‘Impact practice’ is a broad term encompassing all the activities a charity does to learn how to best serve the people or causes it supports. At NPC we generally prefer the term ‘impact practice’ to ‘impact measurement’, because the process is about much more than just gathering data in order to measure it. Instead, impact practice can be broken down into four stages:
- Planning the change you want to make and how you are going to achieve it (such as by developing a theory of change)
- Measuring your performance against your plan (by collecting data on how your programme or service is working)
- Assessing what the data is telling you (by looking for patterns and drawing conclusions about what is happening)
- Reviewing your programme, service or campaign based on what you’ve learnt (by implementing improvements and communicating your findings with others)
Getting started with impact practice can be daunting for charities who are new to these steps. Small charities in particular can find it most challenging to prioritise and focus on impact practice, since they have small staff teams and limited resources available to them. Unlike many larger charities, they usually don’t have dedicated evaluation staff, or access to external consultants to support them in this process.
The value of impact practice to small charities
However, small charities shouldn’t feel put off because they don’t have large budgets to dedicate to impact practice. They should instead think carefully about where to focus their efforts, so it can be done effectively and offer the most value, whilst being in proportion with the scale of their work. Earlier this year, NPC launched a new area of our website with resources dedicated to supporting charities to do just that. The resources offer detailed and practical guidance for each of the four stages outlined above, which are collectively referred to as the ‘cycle of good impact practice’.
Impact practice can be inherently valuable to small charities. When done effectively, it can help charities to focus their limited resources on the activities that they know work well; implement improvements to increase the effectiveness of their activities even further; boost morale within their teams by demonstrating how their work is making a difference, and attract funding opportunities. Ultimately, impact practice can help charities to deliver in the best way they can within their current circumstances. With many charities being squeezed in the context of the cost of living crisis, the benefits offered by effective impact practice could be more valuable than ever.
Our new website area has been adapted from the Inspiring Impact programme, which ran for over a decade from 2011-2022, and supported small and medium charities who do not already have expertise in this area. When Inspiring Impact ended, the coalition of partners that led the programme felt it was important to keep support available to the sector, to continue addressing the confusion around impact practice and to tackle the jargon commonly used when talking about this topic.
Streamline your approaches
Although impact practice will always require an investment of time and resources to be done well, these webpages are designed to help charities streamline their approaches to be as efficient as possible. For example, one of our resource pages in the ‘Planning’ stage supports you to review existing evidence about ‘what works’, both from data you have already collected yourself and from external sources. This is a vital, although often overlooked, component of impact practice, because once there is already evidence to show an approach achieves certain outcomes and impacts, there is no need to duplicate this by collecting further data about it. Therefore, by paying attention to existing evidence, charities can make more effective decisions in prioritising what they need to measure, based on where the gaps are.
If you’re from a charity in the early stages of your impact journey, we would encourage you to make use of the new area of our website, which can be found via this link. You can start by going through the cycle of good impact practice step by step, or alternatively by picking and choosing the areas where your organisation would most benefit from support. There is lots of detailed content, so we recommend you start small and build your understanding over time, creating time and space to focus on impact within your teams. In doing so, you can start to develop an approach to impact practice that makes effective use of resources, is motivating for staff, and that is genuinely useful in supporting your mission.
NPC also has a range of other resources to support your impact practice. Our Theory of change in ten steps guide is a handbook focussing on the basics of developing a theory of change, targeted at smaller projects and charitable services. Our Understanding Impact guide is aimed at charities who have developed their theory of change, and want to use it to develop a plan for what data to collect. You can also browse our resource hub to find further blogs, podcasts and guides around this topic.