State EITC Rapid Response Fund Evaluation Outcomes and Lessons Learned

In 2016, the fund hired the Center for Evaluation Innovation and Innovation Network to conduct a retrospective evaluation of the Rapid Response Fund (RRF). The evaluation sought to address three key questions:

  • Are the RRF processes and resources structured as effectively as possible?
  • Are there common contextual factors affecting RRF outcomes?
  • What is the range of outcomes resulting from RRF funding (policy wins, changes in capacity, changes in coalition strength, etc.)?

Key evaluation findings are outlined below, based on surveys, interviews and a meeting with representatives of almost all RRF awardee organizations.

All awardees believe RRF adds unique value, due to its flexibility and the added capacity it often provides that would otherwise be out of reach. This targeted injection of funds often hits the mark from a process perspective, and opens the door to tactical creativity, but it may benefit from some further thinking around the funding timeline and needs of supported groups.

  • Application and reporting:  The RRF application and reporting process is notably simple and awardees appreciate the ease with which they receive and report on the awards. No major adjustments were recommended.
  • Timing and structure: There has been an evolution of tactics and orientation in the EITC campaigns that may benefit from some shifts in the timing and structure of the RRF.
    • Focusing rapid response funds as originally structured on the types of tactics that are more likely to be successful when there is only a short time frame for design and execution—such as paid media or retooling existing messaging—may increase the impact of the funding. In cases where awardees need an infusion of funds for tactics that require more in-depth planning and execution time, or where the tactics take longer to bear fruit (such as coalition building or citizen engagement work), the timing of the funds is less effective. Providing funds earlier in the campaign planning cycle for these kinds of tactics would allow advocates to maximize their use.
    • Earlier notification of the availability of awards would enable awardees to more effectively design and carry out the expanded range of tactics the funds support.
  • Definition of success: EITC policy victories were the primary goal of these campaigns, but many awardees spoke to contributions RRF made to coalitional, organizational, and momentum building successes. These other successes are important milestones for awardees working on longer-term investments in an engaged electorate and a more favorable and progressive tax climate that can support a state EITC. These kinds of milestones feel equally valuable to awardees given the instability of the current political climate and consequent threats to the sustainability of any progress or “wins.”
  • Focus and scope: The focus of RRF has always been to promote state EITCs, and in only limited cases have awardees combined the EITC together with other tax credits to promote or protect a suite of credits simultaneously. Feedback from awardees indicated an interest in broadening the mandate of the RRF to include other low-income tax credits. While shifting the focus off of EITC can be seen as straying from the initial, and very clear, RRF goal of raising awareness of state EITCs, advances on other tax credits can themselves be important momentum-builders towards EITC success in the future.
  • Technical assistance: Assistance from technical assistance providers is an integral part of RRF and awardees deeply value both the big picture view and concrete skills and resources they bring to in-state campaigns. In some instances, awardees do not understand the full range of assistance available to them, or seek additional tailored support, but the bulk of the assistance to awardees is successful as-is.

As a result of reflections from fund partners and the evaluation, the fund is exploring making changes including providing support for year-long efforts, starting the work with awardees sooner in the planning cycle, and providing greater transparency as to when funds might be available.