for collaborative partners to keep each other on track, and for funders interested in understanding the return on their investments.

The use of voter files (and the technology platforms for accessing and sharing files) has, of course, become more sophisticated since Beldon spent out. Many interviewees, though, felt that Beldon’s strong emphasis on using voter files and encouraging organizations to learn how they could be best leveraged for collaboration and measurement helped accelerate development and adoption of voter files.

“The tools were enormous-the voter file. Beldon was the first to fund this. Those types of tools were huge and I could not imagine not having them now. Our groups could not afford the tools on our own. Beldon made the sharing possible.”

Beldon not only helped fund new tools such as the voter file, but also helped support environmental advocates’ access and maximize other tools that were also commonly used in other arenas, such as modeling and polling, in a more sophisticated and consistent manner. Polling is, of course, frequently used to assist with message development and to measure progress on an issue or campaign. While polling was commonly used in other arenas, it was inconsistently used by environmental groups because they often did not have the resources. Beldon helped address this gap and further helped increase the sophistication in the way polling was used.

“Things like the VAN, voter file, models, modeling the kind of tools we have always used... Beldon helped bring them over. People were using polling and focus groups but did not understand how to use them...Beldon helped folks understand these tools better and helped introduce us to other tools.”

Metrics and evaluation were also very important to Beldon as a way to measure progress, ensure real-time learning, and foster greater accountability. Beldon provided funding for environmental organizations to evaluate their work, and, in other instances, directly commissioned independent evaluators to determine the effectiveness of particular advocacy campaigns, strategies, or tactics. This focus on evaluation and learning from advocacy work in real time was, of course, not invented by the Beldon Fund, but they championed it to such a degree that even today people speak of Beldon’s influential and early work to make regular and systematic evaluation a standard practice.

“It’s good to have outside donors to force those kinds of testing and results that make everyone better. At that time, it was pretty new. Now it feels pretty normal. But to be testing and having metrics in field organizing was pretty new.”

“They were huge early adopters of using data...that was their approach and it became our approach.”

In relation to tools and evaluation, it is interesting that several interviewees reflected that, during Beldon’s time, the tools and measurement capabilities couldn’t always measure what Beldon was hoping to measure. In that way, many said Beldon was ahead of its time. Since Beldon left the field, the technology and tools have caught up with the metrics and data. The measurement and evaluation of civic engagement efforts is now an essential expectation in the field.