Measurement can be tricky, but it is key to demonstrate to funders, partners and ourselves the impact our work has. In a world where there is an increasing focus on outcomes (the difference made) on top of outputs (level of activity), it can be difficult to really establish what you are supposed to be measuring and how it all pieces together.
When funders demand that evidence is provided for the outcomes they want to see, charities are often drawn into focusing on high-level outcomes, which means the opportunity to measure their real, direct impact can be missed. Trying to measure at this level can be problematic for a number of reasons, such as getting in touch with beneficiaries years after they have moved on or finding the clear link between your activities and long-term outcomes (such as improved health and well-being of vulnerable people) which depend on a multitude of factors.
At Pilotlight's Insight Session on Measuring Social Impact, evaluation experts Cornish & Grey gave these top tips about how to focus on easily demonstrable impact - while still giving funders what they need.
1. Identify and focus on your direct impact
We’re taking Pilotlight as an example: we help charities help more people more effectively. As you can see in the example below, it is important to identify the point along the journey that is measurable for the charity itself (darker stars) and how that leads towards the higher level social issue (pink star).
This example shows the clear link between what we do with the organisations we work with and how that ultimately supports disadvantaged people. We are clear, however, that a lot of other factors feed into this final goal, so it is not something we can realistically measure ourselves. Instead we focus our measurement where we know we have a direct impact: the CEOs and, through them, the organisations.
2. Go back to your mission and set the outcomes yourself
This is important not only to ensure that you do not drift from your mission and vision but also to assist with organisational development. If these outcomes are constantly changing it may be that you are trying to make something fit rather than the piece of funding or project being appropriate for your charity. You know your organisation better than any funder or local authority, so stick to your social purpose.
3. Illustrate how your outcomes feed into the longer-term aims of your funders
It is rarely cost-effective for charities to measure longer-term impacts, but if your approach is built on existing evidence the link will be clear and well documented. Look for academic studies that go one step further to back these links up; for example, The King’s Fund has some excellent research on which interventions can feed into improved health and well-being. This can go that little bit further to provide the narrative towards the ultimate goal of the charity.
The key takeaway message here is to identify the true impact your charity has and link this impact to the funder’s aims. If you can’t make this link and your work does not fit into the outcomes of a bid, don’t be afraid to say no and look for one that fits better!
By Hannah Jenkins, Project Manager, Pilotlight