For trustees to make informed decisions about their charities, they need data on the impact the charity is having. But almost everything can be data, so what should trustees be asking for? NPC holds regular seminars to answer questions like this and here we are sharing the contributions from the panel during the discussion.

Sarah Anderson MBE, CEO and trustee of The Listening Place—You need a team

Often in an organisation there’s no paid staff and no budget for data and measurement. Sometimes there isn’t even a recognised measure of the thing you are trying to capture. So how do you know what data you need?

Sarah’s approach was to put a strong advisory team together, featuring people with evaluation expertise. Together they picked people’s brains—calling on experts across the field (in this case, psychology) to help create meaningful measures.

Sarah stressed the importance of understanding that you might not get it right the first time. They went through many iterations, and the more they consulted with their volunteers the more they were able to refine their own way of doing things.  Having a board impact champion (in their case, a clinician) was very important.

Mike Parker, Chair of Street League—Ambitions about goals, and honesty about failures

Mike brought the perspective of a charity that has used information to learn, improve, and scale at a significant pace—growing from being in just two cities in 2010 to 14 today. Street League has built a reputation for its impact practice, and specifically for its transparency about what is and isn’t working through their interactive dashboard.

Mike described some key factors that have enabled them to be where they are today:

  • Be ambitious: there is no point setting a low bar. Having big goals kept them motivated to push themselves.
  • Be transparent: don’t hide the data you don’t like. Mike described how the charity has been open about the significant drop off of users between 3 months and 6 months of employment. This is plain for all to see on the charity’s impact dashboard and honesty has actually enhanced the charities reputation.
  • Seek advice: this was critical for the Listening place as much as Street League. The latter sought the advice of Impetus who helped them shape their measurement practice early on and encouraged a significant refocusing.

James Noble, Measurement Lead at NPC—Do you know what you are asking for?

James encouraged trustees to think carefully about what they mean when they ask for ‘impact’ measures. It’s easy to ask someone to measure their impact, but what seems like a simple question actually has three components;

(ref: https://clearimpact.com/results-based-accountability/)

When trustees ask their CEOs (or when funders ask their grantees) to measure their impact, they are usually asking whether anyone is better off. Sometimes that is virtually impossible to know, and leads to beneficiaries being asked well-meaning but impossible questions like ‘are you more resilient?’ Sometimes what  is most practical and desirable is to focus on outputs and delivery and ask ‘was this useful to you’ or ‘how could it be better’.

Timing and frequency is also key and James expands on the sort of data to gather and the recommended intervals in his blog, 5 types of data.

Hopefully the information shared by these speakers will help trustees think about what data they might need and how they might go about getting it. To hear the audience discussion with the panel and ask any questions you may have, sign up for the next seminar via our events page.

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