From measuring impact to maximising impact

Charities are increasingly investing time and resources in measuring their impact. An industry of training courses, tools and conferences has grown up around impact measurement so charities can, in the words of NPC, “really prove the difference they make”.

Proving difference is evidently the main objective of two recent impact reports produced by charities I support.

The first proves to me that the charity can meet its own objectives. It presents 27 targets, 25 of which were exceeded. However, most of these figures – the numbers of people engaging with services (up), the number participating in training (up), the number of consultations provided (up), the number of Facebook likes (up), the value of media coverage (up) – all beg the question: What real change resulted from all that work?

The second report proves to me that the charity’s work has benefit to wider society. It states that national and local government have saved £4.7 million, and that for every £1 invested in the charity, £11 has been generated in social, environmental and economic returns.

Both reports, in their different ways, reflect a current preoccupation with using measurement to communicate a charities’ current performance.

What they both lack is any indication of what the charity has learnt from all its measuring, and how that will be used to improve future performance. Neither report tells me what the charity needs to change to maximise its results, to get more people engaging with services, or deliver more social return on investment.

Maximising (as opposed to measuring) impact is about effective project and service design and delivery. We know that activities that have not been designed or implemented well risk under-performance, wasted resources and duplicated effort.

Just as there are approaches to measuring impact, there are tried and tested approaches to measuring the robustness and effectiveness of the process an organisation uses to design and implement its projects. Fiveways are developing a practical diagnostic tool which enables both funders and charities to assess activities against the key characteristics of an effective project, and identify areas that could be improved to ensure increased impact.

When it is used narrowly, to demonstrate difference alone, impact measurement makes no difference to the people or causes a charity is striving to help. We urge charities to look beyond measuring what they have done and also measure how well they did it. That is the only way charities can maximise their future performance and impact – and ultimately help more people.