Behind the Scenes: Measuring Impact In Poverty Charities

Absolute vs Relative

It’s long been a battle of governments, charities, and institutions to measure levels of poverty successfully and succinctly. For starters, there are varying different meanings to poverty: Do we take levels of absolute poverty or relative poverty? Where do we set the level of the poverty line to see who is above or below it? Is it prudent to compare poverty within or between regions? It is a difficult concept to measure, and thus in turn becomes a difficult concept to manage. This causes 3 broad problems in the fight to end and eradicate poverty; or at least to reduce inequality.

Solving Poverty - where to begin?

It could be a struggle at the start. At which level, form, or location of poverty does an organisation focus its efforts if they wish to have the biggest impact? Who does it serve? If you’re reading this you have likely answered this question, if not have a think about where you as an individual or organisation can create the most impact. What are your strengths?

Hands up, who knows the best way to measure poverty?

A second result is these organisations and institutions often struggle to measure the results of their hard work. There has been a consistent debate as to the best way to measure poverty, with poverty often stretching beyond a mere lack of income, to include an inability to eat healthily or use heating, among various other issues. The Canadian Government, for example, has consistently used the term “low-income line”, rather than “poverty line”, as they believe poverty stretches far beyond measures of income. If we consider closer to home, we see in 2016 the UK Government had planned to remove household income as a measure of child poverty, before engaging in a U-Turn following opposition from the House of Lords and poverty campaigners alike. It is clear, therefore, there is significant debate over what defines poverty, and thus how it should be measured. How then can charities and institutions be expected to consistently measure their impact on levels of poverty, when so many definitions and features of poverty should (or should not) be taken into account?

Less Results, More Problems...

Thirdly, following on from this problem, is that on a broader scale charities and institutions can appear not to be having any impact. Income inequality in the UK, for example, has experienced a relatively level trend in the last 30 years, fluctuating around a gini coefficient of 0.35 (A statistical measure of inequality). Indeed, with so many different measures, it can be difficult to compare success with other similar charities. It becomes easy therefore to overlook all the positive work poverty ending charities are conducting. Not only is this demotivating for the staff, who may feel a lack of tangible, positive outcome from their endeavours, but can consequently limit the extent to which people are willing to donate. It is natural that donors want to see the impact their money has, and a lack of clear success may both prevent repeat donations, and limit new donors from giving to such worthy causes.

So what’s the solution?

Now, you could say those three broad issues paint a somewhat depressing picture of the fight to solve problems of poverty - and you’d be right. However, whilst the picture of poverty elimination may appear depressing, the hard work of these charities does produce positive amazing outcomes. Let’s consider two charities that are successfully working to end poverty in two different ways: Reuse Network  - a collaboration of over 200 charities and social enterprises working to reduce poverty - use this clear tool to demonstrate the potential impact of donations/reused goods in terms of households helped, financial savings made, and environmental impact. Alternatively, World Bicycle Relief have a dedicated section on their website, where they outline the various impacts their work has in a combination of stats, stories, videos, and reports. Owing to its complex nature, Reuse Network and World Bicycle Relief approach the issue of poverty in varying ways: Both also use different methods of measuring their impact. However, both are able to clearly present the fantastic results of their work. ReUse Network and World Bicycle Relief are just two cases of many organisations that use non-complicated measurements and clear reporting. Indeed, it is vital for such organisations use simple methods of monitoring & evaluation to best produce & communicate positive, tangible results in the uphill battle against poverty.

For charities that work so hard in the fight to eliminate poverty and inequality, the problems can be numerous: Deciding exactly how to work on tackling poverty; how to measure this work; and how to report such measures, can be a huge challenge that slows progress. In spite of this, there are numerous cases of charities and wider organisations generating amazing outcomes in the fight against poverty. Whilst the issue of poverty remains complex, it is clear and simple measurement tools that work to help these charities make their changes, and make them faster.

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