A journey to greater impact

Measuring impact creates real benefits for charities: helping them prove their worth, communicate with supporters, and clarify their strategy to be as effective as they can be. There are challenges involved, but they can be overcome. We draw on the experience of six charities who are leading the way to show how good impact measurement can be done.

Many people mistakenly judge charities based on admin costs or chief executives’ salaries, but what really matters is the change they create for the people they help: in other words, their impact. To demonstrate that your charity is really changing people’s lives, you need some way of assessing your work, or measuring your impact, to prove to supporters, funders and beneficiaries exactly what you are achieving.

But measurement remains a challenge for many charities, with pressure from commissioners and funders and resistance from frontline staff. If done well, impact measurement can be a benefit rather than a burden. In this report, we highlight six organisations at the forefront of charity impact measurement in the UK and the US. These ‘bright spots’ are committed to high quality impact measurement and have reaped the rewards of putting it into practice. They show that it can help to:

  • Motivate and inspire frontline staff—as the Latin American Youth Center has found.
  • Save staff time—the homelessness charity Edinburgh Cyrenians says its new measurement system is ‘really helpful, and there is less paperwork.’
  • Improve services for beneficiaries—the chief executive of WRVS says, ‘Before the evaluation, our hospital cafés were seen as revenue raisers. Now they are seen as fundamental to the service we deliver—an opportunity to engage with millions of older people at a time of difficulty and stress.’
  • Influence the debate on ‘what works’—after the Brandon Centre piloted a new therapeutic approach to working with troubled teenagers, the government is now running the biggest ever trial of the therapy.
  • Raise their profile—as The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund has found as a result of sharing its findings.
  • Secure funding—Pathway, a homeless healthcare charity, has secured nearly £1m of funding in 2010/2011, which they say is ‘clear evidence of the benefits of evaluation.’

We use our six bright spots to give other charities examples to emulate. Rather than promoting ideal best practice as defined by academics or researchers, we are promoting real good practice, looking at the experience of charities and funders, including small, front-line organisations. We show that impact measurement really is accessible for most organisations, and that it can be done in a way that is proportionate to their size. Our bright spots show that with the right people, support and systems, any charity, big or small, can do impact measurement well.

 Charities and funders make a difference to people’s lives in countless ways. But just knowing you are probably making some kind of difference isn’t enough: you need to know what difference you are making, how much it is and how it happens.

Eibhlín Ní Ógáin, report author