Good Impact Practice: a basis for building and maintaining trust

James Magowan is the Inspiring Impact lead for ACF. Here he reflects on issues raised at the recent ACF conference—which had ‘Trust’ as its theme. He explains why he  sees good impact practice as a significant contributing factor in building and maintaining trust between charities and funders.

David Emerson (Chief Executive, ACF) in his opening address to the ACF conference set the tone of the event by posing two big questions:

  • How do we retain and strengthen trust, and overcome what threatens and erodes it?
  • How can we hold, harness and deploy trust?

Many speakers went on to present answers to these questions.

We should not just want more trust, but rather we should trust intelligently, looking for honesty, competence and reliability—was Onora O’Neill’s view. Drawing from her expertise as Reith Lecturer and Ted Talk presenter on the topic of Trust, she highlighted the need for evidence relating to honesty, competence and reliability to be expressed transparently and to be well communicated.

Questions and contributions from the audience identified challenges in building a two-way trusting relationship – including addressing perceived and actual power imbalances, and improving the credibility of evidence.  Some stressed that  funders and charities have a responsibility to demonstrate trustworthiness more widely (among the general public, and with the private and statutory sectors) and hence to build trust in the role of civil society.  And it was recognised that trustworthiness, like social capital, naturally erodes and must be constantly maintained.

Dawn Auswick, Big Lottery Fund Chief Executive, warned that, in a world where actions are ‘done to’ rather than ‘owned by’, institutional frameworks tend to focus on accountability and compliance, which implies scepticism and  mistrust.  She went on to suggest that ‘foundations need to question their leadership role in a creating a funding ecology rather than a bureaucracy’.

It is this point about accountability and compliance that is the reason impact practice is sometimes perceived as the antithesis of trust. That demonstrating your impact is about showing you’re definitely doing what you’re saying you’re doing. But I would argue  that good impact practice is not good impact practice unless it is founded on trust.

Good impact practice does not focus solely on the achievement of proven or anticipated change, rather it puts learning and improving at its heart.  The Funders’ Principles and Drivers of Good Impact Practice clearly state that any approach to impact measurement must be based on trust, honesty and integrity. It is essential that grantees are made to feel confident in articulating the difference they intend to make and the difference they actually make. They should feel comfortable communicating truthfully what works and why, and what doesn’t work and why not.

This enables both parties to responsibly invest their resources, learn from practice, and improve, thus both contributing to more effective social change.  Using the tool Measuring Up! is a useful starting point for both charities and funders to assess their impact practice and to establish an impact approach that empowers, informs, and improves the work they do.

Good impact practice helps both funders and grantees demonstrate their trustworthiness – that is to say, their honesty, competence and reliability.  In response to David’s questions – good impact practice is one way to help foundations retain, strengthen, harness and deploy trust, and overcome what threatens and erodes it.

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