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How do I evaluate the impact of my support?

This section explores the meaning of impact and the role of measurement and evaluation in frontline funding.

Defining impact

‘Impact’ can be loosely defined as progress towards a shared goal, the cost of which can include time, human, financial and operational resources.

Traditionally, many donors have been reluctant to pay for anything other than direct project activities, which they most closely associate with impact. Expenditure on less tangible things – like training, salaries, leadership, organisational systems, and collaboration – is often lumped together as ‘indirect costs’, which many donors aim to keep as low as possible. 

But it is past time to reframe what an impact cost really is. For social change to take place — especially change led by frontline organisations — donors must expand their definition of direct costs.

Our approach

At the Freedom Fund, we understand impact costs to encompass whole organisations and invest accordingly. We are able to do so at scale through our clustered hotspot model, which involves:

  • Strengthening capacity
  • Providing technical support
  • Facilitating communities of practice
  • Hiring local Program Advisors to directly coordinate this work

For us, these aren’t overheads or nice-to-haves. They are direct costs essential for transformative and sustainable change.

A professional headshot of a smiling Thai woman with short black hair and a collared shift, against a gray background.

We want to ensure our grants aren’t just helping our partners in the here and now, but also setting them up for future resilience.

Roisai, Freedom Fund Program Advisor, Thailand

Putting things into practice

Daniel explains how following the lead of trafficking survivors has shaped the direction of our grantmaking in Ethiopia. Debora shares how community leaders in Brazil are informing how we think about impact.

Monitoring & reporting

Good monitoring balances the need to ensure funds are being spent as intended with not overburdening partners with the process. Even better if monitoring systems are useful for the partners, too. Ideally, organisations should be gaining skills that will ultimately help them to not only better track and adapt their work, but also to raise funds from other donors.

Whenever possible, consider streamlining reporting and conducting more complex data analysis in-house. This might require collaborating with peer donors to align your reporting requirements or hiring on a monitoring and evaluation team. 

Our approach

At the Freedom Fund, our local Program Advisors (PAs) work closely alongside our grantee partners to monitor impact. This includes collecting data from each partner and conducting macro analyses so we can assess progress against strategy. As a pooled fund, we are able to aggregate and regrant funding from multiple donors while still requiring only one consistent set of reports.

Our understanding of impact comes from two main sources:

  • Monitoring visits. PAs conduct monitoring visits approximately every six months and speak directly with communities.
  • Partner reports. Grantee partners report on three elements – quantitative impact metrics to assess progress and scale, a financial element where grantees report back against their original project budget, and a narrative element to bring this all to life and contextualise findings. 

Our reporting process has four stages:

Program Advisors share reporting templates (accessible in local languages), and provide partners with a reporting orientation as well as periodic training on monitoring and evaluation.

Partners receive help to actually write reports and translate them into English, as needed.

PAs provide feedback on report submissions to both strengthen the report and the partners’ reporting skills.

PAs verify all submitted reports to ensure accuracy.

Re-evaluating & shifting funding strategies

Defining and measuring the impact of your support is key to maximising the potential of your philanthropy. It is also important to create avenues for grantee partners to authentically share about the challenges they’ve faced when carrying out their work. This requires creating an environment where partners can share honest and open feedback without fear of repercussion.

As a funder, you can do this by:

  • Encouraging written feedback.
  • Inviting and thanking partners for their honesty.
  • Explaining how their feedback will inform future strategies and sharing past examples.
  • Distributing anonymous surveys grounded in local cultural practices.
  • Commissioning external third parties to evaluate program effectiveness and solicit confidential feedback.

Our approach

At the Freedom Fund, we rely on our partners and local Program Advisors to provide on-the-ground intel on what’s working and what needs changing, and we survey our grantee partners directly. We also gather information from other experts and our wider programs team. We operate in a state of constant re-evaluation to drive funding strategies that maximise impact.

A professional headshot featuring a gray background with a smiling Brazilian woman with short, dark, curly hair and an olive green shirt.

We have to accept that these outcomes might not be what we assume or expect - that’s why consultation is so important.

Debora, Freedom Fund Senior Program Manager, Brazil

Putting things into practice

Dan explains how a grantee survey has helped us to eliminate blind spots. Hannah shares about a shift in strategy that led to massive impact in India.

Related resources

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How Measuring Systems Change Can Open the Door to Transformative Impact

Reflections on the power of funding systems change efforts

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Narrative Reporting Template

A template to gather narrative information from partners

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Partner Feedback Report & Action Plan

The results of our 2022 grantee perception survey

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