BLOG: How can charities better manage their performance for greater impact?

Written by Julia Grant

With the Kids Company Select Committee hearing last week bringing charity management and governance into the spotlight again, now is a good moment to ask what charities can do to become more efficient and sustainable, and generate social impact. At Impetus-PEF, we enter partnerships with charities that combine strategic management advice and long-term core funding to provide a stable platform for our partner charities to place impact at the centre of their work, helping us to address these concerns head on.

Making some tough decisions

Charities need to periodically reflect on how much of a difference they really make and set clear targets for the positive changes they want to see in people they work with. This can sometimes require some tough decisions, reflecting on the impact or lack of it achieved to date and focussing on how they can get better.

When answering the question ‘What outcomes are we trying to achieve?’ and ‘For whom?’ it is essential that everyone in an organisation is aligned, from board to frontline staff. When difficult choices are clearly understood and the resulting goals are internally consistent, the charity can start to build a picture of who they need to reach out to, what short and long-term outcomes they seek to achieve, and to design a programme which delivers them.

Implementing the changes

These tough decisions help build realistic but challenging operational blueprints for a charity – and then the focus must be on putting them into action; rolling out the new programme, making new hires, and helping existing staff feel comfortable with the changes. A good data management system is a crucial building block; enabling staff to collect, analyse and act on data about the progress of individuals through the programme. This data also helps inform staff management, putting accountability for outcomes at the heart of the system. Given this, sound financial and HR procedures, along with an effective approach should all be a key focus for charities.

Testing and evaluating

As charities test and improve and learn, they should start to prepare for external evaluation which is essential for any charity committed to continual improvement. This does not need to be a mammoth exercise. Its best to start with simpler forms of evaluation (formative evaluation) which look at how well the programme is being managed and delivered. The results inform delivery and performance management, helping to prepare the organisation for more stringent evaluations such as randomised control trials.

Critical friend

The path towards helping charities better manage performance and impact can be full of obstacles. So trust between the charity’s management and funding partners needs to be maintained. This can be hard in a culture which has traditionally ‘dressed up’ impact to please funders. The most effective funders ask hard questions and stick around for the (sometimes) ugly answers – and use these to build in missing capability.

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