Episode 34: Emma Insley – Six ways to improve your impact measurement, especially now

Episode Notes

Many charities have had to change their strategy or focus since the pandemic began, in order to adapt to the new challenges the world is facing. These changes have many implications for how you measure the difference your charity is making.

In this episode, I was delighted to talk to The Queen of Impact, Emma Insley. In the interview, Emma shares six things you can do now, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, to not only ensure your charity is as effective as it could be, but also to help demonstrate to funders the difference their donations are making. Clearly doing this second element well can only help you inspire further generous funding.

If you want to share this episode because you think it will help colleagues or other good causes – THANK YOU VERY MUCH! –  we are both on Linked In and on twitter, where Emma is @EmmaInsley and I am @woods_rob.

If you find this episode helpful, please remember to subscribe through your podcast provider today, so that you don’t miss out on all the other episodes we have planned.

If you’d like more powerful strategies to help you raise funds during the pandemic, then do check out my new free E-book: Power Through The Pandemic – Seven ways to raise money with major donors, corporates and trusts, even now. You can download it for FREE here: brightspotfundraising.co.uk/power

Key Takeaways

REVIEW YOUR THEORY OF CHANGE

Many charities and social enterprises have moved from helping people thrive, to helping them survive.  Take some time to review your Theory of Change and consider if you need to change the outcomes that you are measuring. If you have an agreed set of outcomes to achieve, try to negotiate revised outcomes with funders; most are being extremely supportive during these difficult times.

ADAPT YOUR INFORMATION COLLECTION METHODS IF NECESSARY

Qualitative data can be captured through telephone interviews, online focus groups and video diaries. Can you get more creative? One of Emma’s clients is asking their beneficiaries (adults with learning disabilities who love karaoke!) to write a song about their experiences.

Online surveys are great at capturing quantitative information.  Google Forms is free to use but doesn’t provide the data analysis that other tools such as Survey MonkeySurvey Gizmo and Typeform provide.

CAPTURE EVIDENCE OF NEED

Many grant applications ask for evidence that your project is needed.  When funding is scarce, it is more important than ever to capture good evidence of what’s happening for your beneficiaries and why they need your support.

A brief needs analysis will help you to find out the problems they are experiencing, the help that they need to overcome those problems, and how your services fit into that solution.

DON’T ASSUME PEOPLE ARE TOO BUSY OR STRESSED TO FILL IN MONITORING FORMS.

Your beneficiaries may be experiencing extreme hardship right now and you may be tempted to not want to bother them with impact measurement.

However, some organisations are reporting that people feel a sense of camaraderie and have been only too happy to complete an evaluation form if it helps the organisation that is helping them.

Explain why you need the information.  Response rates may be lower, but you may be surprised at the level and quality of evaluation data you get back.

CHECK YOUR DATA SECURITY MEASURES

If staff are working from laptops at home, make sure that there are appropriate levels of security and password protection on them so that that people can’t delete data accidentally.  Also ensure that your client database is not vulnerable to being hacked.

SQUEEZE EVERY LAST OUNCE OUT OF YOUR IMPACT DATA

Use the impact data captured to inform your future strategy and tell funders about the great work you are delivering during lockdown.

It’s also important to inspire people with the difference that you’re making.  Share quotes, data, stories and images that engage people with the difference you are making to people’s lives.

Further Resources

Check out more resources on Emma’s website www.insleyconsulting.com.

Emma recently created a learning bundle Better Measurement, Better Impact, Increased Income for our fundraisers’ learning club, the Bright Spot Members Club. It sits alongside more than 35 other inspiring, practical video bundles for fundraisers to make use of 24/7. Follow this link to find out more.

Quotes

‘Look at what your charity is already doing. How could you adapt that slightly, to make sure you’re capturing that information about the change.’

Emma Insley

Don’t assume people are too busy or too stressed to fill out those forms, because actually there’s a lot of goodwill out there for charities and the essential services that they are providing.

Emma Insley

Full Transcript

Rob:

Hello, and welcome to episode 34 of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. My name is Rob Woods, and this is the show for anyone who works in charity fundraising and who wants ideas for how to raise more money, enjoy their job, and make a bigger difference even during the pandemic.

