Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Hans Peter Schmitz, PhD, Chair; Leslie Boozer, EdD, JD, Member; Jeff D. Unsicker, PhD, Member


nonprofit organizations, advocacy, evaluation, social change


Nonprofit organizations (NPOs) are uniquely positioned to play a vital role in social change, and many integrate advocacy in their efforts. This dissertation examined how one human service nonprofit organization working to help the unhoused engaged in advocacy and advocacy evaluation using formal and informal methods. Through an in-depth case study of Think Dignity, a San Diego-based NPO engaged in the day-to-day work of social change, this research revealed how it developed its advocacy efforts, collaborated with partners, and assessed its successes and failures. Informed by the framework of social change leadership, the researcher conducted semi-structured interviews with Think Dignity. Analysis of documentation and social media from Think Dignity and its advocacy partners as well as extensive field notes provided additional context and data.

Think Dignity and its advocacy partners experienced successes and setbacks at individual and systemic levels. Within a short time, it established itself as a credible voice and advocate on the issues surrounding homelessness. Even when experiencing setbacks, Think Dignity considered how it shaped the overall narrative and kept its sight on its objective of systemic change for unhoused individuals. Relevant internal factors that contributed to Think Dignity’s advocacy include: (1) its ability to adapt successful campaigns from other locales to the setting of San Diego; (2) its strength as an advocacy partner based on its grassroots connections and experience providing services to the unhoused; (3) its multi-campaign approach; and (4) the wealth of experience from its staff, board, and advocacy partners.

Its advocacy success was also influenced by external factors such as public health and societal crises and lawmakers whose agendas aligned with their cause and with whom the organization could partner. However, those secondary factors only mattered because of Think Dignity’s agency, its collaboration with other grassroots organizations, and its consistent messaging to galvanize the public and compel policymakers to act.

Many of the frameworks, strategies, and tools are created by foundations or external evaluators. By studying advocacy and advocacy evaluation in a small NPO, this study develops a more grounded understanding of ongoing advocacy efforts in complex political settings.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.