Small is beautiful

By Matilda Macduff 19 April 2012

Knowing where to start with impact reporting can be a challenge, but for small charities with limited money, time and staff, it can be even more daunting. Good impact reporting is within reach whatever your size—but smaller charities need to keep their reporting in proportion and think carefully about the most important things to measure.

This morning, NPC and CFG hosted a seminar for small charities, Keeping it in proportion, focusing on effective impact reporting for charities whose resources—money, time and people—may be limited. Cath Lee, Chief Executive of the Small Charities Coalition, chaired the event, and speakers included Dr. Hugh Rayment Pickard from IntoUniversity, Meredith Niles from Impetus Trust, and Mark Gilham, chief executive of Harrow Mind. Several themes emerged from the day which are worth bearing in mind when thinking about impact reporting:

  • Know what you need to measure: All our speakers agreed on the need to be clear about what it is you want to measure before you start, so you don’t waste valuable time and resources. Working through a theory of change is an excellent place to begin. A theory of change is a tool which works backwards from your charity’s big, ambitious goal, through the outcomes you need to achieve this, and the activities which lead to these outcomes. It helps you take a step back and check you are doing the right thing. It also helps you identify clear points where you can measure your outcomes to show whether you are making the change you want.
  • Start with two or three key things: Don’t feel like you have to jump straight in and monitor everything you do. If your resources are limited, start by measuring the things you think are the most important elements in your theory of change. Once you’ve mapped a theory of change, it is usually possible to identify which activities and outcomes are absolutely key to achieving your aim, so start by concentrating on these.
  • Use the tools and data available to you: Surveys you can administer yourself, testimonials from beneficiaries, or published data already available about the people you help are a good place to start, and tend to be more accessible to small charities. First Story, for example, carries out before and after surveys on students and teachers at participating schools, looks at existing data on a school’s exam results, and collects testimonials from students, which combine to give a really thorough and engaging picture of the difference their work makes. This morning’s speakers also highlighted the value of using existing research to think about your long-term goals, and provide evidence for why you think your approach will work.
  • Know why you’re doing it: There are many reasons to start impact reporting, from engaging donors and funders, to inspiring staff, to boosting your credibility, and ensuring people focus on the right things. But ultimately, as Dr. Rayment Pickard summed up at this morning’s session, the most important reason to measure your impact is for yourselves: ‘you’ve dedicated your life to this, you want to make sure it works.’

You can read a selection of tweets from this morning’s event below, and if you are inspired to get going with your own impact reporting, NPC’s new report, Theory of change: the beginning of making a difference is a good place to start!