Charity Support, Advice, Impact Measurement, Philanthropy Impact – NPC

Answering the ‘so what’ question

By Paul Farmer 17 April 2012


Mind is one of Britain’s best known charities. We want to see everyone experiencing a mental health problem get the support they need and the respect they deserve. We provide help and support to nearly 300,000 people every year. We are a high profile campaigning organisation giving people with mental health problems a voice. And we’re working in partnership with Rethink Mental Illness on Time to Change, the biggest campaign to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination this country has ever seen.

So what?

That was the question senior managers and trustees within Mind wanted to answer. We might distribute millions of pieces of information each year, but does it make a difference? Does our campaigning work really change lives? Does our local work help people achieve their potential? Like many charities, we believe the answer to these questions to be yes, but do we really know?

As senior managers we know that much of our work is valued, but was there too much emphasis on output rather than outcomes? For trustees, as long term custodians of the charity, the issue was whether it’s possible to find a way to evaluate progress towards our vision over a longer period of time

So we turned to NPC to help us devise and develop a new evaluation framework. We asked them to work with us to create an evaluation framework to answer the “so what” question. This has coincided with developing a new strategy for the next four years.

It’s been an interesting journey. We started by creating our own Theory of Change—how we believe our work achieves real change for people with mental health problems. We used this framework to create a strategy that is focused on the outcomes that our stakeholders told us were most important to them.

We worked with a small number of departments to build the skills required and an evaluation toolkit. At a governance level, we’ve kept our trustees fully involved. Locally, we’ve run a pilot with five local Minds.

Eighteen months later, we’re here. We have a new strategy with a comprehensive evaluation system in place. We will use that information in our annual reporting so that beneficiaries, donors and other stakeholders can see the impact we’re making. We have the best possible chance of being able to answer the “so what” question.

This week, NPC will publish a guide to theory of change for charities, which will be available to download free from our website.