The ideas of impact and evaluation are as old as grantmaking itself. But, like anything, being aware of something doesn’t necessarily mean we pay enough attention to it in our working lives.
So, for funders making decisions about which organisations to fund, what should they be looking for?
There’s the obvious: Does the organisation have evidence of positive results? This sounds simple, but anyone involved in grantmaking knows that understanding ‘good results’ is easier said than done. Judging a programme’s outcomes is made difficult by the different starting points of individual beneficiaries, multiple external influences and the absence of good baseline measures.
Other indicators can be more instructive in showing that an organisation takes its impact seriously. A funder might ask: is the organisation collecting useful information, or is it simply going through the motions? Is it committed to learning from its results? Is it honest about what it finds and willing to change?
The key phrase here is ‘impact practice’ – the practical process an organisation carries out in order to focus on its impact. This includes a spectrum of activities, including having a clear sense of your goals and how you will achieve them, collecting data on impact, interpreting it and, crucially, learning from it. It goes right to the core of an organisation’s culture.
Last week saw the launch of the first ever set of guidelines on good impact practice by Inspiring Impact, a coalition of UK voluntary sector organisations committed to putting impact at the heart of the voluntary sector. The Code of Good Impact Practice is the product of months of discussion and input from stakeholders across the non-profit sector.
The development of the code involved a funders’ working group, bringing together major UK funders, including the Big Lottery Fund, BBC Children in Need, Esmée Fairbairn and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation. One of the principles of the code is that achieving impact is everyone’s responsibility. Carol Candler from the Northern Rock Foundation, chair of the group, says that: ‘Funders have a critical role to play in supporting impact practice … the Code will provide a standard which we all can strive to reach.’ She’s right – a focus on impact practice by charities, social enterprises and funders will help us all to deliver on our missions.
Inspiring Impact is inviting feedback on the code, before launching a final version in the summer. You can download the latest version of the code and respond to the consultation here.
John Copps is a senior consultant and Ellen Harries is a consultant at New Philanthropy Capital