Dreams from My Father: a Story of Race and Measurement

jade and tom
(with apologies to Barack Obama)

I’m Tom, and I’m writing this blog on the last day of my internship with The DoNation. This bustling, dynamic start-up has been a fantastic place to work, and I’ve taken part in a wide array of fascinating work. Inevitably, I’ve had to spend a lot of time making tea as well, but this is only because I drink gallons of it.

However, this blog isn’t about me, it’s about the main task of my internship, a little thing called social impact measurement. ‘What’s that?’ I hear you ask. Well, to explain, I need the help of my very own Dad…Now my old man isn’t what you’d call a man of many talents, but I must admit he’s got an excellent head for numbers. And while he wasn’t kind enough to pass on his Maths skills to me, the other day he did impart to me a (very) rare piece of analytical wisdom.

“Son,” he said, a cross between Confucius and John Wayne, “the key to good management is to make the important measurable, not the measurable important.”

In this uncharacteristically pithy statement lies both the central goal and central challenge of social impact measurement.

For The DoNation and almost every other social venture or charity, it is becoming increasingly important to be able to demonstrate that what you are doing is having the desired effect. But in reality this is often very difficult to do. How do you quantify behavioural changes, account for wellbeing, or assess whether the social value you’re creating is worth the money or time being spent?

And this is not the only problem. It is all to easy for third sector organisations to get distracted from their primary goals and instead work towards something which wasn’t their initial intention, but where results canbe more easily seen and documented.

The long and short of it is that I’ve spent much of my time at The DoNation scratching my head and staring into space (a beautifully and ergonomically designed space, courtesy of Wayra Unltd) thinking about some of these problems. Luckily, we’re ahead of the curve when it comes to impact measurement, as The DoNation’s online platform automatically collects a good deal of information about pledges, user behaviour and carbon savings. In order to supplement this information with details of the wider- and longer-term impacts, I sent out a series of surveys in January, and I’ve been analysing both of these sources for our 2013 Impact Report.

We’ve come up with some pretty cool results. Some of them come as a huge relief to Hermione (The DoNation founder), as they confirm that in many instances we are very much on the right track and having a really positive environmental and wider impact. Others show that in some areas there is definite room for improvement. But this is part of the beauty of measurement: it’s not just to show everyone how well you’re doing, but to remind yourself of what you set out to achieve and make sure you’re going about it the right way.

Anyway, if you’re into this sort of thing, have a read of the overview of our findings here.

Hopefully the somewhat obscure title of this blog now makes a bit more sense. Apart from the ‘Race’ part that is. I admit I’m not using the word it in quite the same way as the current Leader of the Free World. It’s actually a shameless plug for a Brutal 10k in Surrey that I’m running with The DoNation. We’re on the hunt for more teams to take part in it with us, together aiming to raise as many pledges – and create as much impact – as possible. It’s on the 15th March and promises to be a muddy yet rewarding challenge, so if you’re interested in joining us get in contact with Harriet on harriet@thedonation.org.uk. Or you can make a pledge to support me here…

That’s pretty much it from me. There’s room for a final massive thanks to The DoNation, where I’ve had a super few months, met loads of great people and learnt a huge amount. Take it from me, readers, these guys are a great bunch, so keep supporting!

All the very best,


The DoNation Social Impact Report 2014.pdf

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