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Giving Back with Asylum Access and Not In Our Town

By Natalie Blackmur

On August 16, we celebrated our late CEO Ellen Irie’s birthday. We called it Ellen Day and marked the occasion by inviting two local nonprofits to an afternoon of pro-bono consultation. “Consulting Cafes” were a tradition Ellen started last year on our 20th anniversary, and it was her vision that we continue to give our time to organizations with small budgets. We were privileged to work with Not In Our Town and Asylum Access for the afternoon, two organizations whose work is more important than ever.

Not In Our Town, a movement-building organization to stop hate, racism, and bullying, joined a group of us to further clarify their theory of change. We unpacked how Not In Our Town’s activities—including film-making, community organizing, and technical assistance—assist communities to self-organize against hate. We helped their systems-thinking team to articulate connections between their tactics and the better world they envision.

Asylum Access, which serves and advocates for refugees so they can rebuild their lives, worked with another group of us to take a closer look at their evaluation frameworks, especially in how they evaluate and learn from their policy advocacy work. Our conversation turned toward defining success—and the requisite indicators—in highly complex, contingent, and often hostile policy environments.

Even though both of these organizations operate with annual budgets under $3 million, they were asking some of the same evaluation and strategy questions our much larger clients grapple with:

  • What can outcomes look like between a long-term policy win and our advocacy strategies?
  • How do we stay ready for windows of opportunity to change community mindsets? To reach policymakers? What does that capacity look like?
  • Where is our power, and how do we best use it?

These conversations reminded us that organizations are never too small to take on complex strategy and evaluation questions. When we take small steps to answer them, we surface the contexts, assumptions, and the organizational capacities necessary to steer us toward change.

We’re so grateful to Not In Our Town and Asylum Access for joining us—if you can, please support their work (donate to Asylum Access and donate to Not In Our Town). And we’re filled with gratitude for Ellen, and the legacy of inquiry and service she instilled in all of us here at Informing Change. We’re pleased to say that Consulting Cafes are now an annual tradition. We hope to continue them for many years to come.