If your charity has had to change its strategy during the pandemic, and this has thrown up new challenges in terms of how you measure and report on the impact of that strategy, then I hope you’re going to find this episode really helpful because today, I’m excited to share a recent interview I conducted with someone I refer to as the queen of impact, Emma Insley. Emma is a very experienced fundraiser who’s dedicated a large part of her career to better understanding ways to solve the various challenges of measuring and evaluating the difference a charity’s work is making.

In this conversation, Emma shares six things that any charity can do at this stage in the pandemic to improve their ability to measure and report on the charity’s work. Although some elements of impact measurement are not easy, she shows just how worthwhile they are, especially during a crisis. Not only does a charity need this information so that it can continually improve the way it achieves its mission, especially when the stakes are higher than ever for the people and environments we serve, but also because the charities that do this bit well are much more likely to receive further funding if they can show that current interventions are effective. I’ve long admired Emma’s ability to create clarity in a topic that is important but often misunderstood by fundraisers and charity leaders, and I love that she works hard to distil the complexity into practical ideas that you can implement. I really hope that you find these six principles are helpful to you too.

This episode of the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast is brought to you by Bright Spot Mastery Programs. So, if you need to increase income in corporate partnerships or major donor and trust fundraising, these programs will help. As well as the advanced strategies you learn on the training days, you receive one to one coaching to help you put those powerful techniques into practice. To find out more about the Corporate Mastery and Major Gifts Mastery Programs, head over to brightspotfundraising.co.uk.

Rob:

Emma Insley, how are you?

Emma:

I’m well, thank you, Rob. How are you?

Rob:

Very well. So, for the listener, here we are having a conversation with Emma who, in my mind, is, I position as the queen of impact. If you are a charity and you want to get measurement right, you want to get better at understanding impact but also ways of being more proactive and strategic in how you also convey that to donors, then I’ve long seen Emma as the person to talk to. Emma, you and I spoke quite a few months ago, and you were kind enough to share some of the key principles that you practice yourself and you teach others, and I wanted this chat now because of what’s gone crazy in the world and the implications of that on charities’ strategy and therefore, how they might measure impact. And I wondered if we could have a conversation now in which you could give us a few of your key principles for a charity or a fundraiser now looking at impact measurement. What are some of those principles and why do they matter?

Emma:

Well, I think it’s obvious that a lot of charities and social enterprises are doing things differently. They’ve had to move face-to-face services online. So, I think the first port of call is to look at your theory of change, if you have one. So, your theory of change outlines the links between the work that you deliver and the changes that you seek to achieve, and it sort of shows the link between the two. A lot of organizations are obviously delivering work in a different way so you need to reflect that within your theory of change. But also, given the current situation that we’re finding ourselves in, a lot of organizations have, I’ve found, have gone from a model of helping people to thrive, to helping them survive. And so, it may be that the changes that you’re seeking to achieve, or the beneficiaries that you’re working with has changed. And so, the first port of call is to just check in with your theory of change, if you have one, about whether you have outlined the correct activities and outcomes that you are seeking to achieve.

Rob:

Yes. And in many cases, that might be really clearly known to the frontline head of services who’s thought long and hard about what those shifts need to be in the activity. So, it’s clear, it’s just, in many cases, a question of getting that nice and clearly written down so that it can be referenced.

Emma:

Absolutely, and so indeed you can share it with funders. So it’s one of the… I think a good tool if you are completely changing the way you’re delivering services and who knows how long it’s going to continue. Actually, if you can show your revised theory of change to funders, I think it adds a huge credibility to the work that you’re delivering and gives you that ability to shift the funding in the new way that you’re delivering the services.

Rob:

Yeah, that makes sense. And, of course, this is going to be different depending on what kind of a charitable cause you’re involved in, and you work with clients in all kinds of sectors, I know. Just to help us get a solid picture of it, without mentioning the name of any given charity, would you just give us a kind of for instance of how that theory of change might have shifted from the original model to now, this more pandemic related model, in any given type of course?

