From lift off to impact: Evolving our approach to impact measurement

When Power to Change started in 2015, the Board took virtually all of the grant decisions. This month we abolished the Board Grants Committee. Now we're 100% focused on impact. Here’s why.

Stephen Miller

Head of Impact Evaluation

Lift off!

Power to Change was set up in 2015 with a £150m endowment to support and invest in community businesses. Within less than six months, we had launched our first £9m fund, snappily titled the Initial Grants Programme. The response was huge – with over 750 organisations applying for the 40 grants available. Processing these applications proved something of a challenge for the five staff then in post. But they had the active support of our Board of Trustees, who in those days reserved all virtually grant award decisions to themselves.

Of course, it is not unusual for Foundation Trustees to get deeply involved in grant-making. But as Power to Change recruited more staff and grew in size, this model began to feel increasingly outmoded. So we moved to the next level.

By 2017 the situation had reversed, with most grant decisions being taken by Power to Change staff or our delivery partners. The role of the Board Grants Committee changed from one of decision-making to one of review and scrutiny, keeping close tabs on expenditure levels and ensuring grants were aligned with our regulations and charitable objects. So far so standard, you might think.

Yet the behaviours and controls we had adopted as a smaller team just didn’t make sense as we grew. They were slowing us down, making us focus on the wrong things. On the number and financial value of grants made, not their impact and social value. Our original remit from the (then) Big Lottery Fund was to be ‘more than a funder’. Yet when we talked about ourselves, we too often did so through the lens of our funding activities, not in terms of our overall impact on the community business marketplace. So we decided to move to the next level again. To prepare for impact.

Impact!

At the start of 2019, we abolished the Board Grants Committee entirely and replaced it with a new ‘Impact Committee’. This committee, which met for the first time on Monday, consists of both staff and Trustees and has a remit to ask:

  • is Power to Change helping grantees, and if so, how?
  • are we shaping the wider sector, and if so, how?
  • are our grantees helping local people, and if so, how?
  • are they making local places better, and if so, how?

 

Each quarter we try and answer one of these four questions. We do so by looking not just at how much money we’re spending through each of our grants programmes but by pulling together evidence from across the organisation: from our regular staff ‘Intelligence Days’, from the research commissioned by our Research Institute, from third-party data that allows us to contextualise and moderate our claims. This provides a real focus. And as we learnt this week (when we looked at the impact we are having on our grantees) it also results in much a richer discussion than simply reviewing figures on a spreadsheet.

The discussion moved away from focusing on individual workstreams towards the bigger picture. No longer asking how many grants had this or that programme made, but asking what impact was across our portfolio? The good news is that there are early signs Power to Change is having a very positive impact on its grantees. Yet it is still too early for us to know whether we are supporting them towards sustainability.

We were also able to identify trends and patterns which influence future programme design. Many of our grantees operate in areas of deprivation and higher unemployment. This impacts upon everything they do: demand for their services, disposable income in their area to buy these services, and the skills available to them through staff and volunteers. We discussed what this means for how we continuously improve our programmes.

We are still on a learning journey with our impact approach. We’ll be sharing more about what we’re doing and learning over the coming weeks. In the meantime, a recent and comprehensive account can be found in our Impact Framework. We’d also love to hear from other funders who have tried something similar.

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