Impact Measurement and why it’s important for the third sector
It is increasingly important for organisations operating in the community, voluntary and social enterprise sector (third sector) to evidence the impact of their work. Whilst it’s difficult to find a universally accepted definition for social impact measurement, Social Enterprise East of England, define it as the process of providing ‘evidence that your organisation is doing something that provides a real and tangible benefit to other people or the environment.’ Essentially measuring impact is how organisations can show the value that they are delivering to their beneficiaries and wider society through their respective activities and services.
Here’s why measuring social impact is important for the third sector:
1. Achieving and staying true to your purpose
As a third sector organisation, your mission and purpose are central to your existence and reason for being. One of the first tasks we ask third sector organisations when we carry out any form of planning with them is to ‘Start with why’. Why does your organisation exist? What problem are you trying to solve? and what is the change or difference that your beneficiaries desire? In many cases, organisations have moved away from what they initially set up to do (for a variety of reasons that we’ll not go into now) without really noticing why or when this happened. Therefore, knowing that you are delivering your organisation’s mission, aims and outcomes is critically important.
2. Implementing good practice
Measuring your organisation’s impact can be a form of performance monitoring, to ensure that you are delivering what you set out to as an organisation. If you don’t measure the difference you are making for beneficiaries and those who you are there to support then it’s difficult to quantify exactly how your organisation is performing and whether it is achieving what it sets out to. In addition, being identifiable as an organisation that measures its impact, it shows that you care about improving your delivery and are willing to be held accountable for your performance. Essentially, whilst impact measurement can highlight the positive change you are delivering, the process can also highlight where you can improve as an organisation moving forward.
3. Securing funding and investment
As I’m sure many of you know, the funding environment is competitive at the best of times but with the Covid19 pandemic still very much with us, it’s becoming more and more challenging for organisations to secure funding to deliver their services and activities. As organisations compete for what may be reduced pots of grant funding, being able to evidence the impact of your organisation’s work is perhaps more important than ever before. Whilst securing investment from funders is no mean feat, demonstrating social impact is essential if you want to be in the frame with your application. Being able to tell funders exactly what type of difference your organisation makes for beneficiaries will not only make your application stand out but it will also provide funders with assurance that you are the most appropriate organisation to fund.
4. Making people aware of your work
Being able to communicate the impact of your work can help to raise awareness of your organisation amongst a range of stakeholders including potential beneficiaries / participants, funders, statutory agencies and other like-minded organisations. Providing qualitative and quantitative evidence of the outcomes and benefits experienced by the people you work with helps to ‘tell your story’ and provide a real personal approach to showcase your work. In the era of ‘fake news’, it is important that your story is backed up by data and evidence that can be collated through your impact measurement process.
Implementing Impact Measurement
By now, hopefully the question you are asking is not whether your organisation should measure its impact, but rather, how to do it effectively and efficiently. I’m conscious that a lot of third sector organisations are entirely volunteer led and that the majority of their time should be concentrated on delivering their key activities and services without the fear of ‘more reporting’ or ‘more paperwork’. Therefore the resources and time expended on impact measurement should be inextricably linked to the resources at your disposal i.e. for groups delivering small scale projects / activities their impact measurement should be smaller / more concise in nature while organisations supporting high volumes of beneficiaries should be conducting more in depth impact measurement practices.
As I bring this blog to a close (I hope you’re still with me!), I want to share some key steps your organisation can take to implement appropriate and proportionate impact measurement practice:
1. Understand the environment you're operating in and what impact might occur – It is important to ask yourself some key questions from the outset such as:
· Who are the key stakeholders of your work? i.e. service users, local community, young people etc.
· What is the current situation for them? (the baseline environment from which change might be defined)
· What are the problems you are trying to solve? (i.e. poor health, educational attainment etc)
· What change do beneficiaries want to experience? What outcomes do you want to achieve?
2. Develop key questions based on your existing knowledge (within Step 1) – Develop questions for your stakeholders that can be used to assess the impact of your services / activities. Questions should be linked to the intended outcomes (but should not be leading i.e. don’t just assume that your activities / services have made a positive change / impact)
3. Identify appropriate tools / methods to collect data - Quantitative techniques provide numbers and statistics whilst qualitative techniques provide understanding of experiences, opinions, and stories. Both techniques can have limitations (we will explore this in another blog) – but a combination of both can provide the most robust evidence of impact.
4. Collate, analyse and present findings – Gather and analyse all of the data that you have collated from stages 1 – 3 to enable you to present your impact to the intended audience. Think about who this information will be viewed by and present in an appropriate format. For instance, if it is going to be viewed by a funder you may want to present in a format that is highly visual and captures their attention. Also, you don’t have to present everything that you’ve collated, just try to capture the key findings or emerging impact from your data collection. (nobody wants to read 100 pages of information that could be adequately presented within 2 or 3 pages)