More than numbers: storytelling and impact

Sep 8, 2023 | Impact

It’s a small charity conundrum: we find it hard to take time to assess the full impact of what we’re doing because we’re just too busy doing it.

But this year, the exec team at QfL decided that we needed a proper impact report, something we had never really undertaken seriously before. We thought it would be useful to have a single document that summarised our achievements over the past 12 months. Some impressive numbers. An infographic. A few photos. Easy.

Except then I went on an excellent course, run by B&G Partners, that focused on storytelling – and I started to realise that just a few stats weren’t really going to cut it. We needed to look beyond the figures to find the stories that would engage prospective funders and explain to possible partner schools the transformational nature of the change we could make to children who were falling behind in class.

Having the numbers to demonstrate impact was, of course, very useful – and something a lot of small charities would envy. Supporting primary- age children in literacy and numeracy with targeted programmes means that we have robust, qualitative data to shout about. This year for example, children taking part in our BookQuest programme for KS2 pupils made an average of 17 months progress in reading comprehension, with individual children making as much as 42 months gain.

We have case histories too. Our tutors, working in schools across Oxfordshire, are encouraged to tell us a little more about anonymised individual pupils who have faced particular challenges.

But beyond that? Where were the voices of the school staff? The parents? The tutors who delivered the programmes? Why had this year’s funders looked favourably on our applications?

So we started to ask. We met parents and emailed headteachers. We surveyed tutors. We wrote to funders. And not only did we listen to their voices, gather their stories,  we started to learn things we didn’t know before. We learnt that our programmes are increasingly being used by schools as part of their strategic plans to address the needs of the lowest achieving 20% of pupils. We learnt that parents didn’t always understand who we were or why their child had been enrolled in our programmes – although they were amazed to see the positive changes in their child.  We found that tutors were quietly delighted to be in a role that enabled them to use their full range of experience, something that we could use in future recruitment efforts.

The report took longer than intended. It stretched the limits of my skills on Canva and forced us to make some hard editorial decisions, compressing everything into just 3 x A4 pages (the cover felt essential!) although the storytelling approach mercifully provided a simple structure that kept us focused on the difference we had made – rather than just the hard work we had put in!  We are proud of the result. More importantly, we have discovered strengths that we didn’t know we had and developed strategies to address weaknesses we didn’t know were there.

When we started out, we thought we needed an impact report to tell our story to the wider world. As it turned out, it was just as important for us to hear the voices of everyone touched by the work we do, so that we can move forward into a new school year with a clearer idea of what we do well and where we can improve.

You can read the 2022/23 impact report here.

Amanda Ferguson is Communications Manager for Quest for Learning.