Planning, Evaluation, Quality

Article modified: March 2021, Author:


This is not just something you get consultants or professionals to do! There is an increasing trend towards evaluation, quality management, strategic planning etc. Performance measurement (and reporting) is increasingly a funding requirement, and should be integrated into a performance improvement (or maintenance) strategy as far as possible.

Some people think all this gets in the way of getting on and doing the work, which can be true, but don’t you want to be sure you are actually doing useful stuff effectively, and getting the most out of your limited resources? Below we give some basics on the jargon and ideas which consultants use – while they can often bring in a wider view and feed in other organisations experiences, their main benefit is often forcing you to step back from the daily grind and take stock. Note that some jargon can be used differently depending on people’s background and experience – stopping to agree meanings at the start of an exercise can be worthwhile, if tedious!

You can do this yourselves if you are serious. Just make sure that the time, money, formality, expertise etc. that you use are appropriate for the size and complexity of the organisation (or unit) and the issues you wish to tackle. This page should be a starting point in deciding how to do this.

Planning Tips

Where should you be concentrating your energies? Assess what is important in your operations, and assess their performance (in your terms). Fit into the matrix below (adapted by OUBS course B752 from Slack), and take appropriate action. For example if you are good at activities which are of only low importance (to your goals), you may be able to release this ‘excessive’ attention, and use it to take urgent action on bad performers which will have greater impact overall.

performance v importance matrix

SWOT One of the classic approaches to where you are and where you might go. Do a matrix examining the organisation’s Strengths and Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. Concentrate on exploiting the S and O, reducing or avoiding the W and T. STEP analysis is used alongside this – look at the various factors impacting on the organisation – Sociological, Technological, Economic, Political. Sometimes Environment and Values are added to this collection. We’ve also seen PESTLE with the L for Legal.

Mission, Goals, Objectives, Targets Terminology here can be particularly problematic – Vision, values, aims, activities could equally well be used. Basically you need some structure that goes from the long-term Broad Purpose (why) through medium-term ‘what can we achieve’ to the immediate (within next year) and specific hows which can be costed out in detail. A ‘pyramid of purpose’ is illustrated below (bottom level of targets left off as needs better drawing software!).

mission, aims, objectives pyramid

More on Mission on the Organisation Management page.

SMART Are your proposals (objectives, targets) Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timed?(Have also seen items 3 and 4 stated as Actionable, Realistic.) If they can’t be phrased in this way, maybe they are operating principles – e.g. ‘working in partnership’ is an underlying approach rather than an activity in its own right.

Three dimensions Activities, Resources and Goals/Objectives all inter-relate. While you can look at one of these areas at a time, you must then see what effect any changes or developments in one will have on the others and re-visit your original ideas if this throws up problems or further issues.

Another three dimensions

marketing, operations, finance

Adapted from Open University B752 ‘competitive performance management’ summary diagram. These three functional areas have to work together in achieving organisational objectives. The precise split and labels may differ (eg marketing may be called fundraising or public relations and, rather than determining the mix of products and services, will be responsible for ‘selling’ the desired mix to potential funders), but the necessity for having a balanced approach remains.

Monitoring and Quality

Measuring a project’s success, to satisfy funders, trustees but also to address shortcomings, make changes as part of learning process. Not just inputs (resources used, such as money, volunteer time) but outputs (e.g. level of activities), outcomes (what actually happened/changed as a result) and even impact (moving towards achieving the mission). What happened along the way on personnel, finances, unexpected spin-offs, changing environment etc. and how this can be used/improved (learning from failure), influence on priorities.

Approaches and standards

  • Trusted Charity (was PQASSO) – a practical quality assurance system for small organisations – is now a nationally recognised standard used by many local authorities as the recommended quality system for funded organisations, and is being used as a working model by various national voluntary organisations, e.g. NCH Action for Children have adopted it for their projects. NCVO and others do training in how to use it.
  • Quality First, published by Birmingham Voluntary Service Council, is a quality system for organisations with no paid or only part-time staff. It is more of an ongoing process than a standard of attainment, looking at nine quality areas, and can form the basis for moving on to more advanced systems. It was developed by Tony Farley, original author of PQASSO. The workbook is £25 incl p&p (free to Birmingham groups) from BVSC, phone 0121 678 8808.
  • Proving and Improving: a quality and impact toolkit for social enterprise has been produced by New Economics Foundation Consulting. Three (downloadable) toolkit books plus an overview chart outline basics of measuring organisation impact, the pros and cons of over twenty quality measures plus practical tools and exercises.
  • The European Foundation for Quality Management has an ‘Excellence Model’ designed to be applicable to all organisations. Worth a look if you are interested in this subject. The British Quality Foundation has various publications relating to this model. See Resources: Publications below too.
  • ISO 9000 (was BS5750), administered by the British Standards Institute, is about having a ‘systems’ quality standard – it doesn’t guarantee anything about what you produce, other than consistency of the process. It is quite a complex and bureaucratic to register to this standard, and unlikely to be the best route forward for small to medium voluntary organisations (in our opinion).
  • See People Management for Investors in People standard. It can now cover organisations with no paid staff, but isn’t cheap to pursue.
  • Charter Mark was a government award scheme for recognising and encouraging excellence in (public) service delivery, extended to voluntary organisations receiving at least 10% public funding (at April 2000). The following info is out of date, but may still be of help. There are 10 criteria used:
    1. Set standards
    2. Be open and provide full information
    3. Consult and involve
    4. Encourage access and the promotion of choice
    5. Treat all fairly
    6. Put things right when they go wrong
    7. Use resources effectively
    8. Innovate and improve
    9. Work with other providers
    10. Provide user satisfaction

