According to the most recent Talking About Charities Survey, 95% of Canadians feel that it is important for charities to provide information about their impact, but only 36% believe that charities are doing so successfully!
But where should you start? As part of the Strengthening Organizations Webinars series, Imagine Canada’s Cathy Barr and Karen Alebon recently presented on best practice in successfully demonstrating impact. These three key takeaways will help your organization become a leader in transparency and impact evaluation.
1. Ask Yourself: If Your Organization Didn’t Exist, How Would the World be Different?
Funders increasingly want to engage their grantees more actively on impact measurement. The Ontario Trillium Foundation has placed Investing for Impact at the core of its strategic framework and the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation puts impact at the center of their grantmaking. In considering new proposals they ask: what impact will this have on communities across Canada? This is part of a growing shift away from measuring outputs and outcomes toward impact evaluation. How does impact actually differ from outputs or outcomes? Cathy and Karen used the example of Kids Help Phone to help illustrate the differences.
Outputs are a quantitative accounting of what you actually did. They can easily be measured, but they don’t tell you very much about the success of a particular project. Kids Help Phone reported that its online resources were accessed 5.4 million times in 2012 and that young people connect with one of its professional counsellors 5,000 times each week.
Outcomes, on the other hand, are the result of what you did, either in the short, medium or long term. Measuring outcomes requires some sort of research or evaluation. Kids Help Phone reported that 91% of their phone clients say they received the support they hoped for.
Finally, impact is the answer to the question “If Your Organization Didn’t Exist, How Would the World be Different?” Your impact is not only the difference you make in the lives of your stakeholders, but also the wider societal benefits of your programming. Kids Help Phone reported that its counselling services lead to statistically significant changes in three crucial clinical indicators, including an 87% reduction in distress. This is a concrete impact in the lives of these children and youth, although more long term tracking would be required to determine longer-term and wider societal benefits.
2. Have a Plan in Place: Evaluating Impact Is A Long-Term Commitment
Since evaluating impact requires significant time and effort, it requires that you have a plan in place and be committed to the process. You may need to bring in external expertise if you don’t already have the skills or resources to carry out this type of evaluation.
Pathways to Education partnered with Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to track its students over the long-term. BCG did an initial evaluation of Pathways students in 2006, with a subsequent, more broad evaluation in 2011. This report described not only the direct impact of Pathways programming, such as consistently reducing the drop-out rate by 70%, but also looked at the wider societal benefits, including decreased costs for government associated with students staying in high school. This ability to clearly demonstrate long term impact allowed Pathways to Education to secure funding and grow its programs across the country.
3. The Transparency Gap: Funders Crave Information About Your Organization, But Can’t Always Find It
After you spend the required time and effort to measure your impact, be sure to make it as easy as possible for potential funders and donors to find this information, so that you benefit from all your hard work. Sarnia Lambton-Rebound links to its impact evaluation reports in the middle of its home page.
Beyond sharing your impact evaluations, be transparent about the other types of information that donors and funders care about. Plan Canada’s Accountability page includes links to a number of key policies, including conflict of interest, corporate partnerships and staff compensation. Because it is rare for charities to disclose all of these policies, by making them publicly available Plan helps demonstrate its commitment to transparency.