Measuring the meaningful

As Calum Scott pointed out in Impact Measurement 101, we’re seeing an increased appreciation of social impact measurement as an evaluation tool to improve nonprofit performance, and to report to funders. And this is not just in the nonprofit space – it is also very much being driven forward by funders. 

Government funding reporting requirements, for example, have undergone a shift from expecting data purely on outputs around service deliverables, to outcomes reporting, which has always been the norm in the philanthropic space. Evidence of an organisation’s prior outcomes and impact achievements is required information for a growing number of funding applications.

Take The Ian Potter Foundation and Perpetual Trustees for example. Perpetual Trustees want to know how the organisation is being run and whether or not it has the capability and capacity to deliver the project and spend the grant funding, in the way it says it is going to. The Ian Potter Foundation’s aim is that the projects it funds will have long-term impact beyond immediate key performance indicators and outputs.

The message is clear: nonprofits need to be measuring performance and impact, both at an organisational level and a project level. It not, how are funders going to feel engaged in the change they are enabling? 

However, it’s not uncommon for us to hear from organisations that they don’t have evaluation methods in place and therefore not a lot of data to present in funding applications. But then, when prompted, they will often come up with documented examples of impact in the day-to-day work of the organisation. 

Take, for example a young girl who was never at school, whose foster family were at wits end with how to help her, and for whom other social services were unable to make a positive change when police called them in. Enter the Youth Space, where the Youth Manager interviewed the young lady and set in place a holistic model of intense support and care for her (via a new piloted service delivery model that Youth Space required additional grant funding to continue). The Youth Manager involved her in the development of that care plan, exploring what she was passionate about, and how different activities could enable her to participate in productive activities in a positive way. She started attending school again, police involvement became nil, her foster family reported back on her involvement in family activities and positive changes in her mood and behaviour. She was learning how to be happy and how she could contribute to society. She felt needed. How is that for an impact! The Youth Space is not just a Service Delivery Provider, but a Change-Maker. 

Sometimes it seems, the evidence of outcomes and longer-term impact of an organisation and its programs are right there in the case files – it just needs to be collated in one central system and be looked at from an evaluation perspective.  
However, the whole process could have been made a lot smoother by building in evaluation methodologies at the project planning stage.  And this is best-practice, no matter the size of the organisation. 
Output, outcome and impact reporting can and should be scaled according to the size and reach of the organisation. Different measurement methodologies will be appropriate to different organisations according to size and capacity, what they do and how they do it, but systemic changes can still take place from simply documenting case studies, and backing it up with quantitative data and supporting evidence - from the start of the project!
The point is, charities of all sizes need to be measuring performance. It’s essential not only to being well-run, but also to being well-funded!

Thanks to Jo Garner, Director at Strategic Grants for this guest blog.