We need a revolution in charity transparency.

It sometimes feels that the only way we as charities, social enterprises and NGO’s can raise funds is to tell heart-breaking stories about their beneficiaries, rather than balancing this storytelling with hard facts about the impact they actually achieve (or don’t). Driven by a scarcity of funding, we feel compelled to tell ever more hard-hitting stories and publish ever higher vague success rate percentages to secure the money we all need. We believe we have reached a pinnacle of this storytelling culture.

This was epitomized last year with the collapse of Kids Company and a state where trust in charities is now at an all-time low. 

This needs to change.

Our journey to transparent and holistic impact reporting.

We’ve have been fortunate enough to work with two of the UK’s leading Venture Philanthropy organisations Impetus-PEF and Inspiring Scotland over the past seven years who have pushed us hard to develop transparent impact measurement. We’ve been on a three-stage journey to get to where we are today.

Pre 2010 we used to just measure ‘participation’ – measuring the number of people who took part in our football sessions. We then moved to an outcomes-based model– ticking the box when we achieved a measurable outcome like getting a job or a training place. That was better, but still, a long way from the transparency we wanted to achieve.

In 2013 we were challenged to go further. We introduced a model which tracked the whole journey each young person takes with Street League, from the moment we meet them right through to helping them stay in a job for six months or more.

We have a monitoring and evaluation system which allows us to record where our young people are coming from (their highest educational attainment, their postcode mapped against the Indices of Multiple Deprivation data, their length of time unemployed and any barriers they were facing to getting a job like a drug use or housing issues). We also track their journey through our programme, the outcome they achieved and most importantly whether they stayed in the job for 3 and 6 months. We also track when we aren’t able to help a young person, for example when they left our course early without achieving an outcome, and then fed all of this data back into re-designing our programmes.

Most importantly we introduced a rigorous internal audit that required every outcome we achieve to be validated – for example, a job outcome is only valid once we had a photocopy of a first months payslip or a job offer letter. We need to prove what we do.

See infographic on our journey to transparency

Putting transparency into practice

Three Golden Rules

We are always on the path to continuous improvement, and we strongly believe in the need to balance the good stories we tell with hard impact dataHere are a few ways that we put our approach to transparency into practice.

Three Golden Rules

There have been many attempts to produce a unified measurement system for the charity sector.

We believe there is a straightforward and simple framework which all charities could adopt, which we've called the Three Golden Rules. If we start with this, transparency will follow.

  1. We will never overclaim what we do
  2. All percentages are backed up by absolute numbers to avoid being misleading
  3. All our outcomes are backed by auditable evidence.
Never overclaiming what we do

Charity work is hard, and it should be. We never claim to get 100% success rates, as that would mean we are not working with the right people. There are a few ways in which we make sure we never overclaim our impact:

  • We begin all of our annual reports by sharing our challenges, and the young people we weren't able to help. Last year this was 183 young people who disengaged, and we now have analysis to understand why so we can focus on improving our services. 
  • We focus on the soft and hard outcomes that we can measure (confidence building, improvements in health, getting a new job etc.) and we don't extrapolate the impact that we have. For example, we know that there are wider community benefits of a young person being happily employed i.e. lower costs to the taxpayer for benefits claimants, and reduced pressure on prison and health services, however we cannot prove or quantify these effects so we do not report on this.
All percentages are backed up by absolute numbers
  • We never use percentages without including the sample size, and we always use full data-sets to ensure our reporting is accurate and never misleading. 
  • We map every single young person's journey through Street League and never use generalisations.
All our outcomes are backed up by auditable evidence.
  • Charities are not required to provide "proof" of their social impact, which means that we can technically say whatever we like without being questioned. We don't think this is good enough, so every outcome we report on has documented evidence.
  • We have introduced a four-stage internal audit process for every single one of our outcomes, which could stand to test against a rigorous external audit. The four stages verify the young person’s starting point, the support they needed and received from Street League, their input to that journey, and external verification that they have progressed into a job or education.
  • Examples of external verification include a payslip from a new job or an offer of a place at college and proof that they completed their course. 
Real-time impact reporting
  • This year we’ve created a real-time online impact dashboard. We want to show how we are doing month by month rather than having to wait a year or more for our annual report. 
  • We analyse our own data each month in Management Information Packs which allows us to make quicker decisions to improve our programmes.
  • Our online dashboard is updated directly from our internal database and shows the barriers young people faced when they came to us, whether they lived in the most disadvantaged communities, how many dropped out along the way (and why), the types of jobs they went into, and most importantly how many are still in jobs after six months (the main indicator of success for us). 

Join the debate online with using #CallforClarity

Since the launch of our campaign last year, 357 other organisations have publicly backed our approach, as well as being featured in the Guardian, and Third Sector.

Our approach was also recognised by winning the prestigious Third Sector Excellence Awards for our latest annual report.

We want to engage with you to find out how you are approaching this important subject, and how we could improve our Three Golden Rules to be more applicable for all organisations. Get in touch, or join the conversation online using #CallforClarity.