Outcomes and impact - where do trustees fit in?
Chris Wykes Driver defines the relationship between the role of trustees and creating positive outcomes for their organisation's beneficiaries
All charities set out to achieve positive change for their beneficiaries, and trustees are responsible for ensuring that mission is achieved. So there is a clear link between the trustees who lead and shape the organisation and the outcomes they want to create for their beneficiaries or service users. But grasping this connection, and what it means for your role as trustees can be as challenging as getting your head around the outcomes process!
What are outcomes?
Outcomes are the changes brought about by your organisation’s work – such as people taking up exercise, learning skills, getting into employment or housing. Impact is often described as the longer term effects of those outcomes – healthier families, lower unemployment rates or happier communities.
The big difference with outcomes is that they focus on the changes that result from what you do, rather than your outputs. For example, you can deliver a series of training courses (outputs) but the outcomes are the skills and knowledge developed by your training participants.
So outcomes are core to what charities and community groups are trying to achieve and they are also central to the trustee’s role.
What are trustees responsible for?
A short description of trustee responsibilities comes from the Charity Commission publication The Essential Trustee: ‘Trustees have, and must accept, ultimate responsibility for directing the affairs of their charity, ensuring that it is solvent, well run and delivering the charitable outcomes for the benefit of the public for which it was set up.'
Expanding on this, Good Governance: A code for the voluntary and community sector specifies six principles for trustee boards to follow in providing good governance and leadership. These are:
- Understanding their role
- Ensuring delivery of organisational purpose
- Working effectively both as individuals and as a team
- Behaving with integrity
- Being open and accountable
Trustees and outcomes – an essential relationship
The trustees’ role in outcomes and impact is directly related to the second point – ensuring delivery of organisational purpose.
Trustees must ensure that decision-making is consistent with the organisation’s mission, plan for greater impact and help identify the key outcomes that need to be monitored.
When it comes to evaluating the charity’s impact, trustees are there to ask the big questions:
- Are results improving over time?
- What can we learn from approaches that didn’t work so well?
- Are we achieving the outcomes we want for service users or do we need a re-think?
Focusing on outcomes and impact is an ongoing process which should be done in a spirit of continuous improvement - activities and services are judged against the outcomes they deliver for service users, periodic reviews and enhancements ensure that those services continue to be relevant and effective.
Finally impact needs to be communicated and celebrated. Charities are now specifically required to report the achievements of the charity in their year-end accounts. Most funders require evidence of outcomes. And to continue to rely on public support charities must communicate clearly about their outcomes and wider impact through a variety of channels to ensure that their messages are heard and their contributions valued.
To sum up
Tris Lumley, from New Philanthropy Capital (NPC), states: ‘The mission that trustees are there to achieve is all about impact.’
Trustees can take the lead in ensuring that their charity measures, evaluates and communicates its outcomes and that impact is at the heart of all strategic planning. Through their involvement in evaluating outcomes data trustees can see exactly how well their organisation is doing in achieving its aims for beneficiaries. This helps trustees stay on target with planning that is focused and effective.
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