Emma:

Sure. So, one of the clients that I work with is all about delivering social activities to people with learning disabilities. They were doing bowling, and karaoke and stuff like that to help them overcome isolation. Obviously, they can’t be delivering those kinds of activities now, but how do you get people together to help overcome isolation if you can’t do that face-to-face work? So, they have shifted to an online model. So, they’re doing workshops that help people to understand their money, for example, and to develop life skills, such as cooking, online. And they’re doing social activities such as pub quizzes online and, in a way, it achieves similar outcomes, but actually, the problems experienced by those people who already were lonely and isolated and can’t go out anymore, have been exacerbated. Now we’re looking at protecting mental health, for example. So, we’re making sure that we’ve got good measures to understand the changes in people’s mental health as they are engaging with this program.

Rob:

Yeah. That makes sense. Okay. Thank you. And then, so that first thing is reviewing that theory of change. What would be your next key idea?

Emma:

Well, a lot of organizations will have been using face-to-face methods to collect their information, their data about the difference that they’re making. And so, you may need to switch that online. And so, I mean, a lot of online survey tools exist already. If you’re not using them, then now might be a good time to familiarize yourself with the various survey tools that exist.

But also focus groups and interviews to capture that gorgeous qualitative data, the stories, and the understanding how change has happened can be done as well. So, actually, if you’re delivering work online, as I know a lot of people are in groups, then tapping on an occasional question at the end of that session to help you to measure the difference that it’s making, not just feedback about was it good, but actually, how do you feel as a result of this session today is a really good way of doing that. So, it’s a double tip, really. Number one, adapt to online, and number two, always try to capture the evidence of the changes that you are achieving through the activities, or bolted on to the activities that you’re currently delivering.

Rob:

And, actually, just hearing you say that I have a sense that many of these things, they’re not such a… They’re not so hard. It’s really a mindset shift from the start that we’re going, “This is the theory and these are the outcomes we’re aiming to achieve.” If you’re really clear on that overall concept, then I think it could become relatively straightforward to tack on those particular small details, those little tactics to any given service or intervention but, crucially, you need to have decided at the start, otherwise, it’s really unlikely to happen at the last minute as you were designing the webinar.

Emma:

Absolutely. And I think there’s a lot of fear around monitoring and evaluation that, oh my god, it’s another thing we have to do. It’s another big thing to have to think about and, okay, for sure, it takes a bit of time thinking about it at the beginning. But the way that I suggest that clients make sure that their impact measurement and monitoring evaluation is proportionate to their resources, is always to just think about what they’re already doing and how they can adapt that slightly, just to make sure they’re capturing that information about the change. And so, I know that organizations, and I’m a trustee myself, I’ve been there, are feeling overwhelmed completely with everything that they have to do. And, perhaps monitoring and evaluation is right down on the bottom of their list, but who knows how long this is going to happen? We could be one mutation away to being exactly where next year where we are now, heaven forbid.

And so, if you actually begin to plan these things now, you can have some really good data that shows that what you’re delivering right now is making a difference and that that model… Do you need to continue that model of online working, for example, and should you continue it into the long term? And to try to secure the funding to enable that to happen on an ongoing basis because soon there will be questions asked about whether the way that you’re delivering work is the best way to be doing that.

Rob:

Yes. And so, just realizing, at this point in time, it’s really unlikely that we’ll go back to delivering services exactly as we were four months ago. That’s not, whatever Boris might say about done by Christmas, it seems unlikely. And, secondly, even if the world does return to some relatively more normal and many of your original services can happen, it may well be that there’s certain things about the current, more virtual blend of services that’s better or more efficient that even in the new way, or even in a return to the old, you would want to keep some of this new.

Emma:

Exactly.

Rob:

But, again, it’s not enough to know that instinctively, you need to be able to justify those choices, know which bits are working, and justify those choices. And if you’re not measuring now, how would you do that?

Emma:

Absolutely. It’s moving beyond the we think this is good and people saying it’s good, to actually understanding the difference that you’re making and what it is about your work and the way that you’re delivering it that makes that difference, and then using that as the future for your strategy. And so, that’s where the loop comes in. It’s really got to use that data to learn about how you should be delivering services going forward and prove it to funders, importantly.

