Measuring the impact of a membership organisation
How much natural instinct do we have to check things out? Can we believe the news we hear, things people say or even information we pick up at home or in the office? The fact is that we rely heavily on trust in preference to constantly doubting. This can be a mistake. We know we can’t simply believe everything we hear and yet we often fail to check impact claims made by charities and other organisations interested in tracking their social value.
Every working day, we depend on reliable data, on reasonable evidence and on the provenance of information. For me, the question boils down to how we make finer judgements about authenticity and credibility. So it’s not just a question of how we measure impact but also how we ensure we are vigilant about the credibility of impact claims.
First of all, let’s define impact – it’s the measured and evidenced difference you are making that is attributable to your actions on behalf of your stakeholders. We measure the difference we make through the use of a framework that helps us establish the outcomes that result from our work – and we establish these through measurement, valuation and reporting the evidence of our claims. However, let’s leave the methodological requirements for another day. Let’s concentrate instead on the how and why in broader terms.
Organisations and projects with social aims are among those that see value in articulating their impact. Placing value on the outcomes they are achieving is increasingly seen as more important than counting outputs and much more productive in terms of demonstrating what is on offer for members and other stakeholders.
In some instances, this can be challenging, not least for membership organisations. Often it is their members who go forward to create organisational impact rather than the umbrella organisation itself. One of the tenets of measuring your impact is being able to demonstrate a direct causal link between the activity and the impact claimed for that activity. Things get a little more complex when we begin to talk about indirect impacts.
An example I became aware of recently was a membership type organisation that existed to support members to reclaim the use of buildings dotted across various towns and villages. Social value (impact) was created when applicant members successfully renovated buildings and returned them to communal use. The increased skills, created business acumen, and ability to successfully achieve funding for the work were all elements that demonstrated impact created for applicant members. However, another type of social value was created when local groups began using those buildings for constructive community-based purposes.
There was no doubt that, when a support group for older people in the community or perhaps a youth group was established (through access to suitable premises), that too was demonstrable impact. The problem came along when it was first thought this community use could be attributed to the parent organisation.
An examination of the causal link and the nature of the inputs and outputs would show that it took much more than the work of the parent organisation to achieve these community outcomes. Could the parent organisation then claim some indirect responsibility for the community impacts on the basis that some of them may not have happened without its involvement? Possibly, but I would say that the best impact claims for groups like membership organisations are those that are strong, clear cut and less prone to challenge.
Examples of impact that organisations can usefully claim on behalf of members might be those direct services that lead to improved skills or qualifications. Are you progressing activities that directly create outcomes such as improved employability, increased skills, better career opportunities or improved marketing abilities that enable members to get products or services to market much quicker than otherwise would have been the case?
If so, there may be considerable impact or social value resulting that as yet you are not recognising. It’s clearly important that we exercise care in the extent to which we claim the impact of our work.
Karl Leathem is a member of Kingston Smith’s Fundraising and Management team. If you think that measuring impact could add value to your work, they offer a popular (and entirely no obligation) free consultancy session. Get in touch with them at firstname.lastname@example.org.