Evaluating Our Work and measuring impact
Measuring our impact
Sound financial management in charities matters, and understanding how charities spend their money is a key driver of public trust. Every penny has to count and be accounted for, and all the projects and programmes should be evaluated and justified and have a purpose that complies with the objectives of the charity. The same principles of auditing required for corporate bodies should apply to charitable organisations.
In Moving Mountains the Trustees take collective responsibility for managing the charity’s resources and justify the expenditure by providing evidence of need from the regional MM organisations. Trustees are not distant to the operations of each ‘MM’ in Kenya, Nepal or Borneo, but involved on a daily basis with details such as proposals, cash flow and financial reporting.
Expenditures are discussed on a continual basis with each of the regional stakeholders and all the information is held on cloud so that everyone has access to see and edit documents. Our communication is exceptional and a big part of our success in managing funds safely. We communicate every day with local managers and continually update our impact maps and timelines with latest developments. We ask volunteers to help us collect data, and we regularly visit the locations to meet the stakeholders and beneficiaries.
We take the view that our money is an investment that this money has to be earned, evaluated and accounted for, or else it stops. We try not to use the word ‘aid’ because of its associations with ‘free’ money, and we work hard to ensure that money is only ever a part of the solution to any problem. Every stakeholder has to contribute something, whether it be land or time or commitment and we ensure that our role is not seen as the most important one. In this way we have avoided over-reliance on external funding, and we link projects and programmes directly to income streams coming from volunteers and visiting groups.
For all our work we create ‘impact maps’ which are documents that help us evaluate our ‘theory of change’ which is a way of showing how our funding creates measurable change through proper reporting. We ask ourselves questions like "what is the value of our work?", "what would happen if we stopped our work?", and "what are the developmental goals and the specific aims of the programme?".
Too many charities create reliance and complacency, so we also look at the sustainability of our work into the future. All of the projects on this website display a timeline or history, which is important because it shows when we began and when we stopped our support. Our impact needs to have a beginning, middle and end.
One of the ways to make sure that this is understood is by using contracts or agreements which are witnessed by all the stakeholders, defining who does what and who gets what. This is all part of establishing the parameters of a successful development project, and it prevents so-called 'white elephants' which are all too common throughout the developing world.
We ask our volunteers to help the staff develop and make these impact maps and evaluation cycles, which is always a very meaningful experience. Our model of volunteering actively contributes to the sustainability of our work both quantitatively and qualitatively because we expect them to get involved to this level and feel that they are part of the work that quite often is seen as 'back room stuff', but which in reality forms the lifeblood of our operations.
Like any ‘investment’ we need to show that work we do and the money we put in actually achieves something, and we underpin this by collecting data about every project and programme. Our MM partners do this, but so do the Trustees and also the volunteers. In fact the volunteers play a large part in helping us with this ongoing task.
Data is collected in a number of ways which are relevant and sympathetic to the communities and area being visited. Some of it is handwritten on forms, some of it is online, some video and photographic.
Quantitative data is slightly easier – for example, number of children in school before and after rehabilitation of school buildings, number of saplings planted in logged areas of jungle, number of people benefitting from fresh water etc. Qualitative data is harder to collect and understand – there are different meanings to the phrase ‘quality of life’ for example, and we need to be careful not to impose foreign concepts of happiness, achievement, progress and so on to people whose perception of life is different. We do a lot research into how to ask the right questions, but at the end of the day this interaction between us and the beneficiaries is why we love what we do. Over many years those beneficiaries become friends and colleagues and it's much easier to gauge the 'rightness' of what we do.
Our local MM organisations help us a lot – they know exactly what it means to feel secure, stable, happy or inspired. The volunteers who come out often find themselves learning about these differences in life values because we ask them to get involved with our staff in collecting data and helping us evaluate our work.
We believe that it’s not enough to simply say that we want to ‘do good’, we have to have the knowledge and expertise and experience to manage complex developmental issues. We need to interact with partners who can help us make the impact of our work much bigger, instead of acting in an insular way thinking ‘we know best’. For example all our structural project work in Kenya involves collaboration with local education or health authorities, local chiefs and village committees, the ministry of works and often the local MP. Proposals go through an in-depth process before being accepted by everyone.
The Trustees have all gone through training about charity impact assessment reporting, project strategy, good governance and financial management. We spend time researching about progressive methodology and constantly updating the practises and governance of Moving Mountains. It all contributes to this charity being at the cutting edge of development and the volunteering debate.