Stay ahead of the crowd – How to demonstrate your impact in a competitive funding landscape
18 August 2020 at 7:00 am
With for-purpose organisations increasingly vying for the same dollar, Kuppal Palaniappan from Spark Strategy shares four steps you can take to approach your next funding opportunity with confidence.
As for-purpose leaders navigate these uncertain economic times, there is no hiding the fact that there is strong competition for funding and resources to support the sustainability of organisations. The funding landscape today requires organisations to clearly articulate their ultimate vision for impact, benefits to their key stakeholders or participants, key activities they will perform to reach their goals and data they will collect to measure impact over a period of time.
As a for-purpose organisation, how do you know your day-to-day activities are leading to your intended impact, behaviour change or system reform? When was the last time you evaluated your programmes to ensure they are achieving outcomes for your programme participants and stakeholders? How do you report your impact and communicate your story across campaigns, grants, reports and submissions? Which United Nations Sustainable Development Goal do your programmes help alleviate? Many organisations may have a high-level answer to these questions but are not equipped with the skills or capability to articulate this information with rigour backed by evidence nor monitor impact over a period of time.
These pieces of detailed information are key to unlocking opportunities that may not have presented themselves otherwise. Regardless of the altitude you play in, whether that be system reform and advocacy, programmes and service delivery or partnerships and collaboration, articulating impact should be on your priority list. As the funding landscape becomes more competitive, we encourage you to consider the following four steps to approach your next funding opportunity with confidence.
1. Map your theory of change
A theory of change (ToC) maps your organisation’s path to impact along the short, medium and longer term. A ToC is separate to an organisational strategy and often complements the intended organisational vision by creating a clear outcome-based pathway to fulfil this vision.
A ToC helps to identify the key activities (or outcomes) and resources that need to take place across these time periods in a chronological order. By mapping outcomes across the short to long term, a set of assumptions are uncovered. These assumptions provide the basis to undertake evidenced-based research to support or refute them.
2. Prepare and gather your data
Once a ToC has been developed, it provides the basis of what data an organisation needs to collect when and how often. It’s often a good time to review your systems and ensure they are fit for purpose. Technology doesn’t need to be as complicated as it sounds, ensuring your systems are configured in a way that is collecting relevant information in order to report on it can mean the difference between winning grant funding and not.
3. Align to the UN Sustainable Development Goals
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are fast becoming the “go to” for social and environmental impact measurement, new sources of grants and funding, and sector-based innovation and leadership. The SDGs are the only globally agreed and universal social impact assessment framework and are “the blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all” (United Nations Organisation, 2020). There are a total of 17 goals which are interconnected and span across poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice.
By mapping and aligning your impact to the SDGs we are seeing that this is opening up growth opportunities and enabling new partnerships. Similarly, leading philanthropic, corporate and government funders are moving to reporting, funding and partnerships based around success for the indicators and measures contained within the SDGs.
It’s important to note that the SDGs are not for everyone and organisations must be mindful of “rainbow washing”, a term used when organisations use the SGDs without operationalising their SDG commitments in their strategic plans and impact evaluation frameworks. If an organisation chooses to commit to one or more SDGs, it is important to highlight the measurable activities and corresponding targets as part of your ToC.
4. Evaluate periodically and foster a continuous improvement mindset
With your ToC mapped, data collection in check and SDGs aligned to your impact; it’s safe to say the data you collect will help inform your future decisions and create a compelling narrative of the impact you have achieved. Your data will highlight where you are fulfilling your overall vision and where you may need to tweak your activities or review your underlying assumptions behind your ToC.
The great thing about the ToC is that it’s not a rigid structure and can be tweaked as new information becomes available.
The next time you apply for a government grant or need to articulate your impact to your corporate or philanthropic partner, keep these considerations in mind. With the skills and time developing a ToC and impact evaluation culture, your organisation will be able to achieve clarity on the steps to get there – and this will help you stand out from the pack.
Spark Strategy is thrilled to launch its Sustainable Development Goals Mapping offering, to help for-purpose organisations map their impact to relevant SDGs and better articulate their impact. Our approach brings leaders and whole teams on a journey to co-design the development of an impact framework which operationalises specific SDGs that align with the vision of your organisation. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are interested in learning how to apply this to your organisation and want to know how to powerfully demonstrate your impact you can also join our upcoming webinar on using theory of change and alignment to the SDGs.
About the author: Kuppal Palaniappan is a senior strategic advisor at Spark Strategy, supporting the social sector uplift its capability and acumen around strategy, technology and developing future proof business models for long term sustainability.