Friends Provident Foundation is an independent charity that makes grants and uses its endowment towards a fair, resilient, and sustainable economic system. Based in York, the Foundation funds, invests, and connects organisations across the UK to shape an economy that works for everyone. The Foundation commissioned us to evaluate the impact of its five-year Building Resilient Economies programme and its Foundation-wide activities.
We assessed the collective impact of the Building Resilient Economies programme—which provided £8m of funding from 2013 to 2018—in meeting the Foundation’s aims of creating local economic resilience as well as wider systems change.
Our project team developed a theory of change with the Foundation to identify how its work contributes to the goal of a fair, resilient, and sustainable economic system in the UK. It was a valuable opportunity for us to draw on our Thinking big work on systems change and theory of change to explore what the Foundation’s systems change approach looks like in practice.
This formed the basis of our evaluation of the Foundation’s impact on: their grantees and investees; changing the attitudes and behaviours of influencers; and supporting communities to build a fairer economic system.
Our evaluation incorporated a 360 review in order to get a sense of the Foundation’s impact from the perspective of everyone involved, including staff, grant holders, investees, trustees, and peer funders. We examined the Foundation’s existing and past grant making, its impact investing and investment engagement through its mainstream investment portfolio, as well as its wider convening, connecting, and communications activities. We also incorporated the views of “bellwethers” outside the Foundation’s network to sense-check its focus areas and deepen its understanding of the context for its work.
In July 2018, we presented our findings to the Foundation’s trustees, also sharing the final evaluation report at the Foundation’s grant-holder conference in October 2018. The Foundation is now using the findings from the evaluation to inform the next phase of its grant-making and investment programme, as well as its future organisational strategy.
‘The evaluation process led by NPC engaged trustees, staff, those we fund, and our other partners in the process of considering our theory of change, what has been achieved, and what more there is to be done. It has been immensely useful, provided real challenge, and has inspired us to consider how to develop meaningful outcomes for the future.’
We think that, applied well, theory of change can support charities and funders to take a systemic approach to their work. This report identifies five common pitfalls that organisations fall into when using theory of change, and walks through five rules of thumb that will help organisations to use the approach to tackle complex problems.
In 2013 Friends Provident Foundation launched the Building Resilient Economies programme, motivated by the failures of the economic system to meet the needs of society and the environment. They asked us to evaluate this work.