Funders for Impact – more to it than meets the eye


James Magowan

James Magowan

James Magowan

Focusing on impact – that is, the difference an organisation’s work makes to those it seeks to help – can help charities get better at what they do and reach more people, more effectively. Who could argue with that? Funders can play a critical role in shaping behaviour around impact practice (ie all work undertaken to focus on impact) – equally undeniable. So establishing a Working Group of funders to consider their impact practice and their support for the impact practices of their grantees and investees, in order to derive a set of principles, seemed a straightforward proposition. 

However, behind simple title ‘Funders for Impact’ lies a complex web of issues as diverse as the funding community itself. Having opened the proverbial ‘can of worms’, the challenge was to make sense of the contents and to repackage them into a more palatable form for wider consumption.

Over the past 12 months I was responsible in the UK Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF) for facilitating the Funders for Impact Working Group, as part of the Inspiring Impact programme. Inspiring Impact, which is being run by the sector for the sector, involves a collaboration of eight organisations, led by New Philanthropy Capital (NPC). It aims to achieve a step change in the way the UK voluntary sector thinks about impact and make high-quality impact measurement the norm for charities and social enterprises by 2022. In the first year the Inspiring Impact programme set out to develop a code of good practice for charities; to develop a diagnostic tool; to develop resources for leadership and shared measurement; to explore the market place for measurement tools; and to establish a set of principles for funders.

We have just launched the Funders Principles and Drivers of Impact Practice document. It provides a useful basis for discussions and offers a framework upon which a bespoke approach can be built or developed further.

For me the process was as important as the product – indeed the product could not have been achieved without the right process. The Working Group involved more than 20 funders of all shapes and sizes, with different interests and capacities, and varying experiences of evaluation. All wanted to share their experience and learn from others – but most importantly, to inform and influence the discussion and the end product. The challenge was to build consensus that was not the lowest common denominator but rather that reflected a shared aspiration whilst accommodating diversity and which would lead to something of practical value to funders irrespective of their perspective and starting point on their impact journey.

A review of the process highlighted the following 10 critical success factors:

1. Agreeing a common purpose for the Working Group and rules of engagement (defined in agreed terms of reference).

2. Developing a work plan and schedule defining the steps toward the desired end goal.

3. Recognising our role and responsibility as part of the wider Inspiring Impact programme.

4. Appointing a respected individual to chair meetings and act as spokesperson as required.

5. Building trust within the Working Group by creating a friendly, comfortable environment (in a variety of locations) and facilitating meetings to ensure all participants had the opportunity to contribute, and continuing conversations as required outside of formal meetings.

6. Making meetings interesting by combining topical presentations with facilitated discussion and injecting energy by breaking into smaller groups and using interactive approaches as appropriate – thus dealing with detail while constantly maintaining perspective of the bigger picture.

7. Ensuring all participants were adequately and equally informed and challenged through drafting of background papers and circulation of these together with other documentation in advance of meetings.

8. Providing sufficient time for participants to discuss developments amongst colleagues with their own organisations between meetings.

9. Periodically testing ideas and issues with others outside of the Working Group.

10. Celebrating success with cake.

We know however the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Now that the Funders Principles and Drivers document has been launched, the next step is to encourage wider uptake and translation into practice. So please do download this document, and (continuing with the metaphor) take some time to digest it, and let us know if it is to your taste and provides sufficient food for thought.

James Magowan leads the Association of Charitable Foundations’ work on Inspiring Impact

Tagged in: Good practice Impact UK

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