Charity analysis—why don’t more people analyse charities?

By Iona Joy 16 June 2010

I don’t have the answer to this, but it baffles me. In my previous lives, first as a banker (sorry), then as a development financier (better), we spent hours analysing companies, projects, markets—in fact anything that moved. And even now, when I look anxiously at my paltry savings (yes, I’m that old), I want to know about the companies I’ve invested in. I also know that companies read stockbrokers reports on themselves—and the competition—assiduously and mull over the contents.

So to me, analysis should be part of everyday life in the charitable sector. But I’m not sure everyone recognises the benefits of charity analysis. Many of the people we work with and who come to our events are interested in impact measurement, but how many charity trustees or fundraising departments prioritise a general analysis of their charities? In my opinion, charity analysis has three main benefits:

1/ Management and trustees can use the analysis to refocus activities, decide priorities, and change things that aren’t working.

Let me give you an example. Late 2008, NPC analysed the UK charity Macmillan Cancer Support. We highlighted a need for the charity to invest more in its evaluation and measurement. Since then, the charity has decided to set up an Intelligence and Research Unit, headed up by a dynamic job-sharing duo, Catherine Boyle and Jenny Ritchie-Campbell, to oversee user research, impact measurement, and to bring findings together and learn from them. And although benefits of the unit’s work will take a few years’ to show, NPC visited Macmillan recently and was excited by progress. The unit has set priorities for what the charity needs to know about the needs of people with cancer and whether its services meet the needs effectively. Catherine has also used NPC’s analysis to build a case for getting the resources she needs to do the job well.

2/ Analysis is a great tool for charities to learn from each other, and helps to stimulate debate around effectiveness.

Every time we analyse a charity we learn something new. We can then apply this to another charity, whether we are doing charity analysis or providing a consulting service. From analysing the eating disorders charity Beat, I’ve learnt that it is possible to overhaul a board that is very well-intended but needs skilling up. The well-known UK helpline, Samaritans, has taught me a lot about volunteering and what a quasi-professional volunteer force looks like. And the UK charity CAADA shows how a charity can improve results in a sector—in this case domestic violence—by improving the evidence base and training other charities and professionals.

We publish examples of analysis so that charities don’t need to hire our consulting services in order to learn from others. These examples hold some fascinating insights into what other charities are doing, so we’d encourage charities to be nosey, and read what their peers have been up to. We also want people to debate our methodology and comment on the analysis they read. NPC is as keen to evolve as the charities we analyse.

3/ Charities can use the analysis to talk to funders.

We’d like to see more charities adopting the analytical route when talking to funders. We know from talking to funders that they like a neutral report. We also know that an independent piece of analysis can persuade funders to provide funding that the charity needs, rather than funding for yet another project. One charity we spoke to, Research Autism, shared NPC’s analysis with a funder who then gave them a £80k rolling core grant. The time cost to do the analysis was about 10% of the value of just one year’s grant. A clear benefit in my book.

So what will it take for charity analysis to get into the mainstream? More competition for one, NPC is always moaning about being one of the only players in this space. Greater willingness of funders and charities to pay for analysis would also help. Or charity trustees/management could spend the time doing the analysis themselves.