Impact Measurement: Burden or Boon?

Expert opinion

The following is a blog written by the Chair of Philanthropy Impact, Grant Gordon, after attending the third Shaftesbury Dinner event. The Shaftesbury Dinner is planned by Philanthropy Impact and its purpose is to provide a place for private discussions for leading individuals within philanthropy to speak about current issues and relevant developments within philanthropy. The evening’s topic was measuring impact. This topic will be followed up in the next Philanthropy Impact Magazine, issue 10.

Philanthropy Impact would like to thank the guests attending the third Shaftesbury Dinner: Lucy Blythe, John Canady, Ceris Gardner, Grant Gordon, James Hambro, Nigel Jones, Tim Joss, Alexandra Marks, John Pepin, Louise Smith, Lord David Triesman, Randi Weaver and Alastair Wilson.

Gone are the days when philanthropists were just happy signing a cheque. Everyone has experienced the feel good factor that comes at the moment you decide to support a good cause. A little later you receive a nice thank-you letter from the charity often followed by a long silence. At some point you may recall your benevolence and start to ponder what your donation has achieved; has there been a positive impact?

During our debate at Philanthropy Impact’s latest Shaftesbury Dinner the guests, who collectively have extensive experience in the field of charity, were deeply divided. On one side of the debate it was argued that without quantitative assessment we would not be able to measure the true impact of philanthropic interventions, for example on improving re-offending rates. On the other hand the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, an advocacy based charity, campaigned for over twenty years for minimum wage legislation in the UK because they believed that achieving their objective was fundamental to delivering social justice.

But donors should not shy away from demanding statistical evidence on the degree to which their investments are achieving a social return. Some people however rely too heavily on measuring inputs, missing the importance of delivering underlying social impact and concrete results. For example, a youth club that gets children off the street records the number of kids coming through their doors (an input), but the end result may come in terms of higher academic attainment and getting hired for a skilled job out of school (an output). There is however consensus that the best way to see results is through anecdotal stories and case studies of how people’s lives are improved for the better.

Good charities recognise that their supporters are not all cut from the same cloth. As recipients of philanthropic resources they will be prepared to answer basic questions around how they monitor and measure their activities. Above all they will have stories at hand to bring to life how their good work is making a difference. 

Read the blog on LinkedIn here.

This expert opinion is tagged under:

  • Philanthropy stats & trends
  • Promoting philanthropy
  • Understanding philanthropy