Is it reasonable to expect small voluntary organisations to demonstrate their impact?

Is it reasonable to expect small voluntary organisations to demonstrate their impact? This was a question I was mulling on the train to Cambridge this morning, where I presented at Cambridge CVS‘ AGM. The question is typical of the debate we have in the office. We wouldn’t expect someone opening up a for-profit coffee shop to demonstrate their social impact when applying for a loan from a high street bank (which turns out to be cheaper than social finance, but that’s another blog). And so on – are we expecting too much from small voluntary organisations?

I don’t think that there’s a yes or no answer – but I feel strongly that if we don’t ourselves grasp the nettle of showing that we’re worth it, someone else will read the newspaper saying that we are not. And if we don’t seek to consistently focus on making the biggest difference – rather than just a difference – I think we’re going to struggle in the brave new world of good.

So, I spoke about some challenges and opportunities today in the presentation below. I feel pretty chuffed that a prolific (and serious) social policy blogger, Puffles, thinks I got the challenge about right. I hope he’s right – it’s not always easy to get right, especially as a membership organisation.

Thanks to James Barker, NCVO’s Impact Head Honcho for sharing some of his slides with me. James regularly delivers training on impact and his next course will be running at NCVO on 30 January 2014.

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The final slides show some (mostly small) charities who I think are good at communicating their impact – I wanted to end on some inspiration! The great thing about these examples is that they were mostly shared with me on the train on the way to Cambridge. (A former colleague didn’t call me Mr Just In Time for nothing.)

I think our best chance of making a bigger impact is by engaging with our users, supporters and beneficiaries – acting as a network. So, it was great to see NCVO’s network sharing their examples with me. In fact, I ended up being overwhelmed with examples – too many to use in the presentation. It makes me think that if these mostly small organisations can do it, so can others. So maybe we aren’t expecting too much. What do you think?

Here’s what our network said were some small organisations with a big impact

These were suggested by Dave Kane: Mexborough & Swinton Astronomical Society and Aberdeen Strathspey & Reel Society. As ICAEW award winners they’re clearly going to be good.

I like this: Greener Leith

The NOW project: the impact card on the right is brilliant. By the way, this was attached as as evidence of their impact in a tweet.

Simon on the Streets:

Their impact in a tweet was:

Comms guru Zoe Amar recommended The Child’s i Foundation:

They summed up their impact in a couple of tweets for me:

CALM have been shortlisted for, or won, numerous impact awards. Possibly more loud than calm though 😉

Here’s Mary Ward Legal Centre’s 2012 impact report, which uses case studies really well.

And here’s School Food Matters, which again goes beyond numbers in thinking about impact:

MAC UK is another impact award winner:

The Prison Advice and Care Trust communicates very well via its impact report:

I’m afraid that until today, I’d never heard of Riders for Health…but as a motorcyclist how could I not like this? Effective, simple infographics tell a great story:

Interval House from Toronto have a must-see impact report. I like that it includes a visit from the Easter Bunny…

And finally (for now!), the Microloan Foundation, which uses case studies to demonstrate impact:

Postscript: late additions I really like:

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Karl Wilding Karl Wilding served as NCVO's chief executive from September 2019 to February 2021.

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