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Six things we learned at the Measuring Impact, Communicating Results conference

5 May 2010

How can charities demonstrate the impact of their work?

That was the important question tackled at a recent CharityComms conference.

Here are six things I learned from the day about measuring and communicating impact.

1. Use case studies – funders like them.

“Reading a story about an individual your charity supports is always fascinating. I like stories,” said Clare Thomas from grantgiving body the City Bridge Trust. Clare spoke at the conference’s opening plenary session, telling delegates about what funders look for in impact reporting. She said that evidence of service user and volunteer involvement in the overall running of your organisation is an important consideration for funders. They know the results of your charity’s work can be intangible, but case studies help show your impact when no solid statistics exist.

2. Keep impact reporting simple. Keep it truthful.

“We really do care that you tell us the truth,” said Clare Thomas. She warned against overzealous impact reporting which paints a rosy picture of perfection. “In hindsight, tell us what you would have done differently,” she advised. Clare also warned about the use of charity speak. “We are often overwhelmed with jargon. Keep it simple: tell us how and why you make a difference.”

3. Ask “So what?”

In a workshop with editor Gideon Burrows, Robert Longley Cooke, Executive Director of Marketing at WRVS, cautioned delegates about the use of statistics in their impact reorting. He urged them to ask the question “So what?” about every stat they include. “It’s what people get out of your services that really matters,” he warned. Robert shared how, thanks to a social impact assessment in 2007, WRVS discovered that nearly three quarters of people who went to one of the charity’s older people’s lunch club felt less isolated. Reporting this fact showed the impact of WRVS' work much more effectively than a dry statistic about how many lunch clubs the charity runs. “It’s vital that you translate your charity’s features into benefits,” confirmed Gideon.

4. Be willing to change.

In a session entitled “How was it for you?” Lucy Heady, Head of Measurement at New Philanthropy Capital, urged her audience to first think about WHY they want to measure the impact of the work they do. “If the information you gather will make you change nothing, don’t bother,” said Lucy. Her message was that you should only measure the impact of what your organisation does if you are willing to change what’s not working, because this will ultimately improve the lives of the people your charity suppo.

5. Use what you’ve got.

Brian Lamb, former Executive Director of Advocacy and Policy at RNID, had some great advice for delegates from smaller charities, who might struggle to come up with the facts needed to report impacts. He advised them to simply ask others in their charity if they have information that could be used to demonstrate impact. So, someone in your fundraising department might have access to the very case study you’ve been searching for. Someone working in your accounts department might have the killer fact you need to show you make an impact every day. “There WILL be things that your charity already measures,” said Brian.

6. Give value to the change you make.

Jeremy Nicholls, Chief Executive of the Social Return on Investment (SROI) Network, offered delegates the basics in measuring impact using the SROI model. He explained that measuring SROI is about giving value to the change that your charity makes to people’s lives. So as a result of your charity’s work, you might free up NHS resources or save a stakeholder money. “You have to be able to understand what changes as a result of an activity,” said Brian.

Presentations from the conference are available to download here

Trina Wallace

copywriter and editor, freelance

Trina Wallace is a copywriter, editor and communications consultant with around 14 years’ experience in the charity sector. She has worked with over 70 charities, including Cancer Research UK, Rethink Mental Illness, Alzheimer’s Society and Oxfam. Trina specialises in writing audience-focused communications that inspire people to take action.