Impact Leadership Conference 2013 – Driving impact forward
Last week I attended the Impact Leadership conference, hosted by NPC and CFG at The Brewery in London. Over 350 delegates came together to discuss why impact should not be driven by the need to satisfy funders or to create marketing rhetoric. Instead impact should be fundamental to a charity’s mission, the programmes and services it provides, and the beneficiaries it supports. But how can charities of varying size, capacity and resources achieve this? This event demonstrated that charity leadership teams have a vital role to play in driving the impact agenda.
Like a dolphin jumping through a hoop
David Robinson co-founder of Community Links created a real buzz with his opening plenary which argued that impact measurement should be more mission focused and that great leadership can help encourage and implement this. Using the analogy of a dolphin learning to jump through a hoop, he described how with daily training, the dolphin could go from catching a fish through a hoop underwater to jumping through a hoop 10 foot in the air. He explained that an action that becomes ordinary can produce extraordinary results and that embedding impact in to the everyday practices of your organisation can create impressive outcomes. To help implement mission focused impact David provided five inspiring suggestions: question relentlessly; change continuously; fail thoughtfully; collaborate ruthlessly; evaluate courageously.
Learning how to do what we do better
David left everyone suitably motivated for the day ahead. The morning sessions were broken in to four strands: strategy; programme and service delivery; managing finance, operations and resources; and engaging with external audiences. In the strategy and planning strand which I attended for the morning, Karl Demian (WRVS and SIAA founding member) candidly outlined how the WRVS leadership team had been brave enough to fail thoughtfully and evaluate courageously to embed impact in to their organisation. In a fascinating presentation he outlined how WRVS began instigating good impact practices at an organisation-wide scale by reassessing the programmes and services they provide, using impact measurement tools, and shifting programme value away from solely financial value to include social value.
Although this approach was right for WRVS, it also became evident that an organisational shift in practice may not be necessary. Jed Marsh from Body & Soul demonstrated that you should not underestimate the resources you already have, such as existing data and the help of your staff and volunteers. Having staff and volunteers actively involved in your impact measurement can feed in to your mission and provide a greater impact on your beneficiaries.
The long and winding impact road
The afternoon was broken up in to three strands: getting started, strengthening your impact, and getting from good to great. I attended the getting started strand, as although impact is at the core of SIAA’s work, at just over a year old we have only traveled a short distance on our own impact journey. It was refreshing to have proactive discussions about how and where to get started with impact, which were not restricted by focusing on definitions and tools. There are many directions to follow and paths to take; a world café style set-up allowed for valuable knowledge sharing, practical advice and suggestions. Some key points I took away were:
- There is no right place to start on your impact journey, you can start at an organisational scale but it is just as worthwhile to start at a smaller programme or project scale.
- Impact value need not be measured solely in figures and financial returns, qualitative data is just as important.
- Use the resources you already have, such as staff, data, and existing contacts and partnerships.
- Having ‘impact champions’ in your organisation may be a really great way to drive forward your impact.
Ultimately the day allowed charity leaders to sit down and really think about their impact. Whether they are just setting off on their journey or already have a fair few miles on the clock, the consensus was that impact leadership can help organisations fulfill their mission and do what they do better.
Read more discussion and reactions from the day on the NPC storify here.