Antonia Orr – Coalition for Efficiency

Last week, the Third Sector’s High Impact conference was overflowing with small and medium-sized charity leaders acutely aware of the increasing (and justified) pressure on them to measure and communicate the impact of their work. A day was being taken out of busy schedules to seek out practical solutions and useful insights. Yet, even after the jam-packed “masterclass” entitled Tools for small and medium charities, it was concerning that no one I spoke to appeared any more confident about how to get started based on what was presented to them.

By the Small Charities Coalition’s definition of a small charity, that is, a charity with an annual income of less than £1 million, there are over 150,000 of them registered in England and Wales alone. That’s a staggering 97% of all registered charities (in England and Wales). And that doesn’t even include the countless community groups (estimated to be in their hundreds of thousands) that are too small to register. Few, if any, of these charity leaders would deny the importance of measuring their contribution to services users and beneficiaries. However, the majority of these organisations struggle to cover the costs of impact-related courses and consultancy services. There is some help out there, as this recent Guardian article shows: a number of online tools and resources are accessible free of charge. But why then do smaller charities still feel overwhelmed at the prospect of getting started? How do they wade through this murky sea of monitoring and evaluation tools?  How do they know which tool is best – or at least best for them? Who is there to guide them through?

To blow our own horn, this is where the Measuring the Good programme comes into play, and into its own. Any charity can apply to take part – for free. The charity CEO is matched with a skilled volunteer from business, the public sector or a charity with experience in measuring impact. The volunteer uses their professional experience and external perspective to provoke discussion, offer their insight and instil confidence.  Over a period of 2-3 months, they work through a structured programme that involves everyone in the organisation from trustees to the front-line team. By the end of the programme, the charity is armed with an implementable and unique impact measurement framework.

To date, the programme has enabled 43 charities to improve their impact measurement with 88% of charity leaders saying that the programme was effective in achieving their aims and 88% feeling that staff and trustees understood impact measurement better.  In an external evaluation of the programme, charities reported that the physical presence of an external/neutral person working with them on the programme meant that ‘homework’ had to be completed, deadlines met; and that this was a major motivator in keeping focused and where possible, on schedule. Charities also said the personal contact with a volunteer was key to making progress around impact measurement. Mags Godderidge from Nightline Association who took party in the programme says: “The framework of the programme helped us stay on track and focus… We introduced monitoring and evaluation to everything we do… Without doubt, if we hadn’t gone through this process we could not have even applied to Comic Relief for funding let alone secure it for a further 3 years”.

A recent Third Sector article hones in on a report that recommends more ‘buddying’ in the sector so that smaller charities can benefit from the perspective of someone external to the organisation on how impact can be measured. We couldn’t agree more. There is evidence to prove this kind of approach is effective.

Measuring the Good works. It offers small charities a free, practical approach that takes the theory of change concept (or whatever you choose to call it) into the field and provides an organisation’s leadership with the space to think and a critical friend to guide them through.

Measuring the Good is a joint initiative between Coalition for Efficiency and Volunteering Matters.

For more information please contact: at Coalition for Efficiency  at the Employee Volunteering Team at Volunteering Matters