Rob:

Yeah. And that’s another way you can justify investing time and energy in it because the charity that kind of does well in this area, I’m certain they’re going to be ahead of the game if they’re then going back to funders, compared to an organization that believes it did some good stuff but doesn’t have that evidence. So then, what was the third idea you think is important for us to consider right now?

Emma:

Well, I suppose tapping onto what we’ve just discussed, actually, Rob, is making sure that you’ve got evidence of need. So, a lot of fundraisers who have to complete those questions within trust applications and persuading philanthropists and corporate funders of the importance of why this service is needed, the need is likely to have changed, probably have got sharper. And it may be that you are needing to work with people to achieve more of those basic requirements, such as food, for example, is a classic example of where the need might have shifted. So, make sure that you are capturing that data that enables you to plan to meet that need. And, actually, again, if you do that at the same time as you’re capturing evidence of the difference that you’re making, so there’s like a cycle going on there, then that’s when you can be planning the services that make the biggest difference and inspiring your funders to fund those services, to actually make… Focus the resources where they’re most needed.

Rob:

So, we need to not only know the need because we can see, at this point of time, more and more families, honestly, they’re hungry. It’s harder for them to just get stuff in the cupboard. We might know that as a frontline worker or someone running the service, but when you say we need to capture evidence of need, what kinds of evidence are you talking about? Or what kinds of tactics are you talking about?

Emma:

Well, you might be capturing evidence such as what proportion of your beneficiaries are hungry, what proportion of relying on food banks for their food, for example. You might be looking at what proportion of your beneficiaries are now feeling like they are concerned about their mental health, for example. So, it’s capturing sort of data around that and it doesn’t always have to be numbers. It can be the qualitative stuff. So, for example, Jane’s family told us that it’s been really difficult for Jane to learn because she’s hungry because she’s not getting free school meals at the moment, for example. The qualitative stuff around that is still important as well. So, actually capturing the numbers and the stories, the qualitative stuff is really important for your suite of evidence, but also, looking at external information. So, there will be lots of research around about evidence of… Take wellbeing, for example, and food poverty. Draw on those sources as well. Have those within your armour.

Rob:

Very good. That makes sense. And I’m guessing we’re not necessarily needing to expect that family that’s accessing those important services at that time to have to fill in a form. Sometimes that might be appropriate, but often it might be an extra thing for the frontline service worker to be aware of that they could ask a couple of questions, according to what your system is.

Emma:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Work with what you already do. So, if there’s sort of information about when you’re capturing contact details and understanding about some of the challenges that are going on at home, sometimes that’s captured in a way that’s only for the support worker to deliver the support that the person needs, that the beneficiary needs. Well, actually, if you can pass some of that information on to fundraisers in a workable format, then that all provides that really good evidence of need which is needed for funding applications.

Rob:

Yeah. Very good. And so, it’s just a kind of a mindset really within the whole organization and being more holistic about it. So, according to my reckoning, that was the first three crucial things to be aware of right now. What was the fourth one?

Emma:

Well, one of the things I think I’d like to share is ‘don’t necessarily assume that people are too busy or too stressed to fill out those forms, actually, because there’s a lot of goodwill out there for charities and the essential services that they are providing’. And if you explain why that evidence is needed, don’t assume that it is wrong to ask people to fill out those forms, for example. And it may be that people are more than willing to help you to help them and others and not in all cases. And, of course, people need to make a case by case judgment as to the situation that the people or the family are in.

But don’t have that blanket assumption that now is not the right time, is what I would say because a lot of organizations are reporting that people have been only too willing to help out if it helps them. And it’s about explaining why you need that information, why you’re asking these awkward questions, or sometimes seemingly awkward questions. It’s about explaining why, that it will help to fund the service and keep that money going on an ongoing basis, or to get the new money needed to change the way that the… To improve the way the service is delivering or to do a new project, for example.

