By Dr Cassy Rutherford
These are challenging times for the third sector, and it’s becoming increasingly important for us all—funders included—to be able to understand and evidence our impact.
The Robertson Trust is the largest independent grant-making trust in Scotland. We aim to improve the quality of life, and realise the potential, of people and communities in the country. Last year alone we gave more than £18.2 million to charities of different sizes, which have the potential to achieve positive change for those they support.
With more applications coming to us, it’s vital that we understand what impact we’re having and why. Without this information it’s hard for us to make informed decisions about where we should be targeting our investments to best support people and communities.
We’ve always recognised the importance of evidence-informed decision making and have done a lot of work around improving our monitoring and evaluation requirements for grant-holders. For example, we worked with a number of other funders and Evaluation Support Scotland (ESS) to produce a piece on Harmonising Reporting in 2010.
Despite this, we know that we’ve not always made the best use of the monitoring reports that we receive. Some of our funding programmes are centred on working with organisations to gather evidence about what works, what doesn’t work, and why. However, our main grants programme does not currently have this focus.
Our Trustees agreed that we needed a more consistent approach to evaluation and impact measurement across the whole organisation. After all, if we’re asking our grant-holders to understand the difference they make, it’s only right that we do the same. To support this they created a new post of Evidence and Learning Officer, which I took up.
My main role is to develop and implement new approaches for impact measurement across our different teams. I’m part of Inspiring Impact Scotland’s Embedding Impact Practice group, which is facilitated by ESS, a partner of Inspiring Impact. Being able to share successes and challenges with a network of peers has been invaluable—helping me to understand and develop this process better, both for The Trust and our grant-holders. We’ve already found some common challenges and hope that we’ll be able to share our learning more widely in order to help other organisations too.
Through this group I’ve been supported to use Inspiring Impact’s Measuring Up! tool, which has helped me to understand the gaps and weaknesses in our current practice. It has also highlighted some of the challenges we face; for example, how we can measure our impact indirectly through evidence from our funded projects.
We are in the process of developing a new strategy for the Trust. The current uncertainty this raises makes developing an evaluation plan a lot harder, but it also means it’s the perfect time to be having these discussions.
We know that it’s not always going to be an easy process but we’re looking forward to working through some of the challenges with continued support from Inspiring Impact partner ESS.