Since our founding we’ve worked to understand what makes a charity effective and to help charities achieve this. We’ve aimed to identify barriers to achieving impact, and how changes in the external environment could support charities to deliver better results.
Building effective organisations
Our early work to develop a framework for analysing charities—originally articulated in Funding success (2005) and The little blue book (2010)—was updated in 2016 and published as What makes a good charity?.
Theory of change has been core to our work since 2012, as a basis for strategy and for impact measurement. Through our research and analysis, training and consultancy, we developed and popularised the idea that charity work should be premised on a theory of change, from which strategy and impact measurement can flow. Our guide to theory of change has been downloaded over 35,000 times. It is a key part of much of our consulting work, and feedback from charities and funders confirm how useful it can be. We have also shared our thinking and approach on strategy development for charities—most recently as Strategy for impact.
We have a focus on how boards can work to create more impact. Our work to promote good governance, started in 2009 with the report Board matters, which reviewed the state of charity trusteeship in the UK. Since then we have run regular seminars for trustees, produced freely available guidance and commentary on improving governance, worked with the Clothworkers’ Company to set up and deliver the Charity Governance Awards to celebrate examples of effective governance, inputted to the consultation the Lords Select Committee on Charities, and influenced the Charity Governance code.
Creating a supportive environment
The environment within which charities work and the way in which they interact with other players, has a strong influence on their success.
In the early days we worked to promote full cost recovery, in partnership with ACEVO and KPMG. The resulting template and principles were adopted by many organisations, including the Big Lottery Fund. We also worked on streamlining charity reporting requirements, which informed the National Audit Office’s guidance on grantee reporting, cutting red tape for charities and their statutory funders.
The relationship between charities and the state has become more challenging in recent years. In our sector research pieces published between 2004 and 2010, a key element of analysis was how charities interacted with the state. In recent years we have developed this further, with a sector focus on health, criminal justice and education. We have worked on projects developing and strengthening links between charities and commissioners, such as with the arts and cultural sector, and charities working on social determinants of health.
We have always advocated for impact to be at the centre of charity and donor interactions. We have made the case for the importance of communicating impact in retaining and rebuilding public trust of charities. Key to this is impact reporting: our initial work on this drew heavily on the work of Intelligent Giving—an organisation which merged with NPC in 2009. Later came our partnership on Principles of good impact reporting, which remains a core source of guidance on impact reporting.
Looking to the future
An important part of our role is to challenge charities and funders to look to the future for new and more effective ways of achieving their goals.
Charities are under ever-increasing pressure to deliver more with less, amplified by recent fundraising and governance scandals. While some are adapting and taking the lead in new thinking and ways of operating, others are lagging behind. Our State of the Sector work has provided new research into the challenges facing the sector, and the responses of charities. It aims to inject new thinking and ideas on how charity sector leaders can adapt and thrive in this changing context. We are using the evidence generated from research involving around 400 charity leaders to define and prioritise our future work.
Digital technology can make changes to the fundamental architecture of the sector—making it easier for charities to integrate with others, collaborate and coordinate their activities and to put beneficiaries at the heart of service design and delivery—and to save money while doing it too. Our programme of work on digital transformation brings together funders and charities to put collective digital transformation projects into practice.