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Using evaluation findings for communicating with trust funders

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Laura Alcock-Ferguson, director of the Campaign to End Loneliness, shares how the charity used their evaluation findings as a critical tool in subsequent funding applications.

Background

The Campaign to End Loneliness inspires thousands of organisations and people to do more to tackle the health threat of loneliness in older age. We are a network of national, regional and local organisations and people working together through community action, good practice, research and policy to ensure that loneliness is acted upon as a public health priority at national and local levels.

Evaluation and funding

We have good relationships with all our funders, and part of that relationship is providing regular reports to our funders about what we have achieved. At the same time, we need to be able to demonstrate our achievements to prospective funders as part of our fundraising.

For both these things – reporting to existing funders and attracting new ones – the evaluation data we have collected, and the data collected for us by NCVO CES, has been essential.

What we gave funders

We gave our current and prospective funders a mixture of information from our own internal monitoring and summarised findings from the external evaluation. We also used a lot of quotes from our external evaluation, which nicely brought to life the rich impact of our work at the local level. In many cases we also sent all our funders the whole external evaluation report. 

From our launch in 2011 to early 2017, NCVO Charities Evaluation Services was our evaluation partner, supporting us with self-evaluation and providing independent impact evaluations. For more information about this work, see a case example here.

The issues we faced

Although we were in a strong position to communicate with funders, in part due to our robust evaluation data, we faced a few challenges in our choices of reporting and fundraising:

  • It can be hard to deal with learning; it is tempting to present just a positive picture of your work.
  • Not all funders want the same level of detail or have the same level of understanding of evaluation.

The actions we took

To deal with these issues we:

  • showed funders how we were dealing with any learning points raised by our external evaluation. For example, when we sent our external evaluation report to the Big Lottery, we sent a covering letter explaining how we were dealing with the recommendations. This showed that we were using the evaluation to learn from, and meant we were more in control.
  • found out our funders’ information needs and interests beforehand where possible, often by asking our grants officers about this. Some got the full evaluation report, others got three top things they ought to know.
  • made our evaluation findings as accessible as possible, using plain English and avoiding jargon.

Positive outcomes

Our current funders have responded extremely favourably to our reporting to them. For example, one praised our ’informative and impactful’ report.

I can’t say we have got funding just because of our evaluation findings. But evaluation findings have been absolutely critical to all of our funding applications. I felt so much more confident of all of our bids because of the evidence I was able to put in them.

Some of the other things that are critical to good funding bids – like good planning and being able to show a clear logic to the way you are trying to create change – are related to evaluation. If you are good at evaluating then you are probably good at planning too, and are probably already talking the language of most funders

Negative outcomes

While the outcomes of the work we have done using evaluation with funders have been largely positive, it hasn’t always been possible to give our funders, or prospective funders, what they want:

  • Many funders were interested in stories from real people (eg lonely older people) impacted by our work. We could very rarely provide that as we are not a front-line organisation.
  • Some funders asked us about changes we had not initially agreed on, so our evaluation systems had not tracked that data.

We had to make the case as to why we couldn’t provide this data, and in general our funders understood this. Now our organisation is bigger we will be able to get more front-line stories.

Lessons learnt

Find out what your funders want

  • Involve your funders in your evaluation at the beginning so they can see what data will be collected.
  • Talk informally to people other than your grants officers, for example a board member, about their expectations from your evaluation.
  • Find out what types of evidence the funder likes by asking other groups they fund.
  • Remember that there may be multiple audiences within the funder. We have found that grants officers often want more detail and robust findings on our outcomes; at the board level people have often wanted less detail and more stories.

Get an external evaluation done

  • It’s always useful to have an external evaluation, especially for drawing out learning. Most of our funders have asked for what we have learnt and how we have continually improved, not just our outcomes. You can do this internally, but it’s hard to find the time to dedicate to it.
  • Most aspects of evaluation carry more weight when done independently.

You’ll need a mixture of data types

  • Some funders really want hard statistics, but even these usually still want impactful stories. If you want these as pure marketing, you may not always get these from an independent, external evaluation, as the evaluators need to be impartial. Ensure you have systems that can help you collect this evidence.
  • Don’t just reply on the external evaluation for demonstrating your value – blow your own trumpet in any way you want to. There were things we wanted to say in applications that we couldn’t back up with robust evaluation data – more tentative but significant things about us. But if you do this you need to be prepared to answer questions about it!

Future funders can be attracted in a range of ways

  • It is worth impressing your current funders with your reporting. They may be people you can apply to again in future.
  • Try and showcase your evaluation learning widely; there may be future funders in the audience!

The nature of the funding relationship may affect the data you share

  • It’s often helpful to share learning, but also showing how you will respond to that learning, and develop as a result, can be powerful.
  • Sometimes we have found it preferable to showcase the positive findings at early bidding stages, sharing the ‘warts and all’ learning later in the bidding process when our credibility has been established.
  • For a long-term relationship, and for bigger pots of funding, you might want to consider a more upfront, transparent approach. 

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Page last edited Oct 24, 2017

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