Charity workers

All in proportion: reflections on impact

By Guest contributor 17 January 2014

Liza Kellett is Chief Executive of Community Foundation in Wales.

The Community Foundation in Wales has recently completed an evaluation of a strategic, ten-year community-led grant investment programme run by one of our clients, the Fair Share Trust. Motivated by the trust’s collaborative and creative approach, we decided to use a range of tools including storytelling, monitoring and analysis, and assessing the distance travelled with local stakeholders. We talked about our findings at our Cardiff conference and other key events, using social media, and in a range of impact reports.

However, in delivering this impact evaluation and reviewing options for measuring the impact of our new campaign, the Fund for Wales, and through our participation in the Inspiring Impact programme as part of the ACF-managed ‘Funders for Impact Working Group’, I realised we could do so much more to measure and share the impact of our grant-making and community investments. Of course, our impact extends beyond this and incorporates promoting and managing philanthropy to build sustainable sources of funding for Welsh communities.

And just as importantly, we also have a responsibility and opportunity as funders to support the charity and community sector in showing the value of their work.

So we decided to go right back to basics: to review our own objectives and impact as a funder, and better understand how we can provide leadership, support and inspiration to the organisations we fund to help them explore, explain and measure their own impact.

We got the ball rolling by inviting James Magowan of ACF to establish a shared and broad understanding of what impact is and how we can show, and support, impact measurement. It was really important to bring all staff together on this to achieve an organisation-wide level of understanding, appreciation and engagement and build capacity and professional development at all levels. We wanted to make sure our grants ‘wing’ grasped that impact assessment is so much more than monitoring and grant reporting, and that our business development ‘wing’ recognised that understanding and sharing the impact of our work with donors and stakeholders is vital for our organisational development.

We set the Inspiring Impact – Funders’ principles and drivers of good impact practice as homework and used it as a starting point for the day. Following a context- setting session from James we cantered through the ‘Principles’, which was particularly helpful having recently doubled our small staff team. Comments expressed relief at the need for proportionality, and suggested we continue to encourage the engagement of all staff and trustees by allocating different staff members to co-ordinate the pilot impact measurement reviews of specific programmes and  meeting again in six months’ time to reflect on progress, learning and next steps.

Finally we completed a grid to assess where we felt the Community Foundation in Wales currently sits in relation to the Drivers of Good Impact Practice. Interestingly, although we were in general agreement about our current positioning, there were a range of assessments for each element reviewed. Even more interesting was that those with more detailed knowledge of measuring impact assessed our performance as lower/less evolved than those who were relatively new or junior.

We’ve now identified three specific programmes with very different characteristics and objectives, to pilot three different styles of impact measurement—one using results-based accountability, another using stories (chosen because this client appreciates anecdotal impact case studies), and a third showing how even £10,000 transactional one-off grants can relate to, respond to, and support Welsh Government policies and strategic programmes.

We’ve also agreed to re-convene to discuss  how best to support our grant beneficiaries in using the Code of Good Impact Practice, and how we can develop a simple standardised impact measurement tool across all our grants and programmes. As a community foundation we manage over 40 funds and programmes, each with bespoke objectives, criteria and expectations and ranging in grant size from £500 to £150,000-so setting a proportionate, meaningful and manageable core impact measurement system will be our core priority.