It's Day 5 of Small Charities Week and so it's 'Small Charity Big Impact Day'. Mariana Meirelles, Community Southwark's Evaluation & Impact Support Officer, writes: Six Simple Steps to Great Impact Measurement.
Day Five of Small Charity Week is here and we are excited to look at its topic of Small Charities having a big impact. Southwark has a plethora of active citizens, informal groups, small unregistered organisations and smaller charities (and other legal forms) having a big impact on the way we live in this borough. From campaigns and petitions to working directly with the most vulnerable in society small organisations have an impact on society. Mariana Meirelles, Evaluation and Impact Officer at Community Southwark explains why measuring this impact (both good and bad) is so important and how to do that in six simple steps.
Everyone has been talking about impact and evaluation. Due to the increased competition for funding, organisations have been asked to provide ever more evidence of success. Large or small groups have to be able to demonstrate their value and having a 'nice' case-study with photos is no longer enough to convince funders and supporters of their value. But organisations shouldn't be seeing impact evaluation as an extra burden just to comply with funders requirements. Impact evaluation is an amazing opportunity to learn from the work and improve the services to better address the needs of your beneficiaries.
Voluntary and community organisations exist because there is a need. Impact evaluation is the way to understanding if the organisation is doing the right thing in order to achieve that. The learning aspect of evaluation is usually underrated, especially among small groups. Evaluation methodologies should be planned alongside the design of the programme to make sure that the service delivered is adequate for a certain target group.
Designing a self-evaluation framework needn't to be complicated. There are simple ways to do that, but planning is crucial. Some small groups that went through the process said that the experience was insightful and helped them to better understand their services and set realistic targets.
Here are six simple steps to evaluate the impact of your services and learn from your work.
Define your target group(s)
It will be much easier to measure your impact if you define exactly who or what will change as a result of your services - your users or beneficiaries. Choose who is your main target group and create your system focusing on this group throughout. Having one clear and defined target group will help you to show the need for your projects and the impact you aim to achieve.
Define your aims
The aims we refer to here are in terms of changes you want to see on your target groups as a result of your services. Before you start thinking about how to create your survey or questionnaire, you should know what success looks like for your project. You will only know if you are successful if you know what you want to achieve. Your aims should be very clear and address the need of your communities. When writing your aims, use the 'language of change' - words that show that you are in one place at the moment, but want to be somewhere else in the future – words such as improve, enhance, reduce, maintain, increase, decrease etc.
Have clear and measurable outcomes
Once you know your aims, defining your outcomes should be easy. Aims are the changes that you want to achieve for your target group in order to be successful. Outcomes are the changes that you have achieved. If your aim is to reduce isolation of older people, then your outcome will be that older people have reduced isolation, feeling less lonely, etc. You will have to think how this could be measured as well. So for each outcome think about a measurement. If it is a feeling, such as loneliness, the measurement could be the self-reported level of loneliness. Or you could measure the number of hours the older people spend alone in the house or socialising with friends.
Collect the information you need that will provide evidence on these outcomes and organise all in one single place
Now that you know your aims and outcomes, it is easier to select ways to collect useful information from your beneficiaries. You could design a survey or carry out interviews. There are several methods for collecting data that go beyond a questionnaire. Take a look here for information on that. Independent of the method you choose, you will need to collect the information related to your outcome and the measurement you choose. You could ask an older person how lonely they feel compared to before using your services. Or if they've been spending less time at home since you started working with them. The most important thing is to collect data that will show whether you are achieving your aims or not. If creating a survey, try to use closed-end questions as much as possible – such as agree / disagree scales – as it will be much easier for you to make sense of the data.
It is very helpful to create one excel spreadsheet to add all the information you collected from your surveys – using one row for each participant and a column for each question. You can also create an online survey, such as survey monkey or google forms, to input the data. These programmes will process the results for you.
Compare the data and make sense of it
You don't need to be expert in statistics to make sense of the data you collected for a small charity. It is likely that the number of surveys you have to analyse are quite small, so using frequency, percentage and average should be enough to make sense of your data. But you will need to compare it with something in order to make judgements about whether your results are good or not. You could ask your questions in a way that you are comparing with how the users were prior to your service. Or you could define your own targets and benchmarks to say what is good or not good.
Communicate your results to make sure it is useful and used
Now that you know whether your services achieve the outcomes and promote the desired change on your target groups, you should use this information wisely. This information could be used for reporting to funders or attracting more funding, but also to revise your project and make sure that you deliver the best possible service. In any case, communicating your findings with the right recommendations is essential. Your report should be written with a focus on a specific audience – e.g.: funders, staff members, trustee board, etc. As for each audience, you should include the relevant recommendations. No, your report does not need to be long and complex – it could have just one page, as long as it is sharp and action oriented targeting the right audience. Timing is an important aspect to bear in mind when writing your report as well. Make sure it matches the decision making cycles of your organisation.
Small charities have a huge potential to demonstrate their impact by using impact evaluation as an inspiring learning tool instead of a tick box exercise.
This is what a small charity said about improving their impact evaluation:
"It has helped us to focus our strategy as a charity and where we want to take the charity to. Putting clearer milestones, goals and desired outcomes in place has helped us to measure where we are and where we want to go, which has helped to motivate everyone even more to achieve what we want to achieve."
Please check Community Southwark's Evaluation & Impact resource pages for further help and information on this subject or email Mariana at: firstname.lastname@example.org And enjoy this inspiring journey to discover the real purpose of your work!
Join the campaign!
Small Charities Week is running three competitions on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to help raise the profile of small charities with cash prizes for the winners.
Getting involved is easy, take a photo of yourself holding up a poster that reads: “I love (your charities name) because (why you love them)”.
Or take a video of yourself with your poster and shout out loud about why you love your charity. Then simply post it to either Twitter, Instagram or the Small Charity Week Facebook page, take a look here.
Please do include us in your ‘’I love my charity because…’’ tweets to @cosouthwark and use the hash tag: #ILoveSmallCharities. Let’s all shout about our wonderful charities! Keep us posted too about your events and activities and we’ll add them to our Community Southwark website through the week.
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