During the creation, execution and evaluation of the Rapid Response Fund 1 (RRF) we worked with Eido Research, looking at the impact of the fund as a whole and to gift impact strategy services to recipients of grants. Here, Samuel Verbi, Co-Founder and Director of Evaluation at Eido, explores why we need to look at the impact of Christian philanthropy in light of the findings from the evaluation of the RRF.
“What we measure reflects what we value” - Danny Kruger MP, Levelling up our communities: proposals for a new social covenant.
The response of Christian financial generosity to the Covid-19 pandemic has again confirmed the potential for faith-based giving. Across the UK, evangelical Christians on average remained consistent or even increased their financial donations to Christian ministries. Additionally, philanthropic funds were set up to meet immediate need. Through one such fund, Stewardship’s Rapid Response Fund, £5 million was raised and quickly distributed to over 80 Christian organisations.
However, whilst the financial figures are a testimony to Christian generosity, it shouldn’t be the only story we are telling. What we value about these funds is the ability to create meaningful change in society, so rather than simply rejoice at the act of giving, we should be discovering, measuring and celebrating the impact of this generosity on the world around us.
Drawing upon data from Eido Research’s impact evaluation of Stewardships Rapid Response Fund, this article explains three reasons to measure and celebrate the impact of Christian philanthropy.
Celebrate and prove the value of Christian generosity
Unfortunately, the positive impact of UK Christianity is often questioned by society. A 2018 study showed that 41 per cent of British non-Christians believed that the UK Church made no positive difference in the world (with another 40 per cent stating they were unsure). This worrying chasm between perception and reality is in large part due to the failure of Christian organisations in measuring and sharing their impact.
Whilst only scratching the surface, the RRF impact evaluation revealed that 71 per cent of funded Christian organisations had created positive social impact through their programmes (often in addition to significant positive spiritual impact). Examples included: supporting 1,000 young people experiencing stress and anxiety through Covid-19 mental health projects; facilitating the giving of 2.8 million meals to vulnerable communities through a consortium of churches; and empowering 100 women to remove themselves from a place of abuse to a place of safety.
Within Christian funding circles however, it's often the spiritual impact of these programmes that are called into question. As a 2018 report from the Bible society showed, Christian funders are increasingly keen to find robust measure of ‘spiritual fruit’ rather than rely on anecdotes. Here the RRF impact evaluation observed a significant spiritual impact including 1,400 people who became believers in Jesus through funded programmes; 13,000 people asking questions about God and wanting to know more; and 954,000 receiving information about the Gospel. Likewise, 90 per cent of leaders who partnered with RRF said that they and their staff had been spiritually encouraged.
In these first instances therefore, evaluation enables us to both celebrate and prove the positive social and spiritual impact of Christian generosity.
Steward and build a culture of accountability
A second reason to evaluate the impact of Christian philanthropy revolves around the trust and integrity of Christian organisations. If we are to expect similar demonstrations of generosity in the future, as well as increase funding from new sources, it is vital to show that we are carefully looking at how money is spent and used to create impact. As a ‘2020 Give.org Donor Trust Report’ showed, when funders are deciding whether to trust and fund a charity, ‘the top factors are (1) third-party evaluation by an independent organisation, (2) name recognition, and (3) accomplishments shared by the organisation’.
Going through a robust evaluation process, with space for significant critique and external validation, provided the RRF with significant accountability and trust with funders. This was done systematically, testing the ‘impact strategy’ of the fund by asking leaders to assess the impact upon themselves, their staff, their programmes, and subsequently their beneficiaries.
Whilst discovering the societal impacts already described, this layered approach enabled the evaluation to see how organisations themselves are stewarding the resources given. One encouraging example of this is the 22 organisations who raised matched funding, to a total value of £923k, adding around a quarter to the amount distributed by the RRF.
In this second instance, a robust evaluation process builds a culture of accountability and ultimately leads to greater trust and increased funding. “Good data will boost the confidence, and retain the loyalty of private funders, and therefore increase the volume of philanthropy”.
Learn how to improve the impact of future funds
The third main reason for measuring the impact of Christian giving looks to the future. Whilst the response of Christian funders in 2020 was both generous and transformational, it will by no means be the last time that such generosity is required. In this sense, it is vital to learn how we can improve the impact of future ‘rapid response funds’ and ‘Christian-generosity’ more broadly. If funds are evaluated well, “good data will enable a shift in the culture of accountability from ‘proving’ to ‘improving’”.7
Whilst respondents to the RRF impact report widely praised the funds approach, there were key learnings that can be built upon in future funds. One improvement voiced by leaders was to facilitate learning between recipient organisations that responded to similar needs in their communities. “At a time of greater isolation, it might have been good to have opportunities to hear the stories, and/or share some experiences between the different recipients”. Other responses highlighted the need to maintain an ease of application, “other funds have been far too convoluted or cumbersome, which impact a rapid turn around and delivery in a crisis”. Finally, leaders mentioned a continued need to provide more than financial help. Referring to the “funder-plus services” offered by Stewardship through the RRF (including Eido’s Impact Strategy Workshop) one leader said “the ethos of the fund is unlike any other we have been able to receive before”.
These insights, combined with numerous additional learnings from the data, will significantly help Stewardship, and hopefully other funding organisations, respond rapidly and more impactfully to societal needs through future funds.
As we continue into early 2021, the value and need for Christian generosity and philanthropy can’t be overstated. Christian charities and ministries, as well as their beneficiaries, face huge hurdles ahead of them. However, whilst celebrating Christian philanthropic response to these needs is certainly a good thing, it shouldn’t be the only story we are telling. As this article has argued, we should be measuring the impact of this generosity on programmes and on society. This will enable us to prove and celebrate societal impact; increase accountability and trust; and improve and learn towards a better future.