Comment: Can you really measure what we do?

I went to Third Sector's Most Admired Charities awards event last week.

John Knight
John Knight

I met my fellow correspondent Nick Seddon (he's beneath me) for the first time and concluded that he is an agreeable man. Phil Hope, Minister for the Third Sector, was billed to speak but, having been detained by a three-line whip in the Commons, was delayed. Chris Pond (former Labour MP and chair of Capacitybuilders) spoke in Phil's stead. He was somewhat provocative.

Third Sector is owned by the Haymarket Group, and its chairman is Lord Heseltine. He was in the front row, looking, I thought, increasingly discomfited by Pond's remarks about "the dark days of the Thatcher and Major years" and how he had managed to "sell a signed photo of Thatcher for £300 to raise funds for the Low Pay Unit, which would have annoyed her". I wondered what was going through the mind of Stephen Cook, Third Sector's editor. Heseltine thanked Pond and talked to him afterwards, but did not stay for the awards ceremony.

Talking about how charities were evaluated, Pond spoke of outcomes as opposed to outturns, and how best to measure the former because these were a signature of the sector and its focus on people. The difficulty was illuminated in an example about getting people who claim incapacity benefit into work, and whether simply measuring the number of people placed in jobs measured anything meaningful. It was suggested that whether people stayed in those jobs or if they were in suitable employment would be more important indicators of the success of those voluntary organisations involved in this work.

Camila Batmanghelidjh from Kids Company, the outspoken speaker of often inconvenient truths, added to this debate by suggesting that she saw a growing trend for people who evaluate charities to look for "financial indicators". She went on to say that this approach failed to "capture an essential aspect of the sector's role in adding to the emotional and psychological gains of its beneficiaries". I have no idea about the veracity of this, but suspect she may have a point.

- John Knight is head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability: jk.thirdsector@googlemail.com 

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