On 5 February the ESOMAR Foundation organised a seminar entitled “Measuring the effectiveness of philanthropy”. It aimed to examine what role market research could play in impact assessment of charities’ and associations’ activities.
Tris Lumley from NPC, New Philanthropy Capital, presented on “effectiveness in philanthropy – the urgent challenge”. He mentioned examples of where organisations had been using approaches that had been proven not to work in other situations, therefore stressing the need for careful evaluation of the outcomes and impact of their work. He felt that market research could support NGOs in evaluation in the essential task of listening to their service users, or constituencies, helping them to understand the big picture of the peoples’ lives that they work with. He believes that more education is needed of all stakeholders to emphasise the importance of evaluation, and assessing impact particularly. An overview of different assessment tools and where they could fit in along the life cycle of a project or evaluation process can be found on slide 32 of the presentation.
He mentioned the challenge NGOs often experience that funders don’t cover the costs of overheads or research, as well as funders’ desire for novelty that means effective projects may lose funding after one cycle. These add to the risk that fundraising or sustainability becomes an end in itself, and also promotes competition for resources. Tris argued that NGOs must collaborate more, and consider mergers to avoid duplication of efforts. He also spoke of the need for “value chain thinking”, whereby organisations with different expertise work together with people at different stages of their life, or needs. In the same vein he argued for the need for NGOs to work together more in terms of influencing priorities at national level.
Ludwig Forrest from the Roi Baudouin Foundation talked about the importance of figures for promoting the work of NGOs, as the media loves figures. He felt that the philanthropy sector is mature enough to see that there is a strong positive impact to funding a whole organisation, rather than just projects of the organisation. He also stressed the importance of not condemning failure, but learning from it. At the Roi Baudouin Foundation they have an award for the “best failure” to ensure organisations are still willing to take risks.
In discussion participants and speakers talked of the need to avoid “reductionism” of impact assessment to just economics or figures, and that there was a need to look at global impact aims such as found in the Europe 2020 targets. The Commission believes that a reduction in early school leavers was due to the emphasis put on this topic by the Europe 2020 strategy.