Delving into the difference we make

We talk the talk about the importance of voluntary organisations measuring the difference they make, but do we walk the walk here at NCVO?

At the moment I think we’re strolling but not checking the map.

By this I mean we’re pretty good at evaluating the difference that specific resources, events, or projects make. We’ve strong individual stories of impact on organisations and the sector, and we regularly monitor indicators of overall engagement and delivery.

But it’s been a while since we’ve taken a step back to look at our organisation-wide view of the difference we make to the sector, and whether it’s the difference we hope to make.

That’s why we’re investing some resources to gather different perspectives on how the voluntary sector and volunteering are changing, and what contribution NCVO is making to that change.

Why now?

Last year we launched our new 5 year strategy (you can read my previous blog about this). Now we’ve been working under this strategy for a year, we need to measure how we’re actually doing against it: Are we effectively championing volunteering and the voluntary sector? Are voluntary organisations more sustainable as a result of our work? Is there a more conducive policy environment for volunteering?

Having previously run the Value of Infrastructure Programme, which provided infrastructure organisations with tools to demonstrate the impact of their work, we’ve a range of resources to draw on to help us do the same.

Who does it take?

To oversee the work, we’ve set up an internal group of two directors, representatives from our digital and communications, consultancy and membership, and our vice chair.

One of our in-house consultants is managing the project and our research team are designing the survey for us. We’ve hired an external consultant for a couple of days, to give us an impartial view on our process.

We’re engaging others from across the organisation to comment on project phases, and to provide us with existing information about the difference their work makes. We can use this information to contribute to the overall picture.

How we’re going about it

Firstly, we went through the slightly painful process of mapping out all of the links between the intended outcomes in our strategy (the difference we want to make) and our planned activities (what we’re going to do to make that difference).

We identified appropriate indicators for each of the outcomes and areas of work. We then selected appropriate data-collection methods, using a mix of existing sources (e.g. charity commission, NCVO almanac data, or project feedback) and acknowledging where we need to collect new information.

All of this is stored in our monitoring and evaluation framework (or ‘mega spreadsheet’ as it’s known to us). You can download a simple template from the CES website.

A new survey

In reviewing the areas where we need new information, it became clear to us that we could gather this through a yearly survey. We’ll start by asking our members for perspectives on how the voluntary sector and volunteering is changing, and what contribution NCVO is making to that change.

Our first survey will happen at the end of this month.

We’re nervous about getting responses. We know that people are busy and get many requests for information. But we feel confident that having this data will help us to provide a better service to our members and the sector as a whole, so we’ll persevere and do what we can to maximise response rate.

Follow up

It’s the first year we’re doing this under our current strategy, and we know it won’t be perfect. I’ll follow this blog up with further posts explaining our processes, our challenges, and how we use the information to make changes so our work can make even more of a difference in future.

If you’d like more information on how to run your own project to measure your impact, check out the CES website.

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Megan Griffith Gray Megan is our head of planning, digital and communications. She leads NCVO's strategic planning and reporting as well as our digital and communications team.

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