We at NPC have been encouraging charities and funders to put impact at the heart of what they do for more than a decade. Over this time, the debate has undoubtedly moved on—from whether planning and measuring impact is important to how it should be done, and from how organisations can start on their journey to how they can really embed it in everything they do.
Yet behind all this progress on the technicalities of impact measurement—definitions, methodologies, tools and systems—lies a troubling fact: that all the impact measurement tools in the world won’t make a difference unless the social sector is driven by leaders who want to use them.
Charities are increasingly getting to grips with their theories of change, developing outcomes frameworks, and publishing reports on their results; but it’s clear that barriers still remain. Often driven by a desire to report impact to potential and existing funders, impact measurement is too often used as a marketing tool, and not as a way to learn and improve.
There’s much too little real sharing of impact frameworks and data between charities—something we would expect to see if comparison, learning and improvement were really driving activity. There’s much too little evidence of impact data being used to drive decision-making—either within charities to allocate resources, refine strategies or define collaborations, or beyond them by funders and investors to drive their investment decisions and review them later.
Examples of organisations sharing analysis of what hasn’t worked well act as an especially good litmus test of whether impact measurement has become part of the essential fabric of the sector. These are still incredibly rare.
So leadership, we argue, is needed to turn progress already made on tools and techniques into tangible progress in the strategies, activities, products and services that the charity sector comprises.
That’s why I’m delighted NPC is organising a one-day conference on the subject in March 2015, building on impact leadership events over the past two years. I hope it will attract passionate leaders who believe that better data on impact is essential to drive forward the work they do. Leaders who want to know as much as they can—good or bad—about the results of their work because they are fundamentally committed to doing the very best job they can on behalf of those they exist to serve.
The conference will be an opportunity to reflect on the importance of leadership at a big picture level, as well as diving into the substance of what good leadership looks like in charities. Covering three key themes—governance, strategy, and implementing change—participants will have an opportunity to consider what’s critical in their organisations, learn from the experiences of speakers and other participants, and start to shape their plans beyond the day.
I expect to learn a great deal from the conference. But most of all, I’m excited to share the day with people who are committed to leading their organisations into the future with renewed purpose and vision. And to watch as they do that in the future—the change-makers that our sector needs if it is to live up to its promise.