Playful Sophistication: a fresh approach to nonprofit impact measurement

Impact Measurement can be complicated.

It's sophisticated and intimidating. And because of that, charities can find it hard to get started themselves. Instead they end up only tracking impact when funders ask them to and even then it is often a case of gathering together bits of data at the last-minute because you're up to your neck in programme delivery, campaign management, casework or whatever the thing is that your organisation does to make a difference in the world.

And the sad truth is, there isn't a big incentive to fix this problem. Whilst there are no many impact consultancies and trainers, there are only so many organisations they can reach in a year. If you look at the numbers, you can see the size of the problem. In the UK alone there are 160,000 charities and half of them have turnovers below £10,000. There's no way they can afford an impact measurement consultant. And even if they could or if they went on an excellent training session, they aren't in a position to afford a bespoke database to track their impact data. But even if they did that, and this is the juicy part that relates to charities, non-profits, trusts and foundations of all sizes, how would they realistically get their staff to input accurate data regularly?

Everyone who has ever worked on a database project or a CRM project knows that getting the technology installed is just the start. Training your staff to use it is only an incremental step forward. The big ugly challenge is how do you get people to use the thing!

This is the perennial problem we have tasked ourselves with solving at Makerble.

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Our approach draws insight from the worlds of advertising, entertainment and behaviour change. We think of it as Playful Sophistication; the art of making the serious, enjoyable.

These are the four principles we use to entwine playfulness with sophisticated impact measurement. We'd love to hear your thoughts on these in the comments. As a start-up we're constantly gaining feedback and evolving so your experiences, expertise and insight is just what we need to make impact measurement as robust as it needs to be and yet accessible at scale.

1 of 4: Accessibility.

Understandability. Because in order to encourage playfulness, we need the activity to be accessible enough for everyone to participate in. At Makerble this means

  1. Progress Dashboards with clear labels so that anyone, irrespective of their expertise & experience, can easily understand how to explain the stages of their impact to anyone. Our approach is based on the Logic Model framework but we are working to embed causal links so that it can be used as a Theory of Change.
  2. A New Story page which automatically adjusts to who you are and the project you are working on so that you know exactly what to look for when tracking your impact.
  3. Theory of Change Templates so that everyone can begin with an example of how to track their impact that they can customise and tailor as they wish once they are ready to think through their impact themselves.
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2 of 4: Achievability.

This means at every stage, making it feel possible to make progress. Working at the sharp end of social change has its demoralising moments. But your impact data is one of the things that can remind you just how far you've come. At Makerble this means:

  1. Giving projects and individual staff members their own progress bars so that people recognise the difference that incremental steps make. Every step of progress no matter how small makes a difference on Makerble. We want to keep you and everyone on your team moving forward.
  2. Visualising progress towards soft, intangible outcomes so that progress over time can still be measured, evaluated and learnt from.
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3 of 4: Aspiration.

This means making things Desirable. We want people to WANT to use Makerble. No-one needs to convince you to play a game, watch a film or see your best friend. We want Makerble to have that same level of attraction. Because playfulness isn’t about obligation and duty, it’s something you are intrinsically motivated to do. Impact measurement should be no different. So at Makerble this means

  1. Giving everyone a gorgeous profile that celebrates the achievements they’ve made
  2. Enabling peer recognition of people’s progress so that they get the emotional reward of their effort being noticed by other people
  3. Encouraging friendly competition that spurs people onwards, whether it’s competition between departments, projects, local groups or even at an individual level. Friendly rivalry is healthy and makes everyone strive to be their best, which means that the organisations they work for get more out of them. Productivity increases because motivation has increased.
No-one needs to convince you to play a game or watch a film, impact measurement should be no different.

4 of 4: Accountability.

By making staff and even volunteers accountable for their progress, it encourages everyone to take their work just that little bit more seriously. Because people only play when they believe that everybody else is playing by the same rules; those rules create trust and it’s that trust that enables people to participate. At Makerble this means

  1. Reducing Fraud by building paper trails into everything. You can see who added a beneficiary and where a story was written; so that if there are any concerns about the veracity of information, it can be traced directly to the person who claimed the event had happened.
  2. Enabling funders and donors to view project budgets so they understand where the shortfall is and where they can help. This level of transparency gives every stakeholder more confidence.


Those four principles have paid off so far. We've heard from our clients that Makerble has halved the time managers spend on data collection and doubled the productivity of volunteers. We'd love to hear your thoughts and you can create your own free account to give Makerble a spin for yourself.