Has this impact thing gone too far?

By Rob Abercrombie 25 November 2011

As a Director at NPC you would expect me to be a paid-up member of the impact brigade and you’d be right. That isn’t a paramilitary organisation, although I suspect some in the sector may disagree, but rather a cohort of charities, funders and individuals who recognise the importance of thinking about and measuring the impact of charitable activity.

Impact measurement is now part of the mainstream, but there remain a substantial number of sceptics. Those who doubt the wisdom or the possibility of measuring impact in a meaningful way. I was reminded of how widespread this scepticism still is at a recent conference, where a panel member accused NPC of ‘bludgeoning’ the sector. Strong words and I’ve heard stronger still, but sitting behind them is a sensible question, has this whole impact thing gone too far?

My perspective is heavily influenced by my experience as trustee of a grant making foundation. As a funder we care a great deal about how we can have the maximum impact with our resources, which sometimes seem meagre given the scale of the problems we aim to address. We also care, therefore, about the impact that the charities we fund have, and crucially about the extent to which they have really thought it through. Those that have stand out very clearly, there aren’t that many.  And no grantee has ever sought a discussion with us about how their grant should be monitored, based on their thinking about impact. We would be delighted to have that conversation. Our standard monitoring approach is not always a perfect fit, and we would be open to grantees taking the initiative, indeed we would take it as a very positive sign.

In my view this provides a clear answer to our question of whether the whole impact thing has gone too far. Personally I believe we have a moral responsibility to think about the impact of our activities, but whatever your opinion about that there is also a clear self-interest argument. Those organisations that are willing to challenge themselves about their impact can alter the balance of power with funders in their favour. At the moment that remains the exception not the rule. Far from having gone too far, this impact thing hasn’t gone far enough.