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Impact management and cancer breakthroughs

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One of the biggest medical stories of the year so far was last week’s announcement that a new gene test can be used through which “70% of women with the most common form of early stage breast cancer can be spared the agony of chemotherapy". The method applied in the new cancer research is a perfect case study for anyone interested in impact management.

Much like complex medicines, the majority of change-oriented human services are not single-hit remedies but rather combined intervention packages that combine to create an effect over time. An employability scheme may involve life-skills training, mock interviews and work experience. A drug rehab scheme may bring together medication with one-to-one counselling and group therapy. You’ll be able to think of many more examples.  

An impact management approach always strives to ask not simply “what is our success rate” but to go deeper asking “what can we discover about who our intervention is and isn’t successful for, and why”. That’s the question that drove the breast cancer research team to make their breakthrough. They discovered that for the majority of women treated the chemotherapy element of the intervention proved to be wholly ineffective and unnecessary. So is this a question that your organisation is giving due consideration to?  

At Goodlabs we believe that a disciplined approach to service delivery, supported by appropriate data collection and the opportunity for the delivery team to regularly reflect together on results is essential to generating these sort of breakthrough insights.

Finally, a related ethical question worth considering is, “If you discovered tomorrow that an element of your service provision is ineffective for a certain client group – what would you do?” What if that service is part of a commissioning package for which you are well paid? How likely would you be to implement changes to your model, and how quickly? Would you begin to screen out certain clients from your service – after all, why waste their time and yours? Could you re-design aspects of your service to better meet the needs of those for whom it is found to be ineffective?

All vital questions that today’s social leaders need to be wrestling with! Do leave a comment to let me know if any of this resonates with you. 

The Art of Impact


I’m looking forward to presenting at the annual YMCA Chief Executives Network conference later this week. My focus will be on the recent Impact Management project I’ve been doing for YMCA Humber and YMCA North Tyneside.

Kicking off the session I want to face the fact that for those in the business of restoring damaged lives ‘Impact’ is a pretty bizarre choice of word. It is defined as “forcible contact or collision; the act of striking against”. As anyone who’s had a prang in their car knows that impact leaves a noticeable impression. The force can produce an unwanted change in shape. So how can this be a positive thing?

This is why we need to place the idea of Impact within the wider discipline of Impact Management. The positive potential of Impact is unleashed when it is carefully controlled and directed. Think about the way a sculptor skilfully rests the chisel against the rock before striking with just the right amount of force. Deploying a lucid imagination, a trained eye and the repetition of artfully applied blows beauty is slowly revealed. 

When considered this way Impact Management suddenly feels like a perfectly appropriate way to describe a process of personal transformation.

Of course every metaphor has its limitations and I won’t be wanting to give the CEO’s gathered the impression that their organisation’s clients are lifeless boulders. What I do want to do however is to help people to see that Impact Management is not an obscure branch of science to be sub-contracted to spreadsheet-happy ex-accountants; rather it is an artisan process, concerned with deeply human subject matter.

I believe that if we can first conceive of Impact Management as an Art rather than a Science, then we will ensure that we keep in mind the necessity and intensity of personal investment required. In doing this we will avoid losing touch with the real people whose stories often remain hidden in the aggregate data. We will foster working environments for our teams that unlock the imagination they need to respond on a daily basis to the raw human material as they journey with clients in their process of restoration and lasting transformation.

Do let me know any thoughts you might have about the distinction between Impact as an Art and Impact as a Science. I’d love to hear from you.

Showing your Impact to Donors

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When we give to charity we like to know that our donation is going to make an impact. Much of this is based on trust. We receive communication from the charity about the nature and extent of the work they're delivering and draw our conclusions from it. If we want to be particularly diligent, perhaps because we’re thinking about making a large donation, we might take a look at their last available annual report. Typically this will include a chart that seeks to offer a degree of transparency about how much it costs to run the charity (i.e. its administrative overheads) in relation to the amount spent on delivering its core mission, what we might call its interventions. 

On this basis all charities tend to look very similar. Trustee boards and executive teams know that donors don't like to see too much money being spent on overheads, expecting as much of their giving as possible to be directed to the ‘front line’. This is where understanding Impact makes all the difference.

The Charity annual report, increasingly referred to as an ‘Impact report’, will describe the nature and variety of work being undertaken, along with statistics about how much of it is happening and who is benefitting from it i.e. elderly people, children, donkeys etc. For an Annual Report to truly become an Impact Report it needs to give a clear picture of what is changing for the better as a result of its interventions.

An awkward, but legitimate question that a donors might ask, is:

  •  how often does the charity make an intervention without any change resulting?

We can explain this using the diagrams below.

Charity A and Charity B are involved in identical work, both with annual turnovers of £1 million. On the surface seem to be identically efficient – with 10% of their income going to overheads and the rest to interventions.


However, if we could see more deeply into the impact of the two charities we would see that Charity A has an 80% success rate and Charity B has a 50% success rate.


If a donor has £100 to give it would now be clear to which charity that donation would be most effectively directed. 

Finally, if the donor really wants to be assured that their giving will make the maximum impact then it would also be good to know what the expected success rate is within that particular sector. For example, charities working to rehabilitate ex-prisoners may be delighted if half of those they work with to go straight. If the focus of the charity is helping unemployed school leavers to get jobs then the expected rate of impact might be more like 80%.

Goodlabs believes that if charities will be more transparent with their donors about these issues, then greater trust will result, which is essential to a long-term donor engagement strategy.  

If you run a charity and would like help in demonstrating your Impact to potential donors then drop us a line at

YMCA Impact Management


If Impact can be measured then it can also be managed. That is the core conviction of the Impact Management Programme, the latest offering from Access - the foundation for social investment. Goodlabs founder Matt Wilson was alerted to the opportunity via membership of Social Value UK, the innovative organisation championing best practice in social impact reporting. 

Goodlabs joined forces with another North East based social impact consultancy - Helmepark - to put together a successful £50,000 bid to the Impact Management Fund on behalf of two regional YMCA centres. YMCA North Tyneside has been serving the industrial communities along the river Tyne for over a century, supporting successive generations through cycles of social and economic change. It has continuously evolved as an organisation in order to best serve the changing needs of its communities, and in order to maintain its own financial sustainability. YMCA Humber has a very similar heritage and through its three supported accommodation locations in Grimsby provides over 100 bed-spaces every night of the year.  

The journey we're involved in together is helping the teams at the YMCA centres to manage their impact more effectively through bespoke new impact management tools embedded within an increasingly well-informed impact culture.