Five Ideas: Keeping up with the charity impact leaders

Monday 27-03-2017 - 13:50

The big buzz in the charity sector is around impact – how do charities know what they do is effective and then how do they use this as an engagement tool for a huge range of people and groups? Alex Hayes from the Foundation for Social Improvement tells us how.

At The Foundation for Social Improvement (FSI), we have been spending more and more time discussing and working on impact measurement with our clients; charities have become increasingly savvy in this field and some are doing some really innovative things. How do they do this? And what can students' unions learn from them?

1. Invest in a model that suits you

The first place to start is with a model, often a Theory of Change. This helps you understand the changes you make for the people you work with.

At the FSI we recently worked with a charity called Maundy Relief who provide an immediate response to poverty and need. The charity was bidding for a large grant and needed to produce an impact report. Like many organisations, Maundy undertake a range of services which can make measuring and demonstrating its impact difficult. There also didn’t seem too many organisations like them doing something really effective with their impact.

We took an innovative approach and mapped their outcomes against Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to show how they were supporting their ‘guests’ to move forward in a range of ways and at different levels. For example it is hard for people to improve their mental health while they are hungry. Once we had this model we understood what data we had to collect and they had a great way to tell the story of their organisation.

2. Tell your story through outcomes

Tell your story in terms of the changes you make for people, more than easy-to-get numbers like the number of people you see.

SolarAid has a brilliant impact calculator which shows the impact that donations can have. It would be easy for the charity to say ‘how £10 can buy three solar lights’ however, they use clever monitoring to highlight the impact these lights can have.

Instead of just talking about the lights that will be bought, SolarAid goes further to show the outcomes their lights achieve. Instead of buying three solar lights for £10, you could be buying over 3,000 hours of child study time and helping half a dozen people experience better health.

3. Check what you’re checking

Audit your monitoring and evaluation systems – are you collecting the right data to show your outcomes and to engage funders?

You will be collecting data all the time. What are you doing with it? Is it up to date? Is it right for you? Our work with charities has shown it’s common to focus on quality measures but neglect outcomes which are much more meaningful. What data do you collect?

Done properly, this isn’t about creating more work but about building in outcomes data collection into existing processes. 

4. Shake and stir your evidence

The best reporting is a healthy mix of quantitative and qualitative. You should be telling a story to both the head and heart of the reader.

Think case studies with statistics, quotes next to graphs. Great impact reporting is as much about telling a full and compelling story as it is about accurately evidencing your work.

NUS recently published some good examples from across the charity sector.

5. Give the people what they want

Consider the audiences you need to share your impact with, and then decide what messages they are interested in and what you want them to understand about your work.

We worked with National Ugly Mugs (NUM), a charity that works to support the rights and safety of sex workers around the UK. This is a difficult cause to fundraise for, yet the charity has seen its income grow significantly in recent years. One of the reasons for this is how it demonstrates its impact to a key audience – police forces, their biggest funder.

NUM produce an impact report which is specifically aimed at the police and demonstrates the charity’s impact on the safety of sex workers, how this directly impacts on the safety of the public and the impact of NUM’s work on the police themselves! While this is not the primary reason for its work, the potential budget savings for the police is a key message to them.

They also use quotes from ‘cheerleaders’, senior police officers saying things like “I have no doubt that NUM has funded itself several times over in terms of the savings to the police and the taxpayer”.

They thought carefully about who’s really going to be interested in their impact reporting, invested to make sure the correct data was collected and communicated in a compelling way.

Alex Hayes works on consultancy and development at the Foundation for Social Improvement (FSI), one of NUS’ preferred suppliers. If you are interested in how you can use your impact measurement to build better relationships then please get in touch with Alex at


Features, Quality Students Unions, Strategic Support Unit, Union Development

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