The pandemic has shone a spotlight on the importance of smaller charities, voluntary groups and organisations. In the face of increased need, logistical challenges, and a lack of funding, they’ve kept listening to and supporting those who need them.
Via our Inspiring Impact programme, we have launched a new collection of stories from some of these organisations. One of our Inspiring Impact programme partners, NCVO, spoke to 16 groups across England over the last couple of months, to understand how they have adapted and reimaged their services in response to the pandemic.
We are proud to lead the Inspiring Impact programme across the UK, offering free online resources and peer learning events to organisations who want to better understand and improve the difference they make. These new stories are now on the Inspiring Impact website as written case studies and podcasts, along with a ‘top tips’ guide which runs through the best measurement and evaluation advice we learnt from these organisations. These new resources share real-life examples of the challenges and opportunities faced by organisations looking to improve their impact.
The importance of place-based approaches
Given the size of these organisations, most of them focus their efforts on a particular place. A place-based approach considers the whole community—how it works and what it needs—and collaborates with different sectors to make a lasting difference to people’s lives. At NPC, during the pandemic, we saw how relationships were formed or deepened between residents, local councils, the private sector and the third sector. These relationships were critical to the response to Covid-19 and they enabled organisations to act with the speed required to address the immediacy of the problem. For more on the importance of place-based approaches, read our latest research here.
One story in our new collection came from Incredible Edible Marshland, a very small volunteer-led group that aims to use growing and sharing to bring together residents from five rural villages in the East Riding of Yorkshire (they are part of a UK-wide federation of groups). They’ve recently worked with local businesses and other community groups to provide meals; deliver shopping and medicine; distribute grow boxes; and to support local micro-businesses that have popped up. Clear goals and regular communication via WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages have improved coordination and helped enable a, ‘Mexican wave of generosity in the villages,’ according to one volunteer.
Proportionate impact measurement is tricky but essential
Many of the stories highlight a rough and ready approach to collecting ‘good enough’ information, given the circumstances of the Covid-19 crisis. For many, just monitoring what they delivered, and to whom, was all they could manage, and this was usually sufficient in the short term. NPC has pulled together extensive quantitative data about risk factors and current need in different places across the UK, which we hope even smaller organisations will be able to use to target their work, but we know that this needs to be combined with rich, qualitative insights on the ground.
Another story in our new collection focusses on the Middle Eastern Women and Society organisation (MEWSo), a small organisation in London that aims to protect women and girls of North African, South Asian and Middle Eastern heritage from violence at home and in the wider community. Particularly during a pandemic, when so much was unknown, they found that a mix of formal and informal methods were essential for understanding and responding to key issues, such as misinformation about the pandemic.
Deprioritising outcomes and impact data in the short term is an understandable and probably sensible decision for a lot of charities. But we also know that understanding who is and isn’t benefitting from a charity’s activities, and in what way, is crucial when navigating increased demand with limited resources. It’s a tricky balance but one that we believe is possible. To find out more about how other small organisations are adapting and managing this balance, click here to find the new collection of stories. Click here for the ‘top tips’ on measurement and evaluation from these small organisations.