Making Impact Work for Small Charities

Measuring social impact is difficult for any organisation. For small charities where staff and resources are often already stretched the challenge is especially daunting.

The solution to this problem, as addressed by speakers at recent seminar hosted New Philanthropy Capital and Charity Finance Group, was…well, that there is no simple solution. However, this shouldn’t stop organisations from thinking about impact and how to measure it.

Meredith Niles, Investment Director at the Impetus Trust, encouraged organisations to avoid getting bogged down in picking the perfect tool or approach. She suggested measuring outputs and gradually refining the type of data collected to a handful of carefully chosen metrics. Borrowing a business principle from Facebook, she argued that ‘done is better than perfect’.

Dr. Hugh Rayment Pickard of IntoUniversity presented impact measurement as a journey that is often difficult to begin and takes time. In the case of his organisation, it’s a journey that has been ongoing for over ten years.

IntoUniversity began with simple output metrics like student attendance and the number of programmes delivered, before moving several years later to more elaborate work linking this type of data with academic research to make a more forceful case for their impact. Having gradually built up the complexity from a standing start, they are only now beginning to look at more elaborate strategies using more sophisticated database systems and comparisons with control groups.

The absence of off-the-shelf solution to measuring impact was also made clear by Mind in Harrow’s Mark Gillham. Despite using existing research and frameworks, Mark stressed how much of the process involved adapting questionnaires and to their needs. This is what Dr. Pickard characterised as ‘foraging’ for whatever already exists cand an be adapted to your organisation.

So while there aren’t any ready made answers to many of these issues, small charities should feel confident in their ability to start the process of measuring their impact. After all, they are the ones best placed to explain what they do and the difference they make. Social impact is just a way to help them do it.

For more on the event and some of the key points to think about when embarking on this journey, you can read NPC’s write-up of the event here.

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