A never ending story; Why social impact is more than numbers


What do you do

Every charity knows what it does, right? After all it has a mission statement and its charitable objectives…

All too often we take it for granted that people know what we mean. This is as true of everyday communication as it is when it comes to charities communicating with their funders, service users or wider beneficiaries.

With the spotlight on charity governance in the past year, it is absolutely essential that boards and CEOs ensure they are meeting all their obligations. However, technical capability aside, perhaps at this time of internal focus and external scrutiny (yes, it’s audit time!) it is also a chance to reflect on our messages.

Do we have the evidence to back up our claims? Do we know not just how many people came through our doors but what happened to them after they left? Is there a community legacy to our work, and how can we best try to safeguard this for generations to come?

The UK has a proud history of charitable enterprise and that legacy can still be seen today in the form of our faith based provision and buildings, our national parks, our cultural artefacts and the healthier and more culturally aware society which we too often take for granted.

Social impact, for me, is about the long view. Too often organisations report on what they did yesterday, but do not share their vision and method for getting to where they want to get to tomorrow. If you want your supporters or funders to get behind what you do, you need a compelling narrative backed up by some good evidence. Evidence come in many forms and some of the best charity campaigns of last year (at this point I cannot avoid name checking Great Ormond Street Hospital) know that sometimes a picture and a personal story tells more than a thousand words or a page of numbers. Better data capture is always helpful and good management, of course, needs to underlie what you do. But more than that, how can you build a persuasive case that proves beyond doubt you know what you are about?

At ACEVO Solutions we love working with charities and social enterprises that recognise themselves they need to make a change, even if they don’t know where to start. One way to approach any strategic development review is through recognising the key changes in the environment in which you are operating, understanding the dynamics of the sector then developing an awareness of the market and other organisations that have some similarities to what you do. It then leaves you well placed to focus your energy on ensuring your internal processes are robust and more importantly remembering the why. Mission-drift is such a well worn phrase that I hesitate to use it, but it does describe well the state in which many organisations can find themselves. At the point at which you are absolutely clear about your purpose, what you do and how you are getting to where you aim to be, you will be in a much stronger position to have that conversation with your users, funders and any member of the public who asks that seemingly simple question “What do you do?”

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