Can impact be measured in five questions?

Can impact be measured in five questions?

News (International, UK)

A lighter approach to reporting impact, that uses a framework of five questions, aims to provide funders with “a succinct and consistent resource that clarifies what non-profits want to achieve and what they have already accomplished”.

‘Charting impact’ has been in development in the US since 2009, with nearly 200 non-profit and philanthropic leaders participating and testing the system that “encourages strategic thinking about how a non-profit or foundation will achieve its intended impact, and helps it share concise information about its plans and progress with key stakeholders and the public”.

BBB Wise Giving Alliance, GuideStar USA and Independent Sector developed Charting Impact as a common presentation that allows staff, boards, stakeholders, donors, volunteers, and others to work with and learn from each other.

With much discussion and work around impact measurement and an increasing demand for it from donors, the Charting Impact system is exciting interest as it aims to allow for proportional, less costly and less onerous reporting than many other approaches that have been created. It also facilitates cross-sector reporting that allows for comparison.

The report is based on answers to the following five questions:

  1. What is your organization aiming to accomplish?
  2. What are your strategies for making this happen?
  3. What are your organization’s capabilities for doing this?
  4. How will your organization know if you are making progress?
  5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?

Helping validate this self-reported data are three reviews. Once an organisation has used the online interface to complete its report, its responses will produce a document with a unique URL that will be shared on the Charting Impact website, on the GuideStar profile, on the reports of charities participating in BBB Wise Giving Alliance evaluations, and – in the future – with other websites and information sources about non-profits.  Participants will receive guidance about promoting their Charting Impact Report, along with other benefits, once they publish their report.

Guidestar CEO Bob Ottenhoff explained its benefits in a recent blog post: “Charting Impact isn’t just another good way to share an organisation’s impact, but is rather a new, common format that all organisations can use, regardless of type, size, or mission. Charting Impact allows the sharing of assessment information in a concise, standardised way, which ultimately enables new collaborations and resources to be directed to effective organisations.

Tris Lumley, head of strategy at  think tank and consultancy New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), which has championed impact measurement in the UK, says Charting Impact is “a great initiative”.

The questions are high level enough that they are equally usable and accessible for all sized organisations.”

Lumley says NPC is working with the UK sector on a similar framework that can be used by all size charities and foundations to report their impact in a proportional way.

It won’t tell you what to measure or how to measure it. But it will help funders navigate the information available to them much more quickly, help charities to focus on what to report in their annual reports and trustee boards to track their own impact against their objectives in their quarterly reporting.”

David Carrington, an independent consultant who has advised many organisations on impact measurement and other issues is also positive about Charting Impact: “I think settling on five key questions is an admirable approach and a useful challenge – if combined with access to the ideas and materials on the Foundation Centre’s resource ‘Tools and Resources for Assessing Social Impact’ (TRASI):  plus some home grown resources like those of the Charities Evaluation Service – then I reckon there is not much more need for angst on all this. There now exists some useful and user-friendly methodology which is about how good service managers can learn from their own experience and apply it to continuously improve what they do. That seems to me to be a far better situation than one when funders keep demanding reporting systems that suit them but may not add much value to the work they are supporting.”

There has been much discussion around Charting Impact at the Tactical Philanthropy website, founded by Sean Stannard Stockton.

He says given that the projects backers — GuideStar, BBB Wise Giving and Independent Sector — have such reach in the non-profit sector it is feasible that Charting Impact reports could become standard and available on most all non-profit websites for organisations included in the GuideStar database.

Encouragingly, unlike so many external review processes that only add to the burden of tasks that non-profits must accomplish, the Charting Impact report should be relatively simple for effective organisations to complete. Any organisation that finds it difficult to complete will find it a highly useful process to go through in their journey towards becoming more effective.

Most importantly, I think the Charting Impact report helps undermine the fantasy that someday we’ll have a simple, quantitative rating system that will answer the effectiveness question. While the report is only a starting point in a donor’s mission to discover which non-profits are effective, it does start the journey off in the right direction by asking the most important questions in a standard format while allowing them to be answered in a free form format that recognizes the vast differences between different issue areas and levels of organisational development.”

Stockton, who has also been working on a similar system, says the key point is not what is reported but how it is reported.

To find out more visit the Charting Impact website.

  • Impact measurement
  • International
  • UK