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How we can do better for the sector

By Angela Kail 27 September 2019 4 minute read

When I joined NPC over thirteen years ago, our theory of change was about getting donors to demand better of charities and then charities would improve. For years now, it has been clear that this model doesn’t work and is problematic in how it puts all the emphasis on donors to set the standard about what is effective. We haven’t ascribed to that model of how change happens for more than a decade.

But some of the old thinking still survived, and one of the main places it lingered was in our structure. Having three teams—Funders, Charities and Measurement & Evaluation—was useful to us from a management point of view but inexplicable to people both inside and outside the organisation. In reality we operated in a more fluid way than our siloes would suggest. But regularly people would ask why the Head of the Charity team was leading one of our biggest projects for funders. Not from a qualification point of view, but simply that it didn’t make sense structure wise. And we would find that our work that was produced with one audience in mind—such as funding early years’ work was often used by the other audiences.

Having measurement in a standalone team also gave the impression that measurement could somehow be divorced from the type of organisation you are—which is something we fundamentally don’t agree with. And concentrating on two groups—funders and charities—also neglected the point that we want to make change on the sector as a whole, which encompasses these groups, but also a wider group of academics, commentators, policy makers, sector bodies. The focus on the organisation in our structure, seemed to come at the expense of a sector viewpoint.

We also believe, and our strategy makes this clear, that it is effective approaches that make the sector have more impact. Charities need to think more about how they include user perspectives in their work. But there is no point in doing this if their funders don’t believe the user perspective is valid and instead seek to impose their own view. Effective approaches need to be developed with both funders and charities in mind. That is why we have restructured our consulting team around approaches rather than markets. We feel this will help us ensure that we come up with solutions that work for everyone and are therefore more likely to be implemented. Currently we are working with the executive team and boards of large charities and they are asking us about how strategies and approaches are being adopted by funders. And the same is true when we are working with the boards of foundations. People are interested now in what they can learn from everyone—not just from people who fall into the same category as them.

We now have the Strategy & Leadership team and the Data & Learning team reflecting the work that we do for the entire range of our clients—be it large charities, small charities, corporates, government, philanthropists or trusts and foundation. They all face similar issues in trying to do the best for people, and they all deserve a range of solutions and approaches. And in the names of those two teams there is also another signal about how NPC has changed over the years that I have worked here. When I first started there was a bit of a philosophy that ‘if you build it they will come’—an idea that everyone thought about evidence and effective in the way that we did and all they needed were more tools to help them (incidentally, ‘Tools’ was the first name of our Measurement & Evaluation team).

There are people like that, but there are also people that are still interested in impact measurement purely to fundraise, and aren’t really interested in building a learning culture which is what makes an organisation improve. There are also organisations that have written a really good strategy but never been able to implement. As my colleague Sally wrote,  strategy appears to be about process, but it’s actually about people.  Leadership and culture are an important part of our work.

So, forgive me for the inside baseball blog. Any manager will know that you don’t do a restructure lightly—there’s a lot of boring HR process involved. But it was time for NPC’s internal structures to represent what we actually believe about how change will happen. We believe that this approach will allow us to focus on how we can challenge, inspire and give practical guidance to the sector to help it make more of a difference.


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