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Getting started with impact: A trustee’s view

By George Hoare 8 November 2016

In light of trustees week, George Hoare reflects on his own experiences as a charity trustee, explaining how his board has established ways to measure the charity’s impact.

At NPC we work with charities on a range of topics, governance being a key one. And outside of our work, many of us are trustees of charities in our own time. As well as governance, we talk a lot about impact—including how a focus on impact at a board level is crucial to a charity being able to understand and improve its effectiveness and how it can improve.

I’ve experienced the process of marrying impact and governance first-hand, in my own role as trustee outside my work at NPC. For the past year, I’ve been a trustee of a small, new charity, Universify Education—which I set up with my brother Harry and our friend Rob. We’re all committed to countering educational inequality in the UK and, specifically, we want to increase access to university for lower-income students.

As a new charity, we have started from scratch with everything, including our impact. Very early on we agreed that, for Universify to be worthwhile, we had to be able to know whether we are actually helping to increase access to university for our students.

Drawing on my work at NPC, as well as lots of free NPC resources, I tried to apply my expertise to help us develop a robust impact measurement approach for Universify. We found it really useful to create a theory of change: it helped us to spell out our thinking and decide which outcomes we wanted to measure.

Recognising the importance of impact measurement, we invested in it by hiring an experienced independent evaluator. They helped us develop a measurement approach, drawing on standard indicators for the outcomes we wanted to measure using Inspiring Impact’s Journey to EmploymenT framework. We then constructed our student questionnaire, which provided some of the evidence for Universify’s first impact report.

We will only be able to see whether our students go on to apply to (and be accepted at) highly selective universities like Oxford in a few years’ time. In the meantime, we are collecting information on what the evidence suggests might be good predicators of our final goal: our students’ aspirations, their feelings of self-control and autonomy, and what ideas they associate with the idea of ‘university’.

Being a trustee myself has taught me a great deal about the challenges facing other charity boards—and perhaps particularly those of smaller charities—and how tough it can be to introduce new impact measurement practices. But I’m happy that we kept our focus on our impact. I think in the future it will give us confidence that Universify is doing what it set out to do. So I’d encourage any board to follow suit.

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