    The Chartermark website now forwards to Customer Service Excellence.

Evaluation support

Also see Further Resources below.

Specific areas

  • Homeless Link – impact resources “a one-stop resource for homelessness agencies who are interested in taking an outcomes approach to their work”.
  • Monitoring and Evaluation News A news service focusing on developments in monitoring and evaluation methods relevant to development programmes with social development objectives.

Social return, impact

Social Return on Investment (SROI) is a methodology to measure the social value of an organisation or project. It is based on 7 core principles that are designed to ensure the process is orientated around stakeholder involvement, and the measurement of outcomes, positive or negative, experienced by stakeholders as a result of those activities.

Social Value UK (previously SROI Network) has various resources, as well as webinars, training courses and membership.

Measuring social impact Impact reporting and related topics have had increasing attention (at 2014), sometimes connected with the idea of social investment. New Philanthropy Capital has been doing work on this, both from funder and charity perspectives.

New Economics Foundation has a publication Guide to Social Return on Investment.

Also see: Environmental and social impact page.


Also see data sharing on Knowledge management page.

Benchmarking is a buzz word which can be taken in a number of ways. Basically the idea is to find a comparator to ‘benchmark’ your operations against – usually the idea is to find ‘best practice’, identify the gaps between you and them, and work to improve. It isn’t easy in the voluntary sector to find the partners or agree on performance indicators, and some would say that the value is looking further afield – if you want to benchmark a phone counselling service, say, why not compare with a call centre handling customer complaints?

As Benchmarking Plus (Australia) says, ‘a survey may tell you where you rank, but it won’t help you improve your position’ (but it might prompt you to ask some questions). We reproduce a page of theirs giving ten common benchmarking mistakes. Unfortunately their website no longer contains any useful resources (autumn 2011).

Benchmarking initiatives

  • The annual Charity Finance magazine Charity Shops Survey (published July?) provides some ratings in that area to measure performance against.
  • Charity Finance Group may have details on benchmarking exercises for the finance function.
  • 18 major British voluntary organisations have formed an HR Benchmarking Club. People Count: Benchmarks for the Human Resources Function in Voluntary Organisations, a publication from Compass Partnership (June 00), gives information on over 165 aspects of personnel management from this club.

Further Resources

See Knowledge management page.

There are some good training courses from DSC, plus NCVO CES mentioned above.


A good introductory book is Complete Guide to Business and Strategic Planning by Alan Lawrie (DSC).

International Development Research Centre has made its publication Organizational Assessment: A Framework for Improving Performance available online. Not sector specific but does go beyond the commercial.

On the web, IT

Here are initial findings on useful software:

  • MS Project is the big one to plot out your implementation of a project, allocate tasks, monitor progress, slippage and the effects etc. Or try the open source take Projectlibre.

Non-Profit Evaluation – international resources

The following,mainly American, web sites seem promising, if you have the time – we have only done basic checking on them. All are non-profit specific.

  • Center for Excellence in Nonprofits Programs in leadership development, systemic change, continuous improvement and best practices. A Silicon Valley learning community of non-profits.
  • Kellogg Foundation. Their Evaluation Handbook (in pdf format, 1998/2014) is designed for their ‘grantees’ but undoubtedly of interest to others. A participatory, multidisciplinary process, not just about outcomes but also building capacity. In the authors’ view, “Project evaluation should not be conducted simply to prove that a project worked, but also to improve the way it works.” Newer publication (2017): The Step-by-Step Guide to Evaluation.
  • An online evaluation tool which “takes about 10 minutes to complete if you are very familiar with your organization’s operation”, according to a posting on Digital Divide forum, is Innovation Network‘s Workstation 2.0 – this has moved, spring 05, but the site is still worth a check.
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One thought on “Planning, Evaluation, Quality”

  1. A new web platform that “exploits digital capabilities in a way that has never been done in the charity sector before” has been created by a long-time charity volunteer. Charity Excellence ( creates a unque framework for each non profit, based on location, size, sector and activities, optimises reporting using their specific priorities and then links results individually to resources from across the web.

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