Funders and impact, evaluation and learning

NCVO is often asked to support funders to assess their impact and learn from their work. We want to share some of what we learned from these projects.

Funders are in a unique place to assess the impact of their funding programmes, activities and processes but many are not. This may be because they don’t have time, skills or senior management support. They also rely on grantees’ data which is not always robust or consistent. Grantees tell us that they struggle to find the resources to evaluate their work as they would like, and that often the impact of their work is beyond the length of funding.

Why bother with impact?

Understanding impact is essential for funders. Funders need this information for accountability purposes – for boards, management and financial regulation – but also to promote the idea that funders are accountable to the very beneficiaries their grantees support. It also highlights which internal processes are most effective at supporting the grant-making process.

Impact measurement is also necessary for monitoring: to check whether grantees are complying and whether the project being funded is still fit for purpose. Beyond this, impact measurement is helpful for understanding the difference being made. It identifies which grantee activities lead to the greatest impact and in what contexts.

Combined, it helps funders to understand the effectiveness of funding programmes, and, conversely, to identify when programmes are not working. Without this focus, funders are missing out on valuable learning that could be informing their funding decisions and strategy.

Funders making progress

NCVO has worked with many funders over the years. We will share what we learned at a roundtable for funders on 10 March. During the roundtable we will hear from the following:

Trust for London

Trust for London is an independent charitable foundation that aims to tackle poverty and inequality in London by funding voluntary and charity groups. The foundation funds independent research and provides knowledge and expertise on London’s social issues to policymakers and journalists.

NCVO supports Trust for London grantees to develop a monitoring and evaluation plan and framework, prioritising outcomes. Grantees then report against this in interim and end-of-grant reports. This sets up a strong system for their own self-evaluation and makes sure Trust for London has more focused data. The learning generated is then used to produce annual reviews for their grants committees and make recommendations for change, such as shifting focus or being proactive in encouraging new areas of funding.

Nationwide Foundation

As an independent charity, the Nationwide Foundation influences changes to improve circumstances for those people in the UK who most need help. Its vision is for everyone in the UK to have access to a decent home that they can afford, and its strategy seeks to improve the lives of people who are disadvantaged because of their housing circumstances. To do this, it aims to increase the availability of decent, affordable homes.

NCVO has been supporting the Foundation to build its internal capacity while simultaneously building grantee capacity. We have helped the Foundation to develop an overall theory of change as well as specific funding programme theories for each of its three funding streams.

The theories have also been used to help decide which applicants are the best fit and have been shared with applicants during the selection process to help them to understand Nationwide Foundation’s priorities. The work we do with grantees then feeds into the programmatic theories. So far, this work has led to a significant improvement in identifying and evaluating outcomes within the foundation for its grantees.

Association of Charitable Foundations (ACF)

ACF is the membership body for UK foundations and grant-making charities. Its mission is to support them to be ambitious and effective in the way that they use their resources. ACF provides policy and advocacy, research and information, and a wide-ranging programme of events and learning.

Max Rutherford, head of policy at ACF, will also be talking at our roundtable about their Stronger Foundations work on building excellent practice among funders, with a particular focus on impact and learning.

Additional support

NCVO has a suite of support for funders on impact and evaluation. This includes:

Please get in touch if you would like to know more about the funders’ roundtable on 10 March, the launch of Does Your Money Make a Difference or any of the above.

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Avatar photo Sarah Menzies is a consultant with NCVO Charities Evaluation Services. She specialises in supporting voluntary sector organisations of diverse sizes and scope to build their capacity in evaluation. This is done through training, consultancy and specialised group support. She is a mixed methods researcher but has expertise on action research, empowering /inclusive research and working with marginalised communities.

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