A few years back I had a conversation with a small charity CEO about them being ‘forced’ to participate in impact practice training by their funder. He bluntly told me that this was a ‘waste of time’ because he already knew that what they do makes an impact. As an evaluator who is a little bit obsessed with impact practice, I was of course appalled that someone would not find impact practice interesting or important! But I understood his frustrations; he was busy running the organisation and doing all the things CEO’s of small charities do (and this charity was tiny, he was one of the only two paid members of staff). Impact management was way down on his list of things to do.
It’s true, he probably did have a good feel for what’s making an impact as he was seeing it every day, so his sense and intuition isn’t to be dismissed. However, without evidence, it’s hard to demonstrate that to others or to motivate your staff and volunteers. There is also a danger of missing something or becoming biased by your own hopes or investment of energy in a piece of work.
So, should we just accept that for some, impact management will always be perceived as a ‘waste of time’? In order to ensure small charities adopt good impact practice, is the only option to ask funders to ‘force’ charities to do this? Well yes, this is one way to make organisations to evidence the difference they make. But, I believe we also need to win their hearts and minds – and to do that we just need to communicate the benefits of it better. There are very good and valid reasons to take stock and reflect on what you are doing, even when you are busy – in fact, precisely because you are busy. Here are the three steps you need to take to win over those naysayers.
Have a persuasive business case
First of all – like any proposal, the case for impact management must be persuasive. Often monitoring and evaluation are seen as an add-on to staff workloads, rather than as an essential and integrated component to all they do. To win the argument, you need to prepare a convincing business case to show that the benefits delivered by impact practice overweigh the resource requirements. It is also important to tailor your messages, depending who those naysayers are. Here are some key messages to convince different audiences:
- For trustees: We can give you evidence that will help you to fulfil your duties in knowing what difference the organisation is making and what’s working well.
- For fundraisers: It will give you great information for funding bids; impact data can win you funding.
- For CEO: If you have limited funding, it’s important to use it wisely. Impact management supports your organisational planning and strategy, making it more effective and focused on what works.
- For volunteer manager: You can motivate your volunteers through showing them what difference their work is making.
Acknowledge it is not always easy
I am passionate about impact practice and evaluation because I enjoy learning what works and makes the most difference. An important part of learning is that you sometimes get things wrong and you might find things that aren’t working well, especially when you are trying out new things. This can be uncomfortable and at times even painful, but always beneficial in the long term.
In order to thrive in today’s competitive world, organisations must adopt an open culture of learning and improvement. It is important to remind charities that as a sector we are here to make the world a better place and this includes making necessary changes to ensure we continue to make an impact. Adopting impact practice should not be seen as an added cost or inconvenience – it is about maximising your impact.
Assure that there is help out there
One reason why small charities are put off by impact practice is because designing and using tools to measure impact is perceived as a complex task that requires specialist skills. Yes, it does take some time and skill to plan and manage your work but there is free help out there (see below for some links). Encourage those naysayers to take advantage of the support available and ensure time is put aside to plan, just like you would for developing your strategies or adopting a new technology. Like many complex tasks, impact work can be broken down into more manageable bits.
by Sini Rinne-Kerridge, senior consultant at NCVO.
Inspiring Impact can help you with your impact journey.
- Start by having a look at Measuring Up! A free self-assessment toolkit for small charities to help you review and improve your impact practice.
- Take a look at the Impact Management Programme’s impact support website for lots of tools and ideas to help you.