The importance of measuring outcomes

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ManKind Initiative, a Helplines Partnership member, recently submitted a funding bid to a well-known funder. Although unsuccessful in the bid, ManKind’s experience highlights the important factors to consider when placing a bid to support a helpline and gives great insight.

Guest blog post from Mark Brooks, Chair of Trustees (The ManKind Initiative) who wanted to share their experience as a helpline seeking support from a large national funder.

Our helpline provides support anonymously to male victims of domestic abuse and domestic violence. We receive 1,600 calls per year from men directly or mothers, sisters and friends seeking help for a man they know who is suffering.

The application process that we experienced highlighted that funders are expecting charities to create helpline services that meet their funding criteria rather than the criteria that fits the needs of a charity’s beneficiaries – when there is nonalignment. I am not particularly exorcised about not getting funding because of the competitive nature of these things but more so because of the reasons we were provided when requesting the rationale behind the decision.

We bid for funding to run our helpline for a further three years with an additional request to fund extra capacity and a manager to run it. However, we were turned down at the first stage, and received some feedback indicating that while our project has potential, it was not as strong as others that the funder had considered. The other projects were considered more measurable, with greater evidence of need –even though the volume of calls we receive show a need and the government itself recognises that 500,000 men suffer from partner abuse every year.

I accepted their kind and invaluable offer to have an in depth conversation with their funding team to explore the reasoning further and the reasons our bid was unsuccessful. They recognised our helpline requires funding but their bidding criteria is about outcomes and how people are helped in their wellbeing; but felt that our bid was more about outputs.

They said they do not fund standalone helpline services as such. If they fund a helpline it is part of a wider package of support and that we could consider putting in another bid but with the helpline as part of a wider service (for example, setting up an outreach service, forming part of our conference or with other projects) and that this may have a better chance. They also kindly offered their support with this which is appreciated. The concern for trustees though is that you can end up with the risk of setting or changing your business model, strategy and services based on the criteria of funders as your primary consideration rather than the needs of beneficiaries. It also suggests that some funders are not reflecting on this sufficiently.

After some considerable time spent explaining the difficulties in measuring outcomes for anonymous helplines in the application – it seemed to me that the funding body did not really appreciate this point. Where we can, and where appropriate, during the conversation with a victim we do make a note of any demographic data (age, area of the UK, ethnicity) but we do not take names, contact details or other identifiable data. Anonymity is why men call us – it goes to the heart of filling the need of our beneficaries. Certainly you cannot try and contact them afterwards. The type of abuse they suffer means that you have no idea who will be controlling their mobile, home line, post or email account.

They did impart a few good ideas, such as, speaking to people we refer to (only part of what the helpline does) but even then the numbers and trackability would be limited. We had also set out what measures we had put in place for future recording, based on the Helpline Partnership’s Measuring Outcomes Masterclass which we attended in March.

In our bid we apparently focused too much on the demands of the service and not the need. They were unconvinced of the evidence of need; though we had supplied official police figures, Home Office figures and our call figures. However, surely demand=need, therefore demands on a service is proof of need?

The funder also stated that they were concerned about sustainability once the grant had finished. However, when you are operating a niche service that cannot be supported by the marketplace (public or private sector) surely that is when and why you need the help of funding bodies? Otherwise we all end being quangos or offshoots of the state. Charities are there to deal with problems the marketplace cannot or is unwilling to support, it is why they are created and exist!

As I said at the beginning, obtaining funding is very competitive. It comes with no guarantees and there are a huge number of factors at play – and of course perhaps our bid wasn’t well written or convincing enough about the need, But measuring outcomes was the key issue – difficult when anonymity is at the heart of what we do and what our beneficiaries want.

HLP are grateful to ManKind Initiative for sharing their experiences. This knowledge supports helplines to develop better bids and builds our evidence base for when we are lobbying on your behalf for better understanding of the particular issues helplines are facing when evidencing outcomes.

What has been your experience of accessing grants or commissioned services?

Attend our Outcomes masterclass to ensure you are capturing the relevant data potential funders are looking for.

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