In our Meet the Expert series, Kate Stone, Head of Philanthropic Giving at APS answers the often-asked question “How do I know if I am making an impact”?
Making an impact is as subjective a concept as adding value – and both phrases are used widely in the social impact sector, but often mean different things to different people. When clients ask How do I know I’m making an impact?, they’re usually interested in one of the following:
- What due diligence should I do before I support a charity to ensure it’s an investible proposition?
- How do I gauge the difference my funding has made to an organisation after the money has been spent?
- What is a reasonable amount and type of reporting to expect from a charity?
- Does APS have a standard template for reporting that I can share with the organisations I support?
- Should I be thinking about an organisation’s theory of change (and what is a theory of change and is this important)? Or should I check if its evaluation methodology is robust before I fund them? If so, how do I do that?
- How do I reconcile ‘trust-based giving and untied funding’ with my commercial sensibility that ‘if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it’?
Just as ‘every family is different’, so is every charitable gift. When it comes to impact, context is king. Understanding the impact of any gift will always involve understanding multiple (often intersecting) variables, including:
- How large (or grassroots) is the organisation being supported?
- What sector does it operate in?
- What is the nature of the need being addressed?
- Are we trading in outputs, outcomes or impacts and what is the difference in this context – or maybe it’s all three?
- Is the gift untied, or for a particular purpose?
- Is execution/delivery a well-understood pathway, or a highly novel one?
- Is the gift one-off, or part of a multi-year grant?
- How does the organisation assess its own impact?
A small grassroots charity in its early days might lack a robust evaluation methodology, and be slow to communicate back to you as a donor given their size, but it also might be bringing innovation and new solutions led by an impressive, passionate and knowledgeable CEO. In the early days, impact might be defined as the learnings developed in testing a new approach, and building an evidence base on how these are applied to improve the programs.
A large, established charity working on a longstanding social issue is likely to have a robust way of collecting and reporting, both with stories and stats on the work being done, people being reached and progress being made.
In our experience, when it comes to impact at a gift level, it’s helpful to stay focused on high-level principles. Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good. Before every gift you make, ask yourself –
- am I backing good people,
- am I doing good things,
- to observably good effect?
If the answer is yes, then you’re definitely having an impact.
The APS Giving Services team have developed simple resources that respond to all these questions, or we’re happy to have a chat about any them – so feel free to get in touch. To dive into some of the resources I mentioned above, have a look at the following: