We Are All Entitled To Our Own Opinions, But Not To Our Own Facts!

Welcome to the Leading for Impact blog. Its purpose is to offer a slightly more personal view of the work we do within the voluntary sector and talk about some of the bigger ideas we’ve had as we’ve developed and delivered our training sessions. This introductory post is part of a series on our thoughts on impact evaluation and how it affects the sector.

After watching the uncomfortable viewing that was last year’s Panorama investigation into how a few major charities have been spending their donations in ways that appeared questionable to the watching public and press, it struck me that the pressure for transparency and openness that’s been sweeping through government and society has now found its way into the voluntary sector. It may be a truism that charities need to demonstrate their work to stakeholders, stay efficient and not lose sight of their core mission, but if Panorama teaches us one thing, it’s that even for the biggest players this is a fiendishly tough act to pull off. In our cynical age, one slip can cause a world of PR problems.

But…

Is a furore about charities losing sight of their priorities really news? Didn’t Charles Dickens highlight a tendency for people working in the social sector to misallocate resources in parish beadle Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist, more concerned with the exercise of power than the alleviation of poverty as his main goal in life? And hasn’t philanthropy been criticised down the years from the Victorian era to the modern day because the goals of the funders, although often noble in intention, are sometimes skewed towards pet projects that fail to address the underlying issues that they so claim to set out to eliminate?

The pressures faced by the sector to demonstrate impact and value for money are inescapable facts of life, and they provide some of the questions that we at Leading for Impact want to explore, like:

  • How can the hard-pressed charity manager make sure that every penny of charitable money spent is making the most difference?
  • How can those results be communicated in a credible way?
  • Have we met our goals?
  • Were our goals even the right ones in the first place?

The more you think about it, the more difficult the problems become, and policymakers and voluntary sector professionals have spent years wrestling with them. But before thinking about what and how, it’s also useful to think about the big “why” question – why is impact evaluation such a hot topic right now? That’s a question for our next blog post, which is going to talk about the history of evaluation and the context that has shaped the sector, but before signing off, it’s probably time to explain the title of this post, a quote from Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

A hefty chunk of management decisions are still taken on the basis of an individual’s instinct, gut feeling or plain old biased whims (of course, this statement is the author’s own view based on personal experience and whim but hey, blog posts are more fun to write when you can take liberties with this kind of stuff). What we’re trying to do at LfI is to bring a little more fact and evidence based thinking into voluntary sector management, through our training in validated, evidence based research techniques and strategies for impact evaluation. The current climate in the sector, where “what works” gets recognition (and funding) makes it all the more important that charity managers learn how to skilfully find the real facts behind their work and tell their stories in compelling and engaging ways, as well as using them to improve on what they do.

So, once again, welcome to the blog, and please feel free to get in touch with us using the link on the right of this page  if you want to learn more about impact evaluation research methods from one of our course packages.