Help with focusing on impact
Inspiring Impact is an international collaborative programme, working to help organisations know what to measure and how to measure. The Northern Ireland Programme is funded by The Building Change Trust and aims to support voluntary and community and social enterprise organisations and their funders to better understand and embrace impact practice.
NICVA is one of the 13 organisations funded and are working towards Inspiring Impact’s ambitious ten-year vision - where high quality impact measurement is the norm in the non-profit sector. Part of the vision is that in 2022 the majority of charities and social enterprises routinely plan, measure, assess, and improve their work on the basis of their impact.
The three masterclasses that NICVA have delivered so far introduced people to the free tools, techniques and resources available through the Programme. They gave people a chance to learn about the Code of Good Impact Practice as well as the cycle of impact practice and look at how the Measuring Up self-assessment resource can benefit their organisations. Those that came along also looked at the online resources that could assist them with planning and measuring impact.
What was most beneficial about the masterclasses was the opportunity to share practice with each other and discuss the challenges we face when planning for and measuring our impact. Some people reported collecting a lot of information but not knowing how to analyse it, others shared their frustration with funders focused on numbers not impact, while many welcomed the opportunity to review how they measure and assess their impact.
The participants agreed that our sector and funders alike need to focus on the lasting difference we are making to people’s lives, and that this requires leadership at every level - voluntary/community sector, central government, local government departments and independent trusts. Inspiring Impact NI have developed an interesting animation “Think Smarter, Think Together, Think Impact”, about the impact of Government funding and the challenges of capturing it.
Some of the challenges for the sector that were highlighted during our masterclasses were:
- Getting buy in from staff and volunteers
- Having the time to gather the evidence
- Having reliable, effective IT systems to record the information
- Lack of long term vision - Short term funding results in short term vision
- Knowing what to ask and how to ask it
- Not having access to the external data that you need
- Working with government and only getting so far
- Staying mission driven when working with funders
Some tips to help improve your impact practice:
- Ensure all staff and volunteers know the difference you want to make and their role in achieving it – encourage them to take responsibility and feedback to you.
- Know why you exist as an organisation – what would be different if you weren’t around? Can you articulate this to others? Be able to explain your impact in terms that are easy to understand and remember.
- Look inside and outside your organisation for whom to involve. Who should you be talking to in your local area, those working with same people, those planning to impact the same policy issues, those providing funding? How can you work together to make things better?
- Be realistic, you can’t and shouldn’t measure everything. Think carefully about the scale and scope of your work, what is most important and make the greatest difference? Make sure you know why you are collecting the information. Start with the end in mind and decide what to focus on.
- Think about all aspects of your impact – short/long term, positive/negative, direct/indirect – by reflecting on this it will help you to plan and think how you could do things differently or start new projects.
- Be open – what you have learnt could be useful to others and help improve practice. Learn from your mistakes and discuss with funders.
- Be willing to make changes to your practice – you may or may not like what you find when you measure your impact – are you willing to do things differently or do different things?
- Communicate well. Do people know about the difference you make? How do you share what you find and who do you share it with?