Funders' data demands 'are often unhelpful'

Commissioners and funders need to make sure the monitoring requirements they impose on sector organisations generate information that helps them to improve their effectiveness, according to a major study carried out by Charities Evaluation Services.

The report, Accountability and Learning: Developing Monitoring and Evaluation in the Third Sector, found that the kind of quantitative data demanded by funders was often of little help to charities for internal assessment purposes, and was sometimes irrelevant to the size or nature of the charity.

The report's author, Jean Ellis, said compliance reporting also encouraged charities to present an overly positive picture. "They are looking to portray success, but it is OK not to always succeed," she said.

The report, which surveyed more than 700 organisations and 100 funders and commissioners, also found that funders rarely offer enough funding to allow organisations to fulfil their compliance requirements. Ellis said charities were unable to include the cost of monitoring, such as building new IT systems, in their tenders because it would make them uncompetitive.

The report found that monitoring and evaluation was much more widespread in the sector now than it was 20 years ago, when the last comparable survey was carried out. It found good evidence of third sector organisations using monitoring and evaluation, especially as a marketing tool.

"But there is still a huge constituency of organisations that are struggling with the basics of monitoring and evaluation and with understanding outcomes and impact approaches," Ellis said.

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