‘Tell me what I have to do…’

January 29, 2013 at 16:45

The Impact Leadership Conference, a new addition to the CFG calendar and a new collaboration with our partners NPC, promised to be challenging and exciting from the start.  Impact is highly topical, and following the work that has been done to cement some basic principles and ideas sector wide, it seemed timely to hold an event which would offer support to sector leaders that really want to take this on, to get better at it and to further develop peer learning.

To say the least, there is varied understanding of impact in the sector.  There are those that probably believe their organisations to be better at understanding and demonstrating their impact than in reality they are.  Others are constantly striving to drive their organisations further forward in this area, constantly questioning and reviewing their approach.  There are those that have adopted a range of technical evaluative approaches across projects and disciplines, and others that have looked at smaller sections of their work or have relied on case studies or qualitative data.

There is no right or wrong approach; it all depends on context.  In a way the more confident individuals or charities become with ‘impact’, the more philosophical the debate grows, along with the broadness of opportunities to explore.  This makes for some fascinating self-reflection and discussion in a conference panel session.  However, it can also put people in a difficult place if they are merely starting on the journey (as many identified themselves to be at the Impact Leadership Conference) and are unsure of what the destination is supposed to be.

The ‘please just tell me what I have to do…’ individuals were always going to be taken out of their comfort zone at this particular event.  So what should they definitely be taking away from the day if nothing else?

The heart’s in the right place

There is little doubt that charities care about their cause, it’s what they do day in, day out and it’s what they exist for.  There is also little doubt that at the moment times are hard, and the pressure to keep the charity’s head above water often prevails.  In a nervous atmosphere, where we fight for and squeeze more out of every penny just to maintain those services we provide, it would be a brave step from the leadership of any business to consider a full-on evaluation exercise – in a way, now is not the time.

However, for many charities, it is the time.  It has to be, because in a tumultuous financial environment key stakeholders are increasingly interested in what they are getting for their money.  There was an elephant in the room – and that elephant was funding – a lot of those charities that want to look at impact in greater detail are driven to do so by their funding pressures.  There is nothing wrong with this, we need funding, but how to empower these individuals to put these funding pressures in a secondary position compared to a bigger picture?

David Robinson, our keynote speaker, started the day by telling us “I think we need to do measurement better and have a bigger reason for doing it – it isn’t just about fundraising.  I think that reason is around our mission, above and beyond our organisational goals.”

Impact ‘leadership’

So there is one thing to take away from the Impact Leadership Conference, look again at your motivations and think about how they can be realigned so that your work on impact fits with your long term aims.  A second thing to take away is something about leadership.  We hope that some of those that needed that bit extra guidance through this minefield went away from the day in a stronger position to navigate their organisation through it.  The principles remain the same as always, stay proportionate to your organisation and its needs, look at evidencing your statements, learn from your evidence base, enable stakeholders to understand the story you are telling, and talk openly about how you are trying to get reach your goals.  Deciding how to approach impact is not something that can be dictated.

For additional guidance on deciding or improving on an approach to impact, please see ‘The Principles of Good Impact Reporting’