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How can small, local charities best measure their impact?

  • Janine Edwards is Head of Consultancy and Development at the FSI, a charity that specialises in supporting small charities.  She provides training and consultancy across a range of impact and organisational development areas.

    Over the past few years the terms ‘outcomes’ and ‘impact’ have been heard increasingly across the charity sector and being able to demonstrate them is now vital. Funders, supporters, volunteers, trustees, and numerous other stakeholders are now, more than ever, interested in the impact your charity has. Not just what you do but what changes you make as an organisation. The challenge for small, local charities is how to do this effectively and efficiently, when they do not have the resources of their larger counterparts.

    At the FSI we regularly train and deliver consultancy projects helping small, local charities measure and demonstrate their impact more effectively. I am always amazed at the range of reasons why people want to develop in this area. A lot want to develop better relationships with funders and donors, many want to check their programmes are working and are as effective as possible, and others want to engage volunteers, trustees or staff in a more meaningful way. However with so much information out there it can be difficult to know how best to approach it. For whatever the reason you are looking to measure and demonstrate your impact, here are some practical, and we hope useful, tips and tools:

    1. Get definition savvy

    If you’re not already familiar with the different terms it’s important to know what each of them is referring to so that you know exactly what you are measuring and what it means.  Outcomes are generally defined as the changes (positive or negative) that occur as a result of your work, which is experienced by your stakeholders. Inspiring Impact have a useful glossary available to download on their website.

    2. Focus on outcomes

    New Philanthropy Capital published research a few years ago that showed even the largest charities overwhelmingly report on outputs rather than outcomes. It is a much more engaging story to talk about outcomes and what changed as a result of your interaction with your beneficiaries. Instead of saying we trained X people in the last year, you want to be able to demonstrate how that training made a difference to them. Keeping asking why – if they gained skills and confidence because of the training, why is that important? Did it help them secure or maintain a job, or perhaps travel independently or to administer emergency first aid and potentially save someone’s life.

    Sometimes the outcomes can be really hard to measure, but if you are not at least thinking about it then you are almost certainly not able to communicate and demonstrate the full value of your work.

    3. Develop an impact measurement framework

    There are many different models you can choose from and it is important to find one which works for your organisation. At the FSI we use Logic Models and you can find a great resource guide from Evaluation Support Scotland on how to develop your own. We have also found tools like the Charities Evaluation Service (CES) Planning Triangle helpful. Importantly, whatever option you choose, you should describe your activities, inputs, outputs and outcomes, your outcome indicators and how you will measure them. You may want to go one step further and identify the need your work is addressing, the enabling factors that are important for your work to be successful and the assumptions you have made in your model.

    4. Decide what to measure – and how

    With your framework in place you should know what your outcomes are, you then need to decide which of these are the most important for you to measure and identify your outcome indicators and measurement. 

    Often this will not involve redesigning your whole system but simply tweaking what you already do by, for example, inputting a few extra questions to the evaluation forms or putting in place a follow up call to previous clients.  It can be helpful to look at what measurement tools other charities are using, particularly those doing similar work to you, to see if you can adapt or use these in your own work.

    5. Collect quantitative and qualitative data

    This will help you tell a more compelling story. Use statistics and quotes to appeal to both the head and heart. Using quotes will help you demonstrate the difference you make using your beneficiary’s direct words which can be very powerful. This previous blog for Localgiving from Becky Slack provides some great tips on storytelling.

    6. Share your impact far and wide!

    Your annual report is a good place to start – all too often the annual reports I read include the same variation on last year’s review, with a focus on activities, outputs and the finances. This is a great place to start but remember the readership will be narrow. Identify the key statistics and stories and show them on your website, in social media, your newsletters and in other communications. There are so many ways you already communicate with stakeholders so don’t forget to miss the opportunity to share and inspire them with  your impact. NfpSynergy provide four great examples from charities including a great example of sharing impact via social media from Barnardos Scotland.

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