I attended one of London’s Cass Business School’s “Charity Talks” last night and there was a packed house for the subject “Proving and improving your worth”.
More and more funders and trustees are demanding charities can demonstrate their outcomes and impact. This pressure will only increase as cuts bite. But primarily, charities need to understand where they are succeeding and where they need to improve, for the sake of their beneficiaries.
Mayor of London Award winners Ashiana, and their Chief Executive Shaminder Ubhi, spoke about how they have done this successfully on a small budget. Ros Oakley, a Cass CCE consultant and Chair of Charities Evaluation Services, responded and laid out the theory and some good practice recommendations.
However, I thought I’d share my reactions to the subject matter and some of the subsequent discussions.
Firstly, it’s important to recognise that performance measurement is both a technical and a cultural issue. Both talks referred to this. There’s a lot of effort required to design the “technical” aspects of a measurement and reporting system, including the specification and implementation of suitable technology. Ashiana struggled to find something suitable for their needs and ended up with a bespoke system, which obviously has pros and cons in relation to staff training and maintainability. I wonder if in this new age of Cloud Computing surely there must be a better answer than Access databases, Excel spreadsheets and bespoke databases.
The cultural aspects are interesting too. It’s a bit of an act of faith to persuade staff to input information into a system on the expectation of benefits to them. Yet, they have to see some benefits. It seems to me that the big benefit is in improved case management of clients; enabling a charity’s staff to be more responsive to client needs and to be able to see the impact of their work.
Ros Oakley talked about there being four levels of measurement:
– Process (e.g. volume, time, quality)
– Outcome (e.g. client benefits)
– Impact (e.g. benefits to wider society)
– Economic (e.g. Cost per Outcome and Social Return on Investment)
The latter two are, in many cases, beyond the reach of a charity and there are so many other intervening factors that may cause external, societal impacts. Determining a Social Return on Investment may be a great (academic) idea, but is fraught with practical issues and subjectivity. Trying to find a single SROI number seems to be a bit of a search for the holy grail that could consume huge amounts of resource for very little real benefit. I’m not saying it’s not appropriate, just that the effort may not justify the benefit.
I think another potential challenge for charities is that funders (often in the public sector) simply aren’t “mature” enough in their understanding of performance measurement for it to be viable to look for Impact and SROI metrics. We all know how poor the public sector has been at understanding the differences between “Outputs” and “Outcomes”, that it really doesn’t inspire confidence that public sector funders should be asking for Impact and SROI data from charities.
I kept returning to a nice, simple model which I’ve written about many times:
OpenStrategies PRUB: Projects – Results – Uses – Benefits.
Organisations such as charities do stuff (Projects) that creates outputs (Results). If their beneficiaries/clients use those outputs (Uses), they may achieve some Benefits. Any organisation can get their heads round this model and its practical applications, particularly as a framework for performance measurement. It builds in cause and effect thinking and the latest PRUB-Validate tool also drives evidence-gathering to “prove” that Benefits will be achieved as a consequence of the organisation’s activities.
I’ve written lots more articles on PRUB-Thinking on my Blog – search for PRUB.