Evaluation with Impact – how to provide powerful evidence of impact to supporters and beneficiaries

Posted: 24th November 2015

Cranfield Trust Masterclass at Leeds University Business School November 2015

It’s not the “WHAT?” or the “HOW?” but the “WHY?” that we should first consider asking and of course answering.  Colin Pinks from luminarum.co.uk and an experienced Cranfield Trust Volunteer referenced a great Ted Talk by Dr Simon Sinek where he explains that we should look at our organisations from the inside out rather than the outside in.  To extract from the talk:


“Why?  How? What? This little idea explains why some organisations and some leaders are able to inspire where others aren't. Let me define the terms really quickly. Every single person, every single organisation on the planet knows what they do, 100 percent. Some know how they do it, whether you call it your differentiated value proposition or your proprietary process or your USP. But very, very few people or organisations know why they do what they do. And by "why" I don't mean "to make a profit." That's a result. It's always a result. By "why," I mean: What's your purpose? What's your cause? What's your belief? Why does your organization exist? Why do you get out of bed in the morning? And why should anyone care? As a result, the way we think, we act, the way we communicate is from the outside in, it's obvious. We go from the clearest thing to the fuzziest thing. But the inspired leaders and the inspired organizations -- regardless of their size, regardless of their industry -- all think, act and communicate from the inside out.”

Sinek goes on to conclude that “People don't buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” In other words funders and supporters don’t fund what we do, they fund why we do it.  Thinking of The Cranfield Trust we work to support you, as small and medium charities to alleviate poverty, to help those with disabilities and to reduce the hardships of social exclusion. We believe we can save you time and money by providing management tools and resources. Our volunteers, who trade their skills in the commercial world, are sharing them with you for free, because they believe they can help build your skills in-house and boost your confidence to go out there and serve your beneficiaries.  These are the people for whom your organisations are providing that critical glimmer of hope. 

Jo Cutter from Leeds University talked of experimental qualitative evaluation techniques that the University has worked with the Jo Cutter Leeds University Cranfield Masterclasshomeless, where they gave homeless people disposable cameras to take photographs of whatever they liked. Once developed these photos were used as focal discussion points around homelessness, with valuable insights unlocked that otherwise would and could not have been shared.  Innovation is the key to unique evaluation and research.  It’s about learning and demonstrating how our services work on the ground and then enabling us to produce insightful information for future funding applications and requests for support.  This all helps build the case for qualitative research but what are our quantitative challenges?

Despite the current and refreshing movement away from solely quantitative data (probably better phrased as a greater acceptance of qualitative data), we do need the numbers, graphs and analysis.  Surveys, structured interviews and analysis of existing data are good starting points.  It’s often numbers that grab attention and can cut through the noise to compete with funding.  The British Heart Foundation is great at this.  They have many, many fabulous stories to support the numbers which evidence the why. Metrics and a story work best. The metrics open the door and the story welcomes you in and invites you to stay.  Remember to think who is opening this door and bidding us in, consider what they’d like to hear and how they best respond to information:

  • Who do they need to influence?
  • How do they want to see the data?  If we don’t know then let’s ask – find out!
  • Perhaps the message needs to be tailored for different audiences? We’ll segment our audience and strive to understand them – know who they are, only then can we meet their individual needs.
  • It really is our responsibility to tell our story effectively, to show our impact and create the critical engagement we need.

It’s not all about inputs, output, standards and comparative impact; there’s the question of distance travelled.  What’s this?  Let me explain with a story: 

A volunteer at The Cranfield Trust, let’s call him Jack, guides the CEO of an established medium size charity through a strategy review.  Jack spends two days of effort with this Charity A.  The CEO takes the advice on board, contributes further and the strategy plan is so successful the organisation secures critical funding. My brand new charity business plan enabled us to win a three-year Community Investment Grant and gain the AQS Quality Mark for our Advice Service, which should help us attract new funding. This has all come out of our relationship with the Cranfield Trust. I am extremely grateful to my mentor, 'Jack'.  He was extremely patient and his advice was fantastic. 

Another volunteer, Jill, engages with Charity B on a much longer journey; a small organisation on the brink of closure, Jill spends more than 15 days over six months mentoring the CEO and founder and gradually contributing her strength to pull this relatively small organisation out of the deep waters and set it afloat again to continue helping others.  A quote from a beneficiary; “I don’t know where I’d be (without Charity B), I don’t mean to be funny but I don’t think I’d be alive today”. 

From The Cranfield Trust’s perspective what is the distance travelled in these two examples?  How do we measure and evidence the impact?  What will the numbers tell us; 2 days of Jacks consultation time vs 15 days of Jill’s mentoring support?  £32K grant vs survival? Hmmm….what is quite clear is that quantitative data alone will not evidence the impact. Perhaps we should look at “What if we had not provided our support?”  Charity A would have probably ‘got by’ without their Advice Service, which in turn could not support those seeking to use it. Charity B would probably have folded and the 60 or so people it supports every year, where would they be….?  In both cases the value of support from Jack and Jill via the Cranfield Trust was equally important for their beneficiaries, for both organisations the input was very different, the outcomes aren’t comparable but the impact was incredible. This is Why we exist.  This is the Cranfield Trust story what’s yours?

The Cranfield Trust is very grateful to our masterclass presenters Dr. Jo Cutter, Assistant Director at Professional Services Sector hub, Leeds University Business School and Colin Pinks, Project, Change & Management Consultant - Learning; Performance; Communications; Real-play; Speaker.  We would also like to thank Professor Cathy Cassell, Deputy Dean of Leeds University Business School and Professor of Organizational Psychology for her material as well as inviting The Trust to Leeds Business School.