Rob:

Yes. So, the first key thing is not many people like filling in a great, long form that takes 25 minutes or if the system keeps crashing. But, most of us, if there’s some level of rapport, some level of kind of relationship has happened because of what’s going on between the charity and the person accessing that help, your experience is most people are willing to do their part in sharing a bit of information that can only help more families get access to this kind of stuff. And then, secondly, just for the person in the charity to potentially just put in an extra sentence or two explaining why we might be keen to capture certain information. That can make all the difference for someone to being really happy to share or potentially less so.

Emma:

Absolutely. With any data capture form, explain to people why you need it and what you’re going to do with it.

Rob:

Fantastic. I guess there is something else to do with the shift that’s happened to do with work, if more people are working from home nowadays, and I guess the implications of data safety and so on. The other day you mentioned to me that that’s something for us to just be aware of now.

Emma:

Absolutely. So, if you’ve got personal data about beneficiaries or, indeed, donors that’s accessible from a laptop, you need some data security measures to make sure that data can’t be, A, it can’t be hacked and, B, that you can’t lose it, personally. I mean, it’s not for me to say what they should be, but just have a chat, make sure that somebody within your organization has thought about whether you’ve got adequate data security measures and things like, on my laptop, if it’s idle for more than like even 30 seconds, I think, it requires a password to reactivate it. So, if my kids happen to pick up my laptop, which they never should, but if they happen to pick it up, they can’t get into it to be able to access any of the data that I keep on it. So, it’s just thinking about making sure you’ve got the right systems that you can’t be hacked and that you’re not going to lose or inadvertently share data in a way that you shouldn’t be.

Rob:

Very good. That makes sense. And I guess we’ve got time for one last key idea that you’ve been advising your charity clients on recently. What would that be?

Emma:

Yes. Well, certainly in my experience, funders have been very understanding with charities and saying, “You can hold off on a lot of your monitoring evaluation reports,” and that’s great. But what I would say is don’t lose the opportunity to inspire funders, supporters, prospects, et cetera, with the difference that you are making and the stories as well as the data. And so, even if funders aren’t banging on the door asking for that evidence, if you can try to find a way to communicate that in a way that evidences the difference that you’re making, like what support, why you specifically. There’s lots of gorgeous data that you can use and then communicate that in a visual and heartwarming way to communicate and inspire people with that difference that you’re making, and don’t lose this opportunity to differentiate yourself as one of the great organizations that makes a difference.

Rob:

Yes. So, if we’re working, A, so hard to do great work and respond right now when so many people are struggling, that’s a given. B, if we’re following your six principles and others, we’re working hard to get this evidence, your point now is after all that effort, yeah, it might be just 2% more effort to actually put that into an easy to understand infographic or kind of get that story told nicely and easy to understand through Canva or something. It’s that last bit to really make use of this amazing information you’ve gathered because, in your experience, that then can make all the difference to an organization’s confidence that it’s making a difference and a funder’s confidence.

Emma:

Absolutely. And it can even be something even as simple as, “Dear X Funder, I know you said we could wait another three months until we send that monitoring evaluation report, but I just had to write to tell you about the feedback I just had from this beneficiary who told me that dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. And when they first came to us, they were in this situation, and now because of the work we’ve been able to do during lockdown, this is the difference that it’s made in their lives. Thank you for your patience in waiting for that report. I just couldn’t wait to tell you about the difference that we made to this one person.” Even something as simple as an email that proactively tells your funder that you’re working hard and delivering amazing services, I think, is only a good thing. And when it comes round to then everybody sending in their funding return at the same time, yours will stand out and you’ll get noticed by that funder.

Rob:

Yeah. I really love that. It’s kind of moving away from impact is a thing we measure once and is a great long report that not many people are actually going to read all of. By all means, do all of that work, but it’s realizing that, actually, life is more of a marathon than a sprint, and so is fundraising success, and so is the measuring and sharing of impact. So, kind of if you’re working so hard to get this stuff, kind of breaking it down into smaller chunks that you drip, drip, drip as part of your ongoing stewardship, ongoing relationship, ongoing just the decency to let someone know who helped get this great result, let them know a small version of it now, rather than have to wait until October. As an approach to relationship building, I think that’s brilliant.

