How do you know you’re making a difference? By Bevis Man, Communications Director, Sarcoma UK Published: 6 March 2019 For a small charity that is proud of how much we do, we were pretty poor at showing the impact our efforts were making. It’s fair to say we were guilty of being too busy ‘doing’. Dealing with an uncommon cancer like sarcoma means managing a huge portfolio of things that need sorting out, so the focus in our early years was rightly on identifying the issues and what we needed to do about them. Now in our tenth year, we’re still young, and although we have been pretty good at showing what we do as we do it, pulling it all together to show impact of our work was an alien concept. We had reached a stage where we needed to demonstrate that all the years of support had not gone to waste. As we better understood the value of approaching more trusts and foundations and engaging with major donors, we needed evidence to show that Sarcoma UK was a charity worth supporting. Starting blocks Guided by the charity’s core objectives, we created a framework and decided to root the report in the answers to two key questions: what difference was it making to our supporters and people affected by sarcoma and why we were doing those things. Internally we made sure that everyone understood the distinction between output and impact. Clearing this up at an early stage made subsequent asks for information easier. We also identified the best person in each team to speak to, which is often not the head of department. I had a wish list of items that I thought would be a good indicator of our impact as a charity, so we set about finding evidence from the various teams. Some areas we were already measuring and evaluating so we could immediately set about finding feedback from stakeholders. There were other areas where we could begin to gather evidence and other fields where the task would be too complex given time and resources. Sometimes not having a complete answer is a good thing. It forces you to be creative about communicating impact. Arguably, having a strong set of meaningful quotes from supporters is as important as a complete set of impact statistics. Transparency counts Research outcomes don’t always match hypotheses, but that doesn’t make those projects a waste of donors’ money. After all, any knowledge gained in the process is still valuable, particularly when it’s research looking into an uncommon and poorly understood cancer like sarcoma. But would our supporters also see things this way? We felt strongly about transparency being a part of the impact reporting process because it helps lay down realistic expectations in the future about research, so we spoke openly about projects that ended up going in a different direction and the time it takes to get from bench to bedside. Promotion “You’ve put so much effort into making it, don’t leave the report to fester on a webpage where no-one goes to,” said our Chief Executive and he’s right. So we went about creating two weeks’ worth of social media content picking out some of the highlights from the report, based around each area of our work. We received a heap of generally very positive reaction and support, and we saw corresponding upswings online with 310 downloads to date over the first six weeks of launching, a 250% increase in engagement on Facebook over the campaign and a 40% increase on Twitter. Prior to the launch, we worked alongside the rest of charity to create a mailing list of key donors and fundraisers, potential major donors, group fund leaders, patrons and ambassadors, to show how their funds had been making a difference in the past but also to showcase what we were capable of. If anything it was a good reason to re-engage with certain supporters and restart conversations that may have lapsed once they’d received a physical copy of the report. What now? Thoughts have already started about the next impact report. The process of putting together this first one together has highlighted areas we were weak in: things we weren’t measuring but ought to. Some of these we’ve now put into place. While nothing in the report is particularly groundbreaking, having this report has not only forced the charity to set baselines about how we measure and evaluate our impact moving forwards, but also provided the evidence internally for staff that their efforts over the years are making a difference, which is important for morale. Not everything we wanted to talk about is in there, but we now have a backbone to the charity’s endeavours. The impact report is an investment, an evidence base to draw upon, whether talking to supporters, researchers and potential corporate donors. We have ready-made content to use for the rest of the year. We have also been able to identify limitations and opportunities for the communications team. Having seen some great examples in the past of impact reporting, it would have been nice to have our first impact report online, engaging and interactive, but timings, workload and the reality of working in a two-person communications team put an end to those thoughts quite quickly.