The Major Challenge of Impact Measurement
4 October 2018 at 7:15 am
The rise of impact measurement is making the playing field for funding increasingly unfair, writes Andrew Cairns, CEO of Community Sector Banking, which has partnered with the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) to build a free Social Impact Measurement Toolbox.
Australia’s not-for-profit sector faces a major challenge when it comes to measuring impact – it’s increasingly vital to secure funding, but most organisations have neither the budget nor capacity for it.
In my role as CEO of Australia’s only banking service dedicated to the not-for-profit sector, I have the immense privilege of meeting and getting to know countless not-for-profit organisations. One theme that continually comes up in our conversations is the challenge many not for profits have in measuring their impact – what to measure, how to measure it, and importantly, how to afford it.
Demand for impact measurement is on the rise for a good reason. Donors want to “see the data” for assurance that their investment is paying off, delivering real benefits for those in need.
It’s also crucial to helping not for profits understand the impact they’re making, to strengthen their programs, or refocus their attention.
Some 72 per cent of people working in the not-for-profit sector surveyed by Pro Bono Australia in 2015 reported increasing their focus on measurement. Yet, 56 per cent of those in the sector surveyed by Good Foundations in 2017 assessed their capacity for measurement as ineffective.
The rise of impact measurement is making the playing field for funding not only more competitive but increasingly unfair. Donors demand measurement no matter the size of the project or not for profit behind it. Even the smallest organisations need to measure impact to secure funds.
But here in Australia some not for profits are confused about how to measure social impact.
Others still are limited by tiny budgets, or the staffing required to measure their impact. For small organisations, this can mean pulling funding and staff away from frontline programs to demonstrate the need for more funding – it just doesn’t make sense.
We’re also seeing no standardised approach to evaluation. Overall, this is leaving many not for profits feeling that measuring impact is too hard, or too expensive, or both.
Imagine if we continue on this path? The smallest not for profits provide some of the greatest strength to our communities – they have priceless local knowledge and boots on the ground. If they miss out on funding due to the measurement gap, Australia risks losing this critical component of our communities and social fabric.
The measurement gap is one I’ve long wanted to help solve. Which is why we’re especially proud to have recently partnered with the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) to build the free Social Impact Measurement Toolbox for not for profits.
The Social Impact Measurement Toolbox will be an open digital platform housing a repository of validated measures and interactive templates – empowering any not for profit to design programs and undertake impact measurement according to best practice. Moreover, helping them to secure funding and support, so they can continue their great work into the future.
It will empower the sector to know what to measure and how, drawing on an extensive library of peer-reviewed resources including online courses with video, forums, questionnaires, interactive templates and a repository of reliable, verifiable and validated measures, all collated in an open digital platform.
By providing this toolbox for free, we can help ensure that not for profits are funded on their capacity to create impact, not on their capacity to pay a consultant. We expect it to launch in early 2019.
We’re doing this because we understand the challenges not for profits face to secure funding and ensure sustainable support for those in need. We also know the value some of the smallest not for profits provide – our communities would suffer a great loss if we saw them disappear.
The fact is, every not for profit working in the community today needs to measure impact. Along with UTS, we’re committed to helping make the playing field for funding fairer, to ensure that funding goes to those with the capacity to deliver great change – it’s about not only strengthening the sector, but our communities and the most disadvantaged among us.