This case study shares an example of how a nonprofit organization with a mix of direct service and advocacy work approached developing its intended impact and theory of change.

Many organizations conduct a mix of direct service and advocacy work. The relationship between these two distinct areas of work may take different forms. For example, some organizations may engage in advocacy to enable the success of their direct service work. Others may aim to use the results of their direct services as compelling proof points to inform advocacy work for systemic changes in policy or practice.

When these types of organizations develop or refresh their intended impacts and theories of change, it is often helpful to identify impact goals associated with each area of work, given that direct services and advocacy typically involve different activities and different measures of success. In addition, organizations should aim to clarify how their direct service and advocacy efforts link to each other and why each is needed to achieve the overall impact they aspire to.

As with organizations focused mainly on advocacy, hybrid organizations that combine advocacy and direct service need to adapt to challenges and opportunities in the external environment by balancing the need to stay focused on strategy with flexibility in implementation.

Just because an organization does some advocacy work does not necessarily mean advocacy should be an explicit part of its intended impact and theory of change. We typically only find it useful if the organization is investing significant resources in advocacy and holding itself accountable for those results.

The Bail Project

Mission: The Bail Project combats mass incarceration by disrupting the money bail system—one person at a time. We restore the presumption of innocence, reunite families, and challenge a system that criminalizes race and poverty. We’re on a mission to end cash bail and create a more just, equitable, and humane pretrial system.

Intended Impact: Over the next five years, The Bail Project will post bail for tens of thousands of the poorest members of our society—who are also disproportionately people of color—within 25 communities that are geographically, demographically, and politically diverse. The Bail Project will create a nationally representative set of proof points to show that cash bail is not required to ensure appearance in court. These efforts will advance The Bail Project’s long-term advocacy goal to change national norms so that decision makers opt for “community release with support” models instead of setting unaffordable cash bail that results in unnecessary detention and incarceration.

Theory of Change: Drawing on data from our direct service experiences, we will demonstrate that our model of community release with support works across diverse settings. Our data will demonstrate that our model yields high rates of court return, results in fairer case outcomes without negatively affecting overall public safety, and leads to cost savings within jurisdictions. Armed with this data, we will motivate broad adoption of our Community Release with Support model by working directly with partners and key decision makers at local and state levels to enact systemic policy change. In parallel, we will work to ensure jurisdictions have the tools to implement and sustain our model of community release with support as systemic change takes hold.

Revenue: $15 million (2018 fiscal year)

Field: Criminal Justice

Geography/footprint: United States

Read the full article about The Bail Project at The Bridgespan Group.