Impact & Evaluation: more than just words

nicola-frost-devon-community-foundation-knowledge-guru

At Devon Community Foundation it is important to us that we encourage learning and feedback based on the needs of those we support. We’re aware that many of the groups we fund are very small, often without any paid staff members, and rely on busy volunteers to keep the show on the road. If there was a chance that these smaller groups might find evaluating and reporting an unwelcome distraction from their other work, we wanted to find out.

We decided to survey all the community projects who had received funding over the last five years, to feedback what they thought of our evaluation process. We had 100 responses (very handy for calculating percentages!), 30% from organisations with an annual income under £5,000. Happily, we had nothing to fear and overwhelmingly, people felt our evaluation requirements were proportionate and appropriate. In fact, our grantholders tend to see evaluation as a valuable and integral part of their work, helping them to measure the impact their support has on the people they work with, and a chance to reflect on what they do and how they could do it better.

“We find it useful to inform our own practice, but also think it’s an essential part of being held accountable for the funding we’ve received.”

Part of our evaluation asks grantholders to tell us about unanticipated events and outcomes, whether positive or negative. Although some people felt it was hard to share difficulties with funders, most were very happy to communicate openly.

“Plans can go wrong for a variety of very good reasons some out of your control. We feel what is important is the ability to respond and change direction as required to maintain the integrity of the project aims. We have always found DCF to be supportive if change is required.”

We also asked about the kinds of activity groups were undertaking, and again, were surprised and encouraged by the response. As many as 70% of organisations surveyed had collaborated with others, three-fifths of which had incomes of under £30,000. 36% of respondents felt that a DCF grant has given their organisation a chance to develop an idea, scale up some action, or evolve in another way. And 30% have either applied for funding for a risky or experimental initiative, or have considered it. In a climate that seems to favour larger organisations, it is encouraging to see that DCF grantholders are a dynamic, creative, and cooperative bunch.

Finally, we asked people about the overall DCF experience. 80% felt the support they received during the application process was either good or excellent, and felt the same about our general communications. They also had some very nice things to say about us!

“Devon Community Foundation… were our first funders, enabling us to begin the work we wanted to be able to offer. All of which is still continuing and growing 5 years later. The feedback from DCF and continued funding over the years has supported us to do what we do, but also recognise the work that we do, which we might not otherwise have known, being such a small team ourselves. It gives us the courage to get out and try. The funding allowed projects to happen and then grow in ways that continue to benefit in the community where we see and hear needs.”

The survey did highlight a few areas we want to work on. Two thirds of groups said they had gained knowledge and experience from the activities funded by DCF that others could learn from. So we are now working on ways to make it easier to share learning. In addition we know what a phenomenal amount of time and effort goes into making these fantastic organisations run. While 70% of respondents counted the number of individual volunteers involved in their work, only 38% expressed this as a number of ‘volunteer hours’, and nearly a fifth of respondents did not record volunteer contributions at all. We feel that there is potential for us to help these unsung heroes blow their own trumpet a bit more, and in particular demonstrate how their work has wider community benefits.

Congratulations to the Bungalow Youth Project, lucky winners of our £100 prize draw for those completing the survey! Thank you very much to everyone who took the time to share their views – it really does help us to ensure we are a champion for local communities and all those who contribute to making those communities thrive.  

Nicola Frost is DCF’s Knowledge Guru. Her role involves using information to better understand the impact of the Foundation’s work, as well as to analyse the specific needs of people in Devon. Find out more about Nicola here.