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The evidence for impact

NPC has been talking for ten years about the importance of evidence to support what you do. So the launch of our newest report, Making an impact, is a big day for us. Part of what we do at NPC is helping charities and funders measure their impact, something we believe leads to improved services for beneficiaries at the frontline by helping organisations identify what they are doing well, and where they could improve to become more successful.

Making an impact is important for NPC as it provides evidence to back up our own work, and help us improve the services we offer. For the first time, we have a really clear picture of what charities are doing to measure their impact, what they find difficult, and what they think about measurement.

This data, collected from 1000 charities across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, can help us understand where the gaps in measurement are, and what needs to happen to help charities improve the way they measure. This information can help many in the sector—funders, membership bodies, measurement specialists or government—to understand the things which hold charities back from measuring their impact, and how they can make things easier. For organisations like NPC or initiatives like Inspiring Impact, it’s invaluable.

So what did we find out from our research? 75% of charities say they are measuring impact for at least some of their programmes, and most (72%) have increased the amount they do in the past five years. The vast majority (79%) of charities agree that measuring impact makes them more effective. These are excellent results, and it is heartening to see a genuine interest in and commitment to measuring impact across the sector.

But there is room for improvement when it comes to what charities are measuring. Outputs are still the most popular way of measuring impact (84%), and considerably fewer charities collect outcomes (59%). Perhaps of most concern is the statistic that only 15 to 20% use standardised tools—which shows that there is much work to be done to develop shared measurement approaches and bring this number up.

Unsurprisingly charities see lack of funding and resources as the main barrier stopping them from doing more impact measurement. However, not knowing how and what to measure are the second largest barriers. Size matters, too, with smaller charities much less likely to measure impact (47% of charities with an income under £100,000 do not measure anything).

Perhaps one of the report’s most interesting findings is the discrepancy between why charities measure their impact, and the benefits they see as a result. 52% cited a change in funding requirement as the main reason for increasing impact measurement efforts. But when we asked about the benefits they had seen as a result of measuring their impact, the largest (25%) was improved services, not increased funding. This is a great outcome for NPC, as it backs up our beliefs about the benefits of impact measurement.

Making an impact shows that the majority of charities are hugely positive towards impact measurement but need more support from funders. Now the sector needs to start thinking about how to improve practice and tackle the barriers charities talk about. We need to sustain the momentum in the drive for better impact measurement, and keep the focus on ensuring charities provide the best services they can for the people they help.

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