Emma:

Thank you. Yeah. And it’s about, I mean, always, I say that your data should be used to inform and inspire as well as improve your services, but we’re talking to fundraisers here. And if you’re not using the inspire bit through that drip-feeding and telling those stories, then you’re missing a trick. And those trust funders, it’s not just your individual donors who need that sort of inspiration, it’s the trust funders as well, even though they’re sitting at their desks, maybe just reading reports all day in, day out, I’ve heard it from the funder’s mouth, as it were, they love a story as well as the data.

Rob:

Yeah. And potentially, for us, the fundraiser, to be just a bit more varied and a tiny bit more creative in sending those drip drips drips in different formats. So, it might be, well, it was all there in their report, turning that into a simple infographic, or taking a 30-second clip from a powerful case study that you were fortunate enough to receive by video and a link to that, or it’s some other way of maybe taking a transcript of a key interview, anonymizing it, and sending that as a kind of a short, sharp blog or something. It’s this approach to not only sending more frequently but also in different formats that can make all the difference to this message reaching these funders that we are making an amazing difference.

Rob:

In terms of what charities can do to get better at this, lots of it is very doable on their own because I know you’ve coached fundraisers for years to implement stuff on their own. And I also know that at the other extreme, a charity can bring you in-house and you do lots of the work with them and for them. But I gather you’ve created a middle way whereby you can at some level help them, but they ended up doing a lot of the legwork, and there’s lots of good benefits to that. Do you want to tell us what that new approach is because I think quite a lot of our viewers are potentially going to see some value in that?

Emma:

Yeah. Well, it’s a new approach for me, actually. So, I’m piloting an impact measurement accelerator whereby I help organizations to define, plan how to measure their impact, actually capture and analyze that data, and then produce it into all of the gorgeous outputs that we’ve just been talking about, an impact report, as well as all of the other lovely stuff, that can be broken down to drip feed and inspire people as you… On an ongoing and continual basis. And, I’m really keen to work with a small group of people together, to go through that journey together over, say, three months, and yeah. If you’re interested, if that sounds of interest to you, then, yeah, just drop me a line, emma@insleyconsulting.com, or connect with me on LinkedIn, and I’ll be happy to tell you a bit more about it.

Rob:

Fantastic, Emma. That sounds like a brilliant approach that’s well worth trying for a certain kind of charity that where it absolutely needs to get better at this stuff, but it needs to ongoingly take responsibility for keeping doing it. Thank you for sharing those six key principles states, really helped me, and I’m sure many charities listening and watching are going to be able to implement some very specific tactics you’ve mentioned. So, thank you for sharing it. I look forward to catching up with you very soon. But, for now, thank you very much, Emma. Goodbye.

Emma:

Thank you. Bye.

Rob:

Well, I hope you found Emma’s six principles helpful. To sum these up, she said, firstly, this is a good time to review your theory of change. Secondly, if you need to, adapt the way you’re collecting information. Thirdly, capture evidence of the need, which may well have changed recently. Fourthly, don’t assume that people are too busy or too stressed to complete monitoring forms. Fifthly, if many of your staff are working from home, check your data security measures. Lastly, squeeze every ounce out of your impact data. Be proactive and creative in how you share your findings and do so more regularly than only on the big milestone deadlines.

If you’re a member of the Bright Spot Club, I’m excited to let you know that we’re about to publish a full learning bundle, including a live problem-solving session with Emma to help you go deeper into these and other key elements of impact measurement. If you’re not a member, you can find out more about this learning club, and all the learning bundles, the weekly coaching calls, and how to join at brightspotmembersclub.co.uk/join.

If you enjoyed today’s episode, do remember to subscribe to the podcast today. And if you’re able to take a moment to go to iTunes to rate and leave a brief review, I’d be incredibly grateful as this helps other charities and fundraisers to get access to this free content that we’re working hard to create. And if you want to get in touch or share this episode, Emma and I would love to hear from you. We’re both on LinkedIn and on Twitter. Emma is @EmmaInsley with a capital E and a capital I, and my Twitter name is @woods_rob. Finally, thank you so much for listening today, and good luck with all your efforts, both to raise funds and to show your supporters what difference their generosity is making. Goodbye.