Kill two birds with one stone by measuring your organisation’s social impact
By Jenna Ash
The new reporting standards for Annual Returns by registered charities to Charities Services, require a Statement of Service Performance Report (for charities with annual expenses less than $2million), which means charities must now provide evidence of the performance of the projects and programmes they undertake towards the fulfilment of their missions.
This means some charities are going to need to ensure they have adequate evaluation systems for their programmes in place. Which is actually great news! Because measuring and communicating the impact your organisation has is not only now an essential of annual reporting, but is also a vital part of best-practice grant-seeking, allowing funders to understand, and perhaps more importantly - trust in - the benefit that their dollars will have.
So in the name of killing two birds with one stone, here are some things for your charity to consider with regard to programme evaluations and performance reports.
How is performance assessed?
Firstly, what are the measures by which charities’ performance is assessed? More and more these days, information required by funders includes not only outputs and outcomes, but also social impact.
Measures of outputs are, for example the number of disability-inclusive playgrounds rolled out by an organisation. Measures of outcomes would be the observed increase in the number of children experiencing disability who are able to now access play equipment in a public space, thus increasing their inclusion Measures of impact (the longer-term benefits) would look at how many children with disabilities experience better quality of life and increased social skills as a direct result of being able to access the playgrounds.
The reason this last point is important to funders was elucidated by Australian Philanthropist Allan English. In one of his presentations, Allan said he looks for how much impact a grant can have on an individual or a family’s life, and how many times this is replicable within the bounds of the amount granted.
How do we start to measure our impact?
The steps toward getting to a valid measure of your organisation’s impact begins with questions that you must regard as objectively as possible:
- What is it exactly that you are trying to achieve?
- Is your service delivery or programme really successful in achieving this?
- How do you define ‘successful’?
- How does your definition of ‘success’ match up with the way the sector defines it? – To answer this you need to understand clearly the role your organisation has in helping solve the problem and speak to others in your sector about how they measure their impact.
- Why is your organisation the best to deliver the solution to the particular problem?
- What information do you need to improve your programmes?
- How do you know the impacts you are seeing in your target population are due to your organisation/programme?
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you know the answers to these questions without doing the research!
What kind of data do we need to be recording?
The next step is understanding what kinds of data will give you the answers to these questions. Do you need to conduct interviews or focus groups with the population you service, run surveys, or simply observe (and record) the service in action? Do you know how many interviews/surveys will give you valid data? Do you need to run interviews longitudinally through the life of the programme, or before and after its delivery?
It’s important to choose a representative sample that will give you the most relevant feedback on your service. In the playground example above, it might be not only the children who are positively affected, but also their siblings, parents and community. Are you capturing all of these benefits in your data collection?
Who can help us?
If you don’t have the knowledge and capacity within your organisation to undertake impact assessment, get help! Universities are great places to start. They are full of researchers, some of whom are still training and work at low cost or for free. 180Degrees Consulting, a university-based consultancy provides social impact measurement for nonprofits and social enterprise through the involvement of top students. Another option is the Ministry of Social Development’s Social Policy Evaluation and Research Committee, whose website lists a number of research centres, including universities, where you may be able to find help. The Foundation North’s Centre for Social Impact also helps with programme design, capacity development, leadership development and evaluation services.