Five things about your impact and evaluation to include in a funding application

If your funding applications are too frequently being rejected, here are five tips on how good monitoring & evaluation (M&E) can get your applications on the ‘yes’ pile.

When I first became a fundraising CEO of an adventure playground for children with special needs almost 20 years ago, funders typically gave grants based on what our charity was planning to do with their money.  

Oh how times have changed! 

Now, most funders have become impact-led and expect the organisations they fund to have a culture that values monitoring & evaluation, but not all are very clear about what they expect. 

Here are five key points I suggest you include within your funding application (you already know to check the funder’s guidelines, right?!).

1. Your sustained impact goal

Your sustained impact goal is the lasting and sustainable change that your project is working towards for the specific beneficiary group. 

It is a statement that sets out the long-term goal or aim for the people or communities that you are supporting (say, within the next 5-10 years), and should help to achieve your organisation’s vision.

Achiving your sustained impact goal may require working in partnership with other organisations or agencies during or after your project ends (for example, with many health and wellbeing projects, lasting change may require a clinical NHS health intervention). 

In this case, you can articulate your organisation’s contribution to the change or visually illustrate the threshold of your responsibility through a ‘line of accountability’ in your Theory of Change (see point 3).

Examples of sustained impact goals are:

  • Older people living in Hastings will live well, be physically stronger and experience fewer falls and hospital stays.
  • Children in Wolverhampton will have access to the food they need for a healthy and happy childhood, so that they can achieve their full potential.

2. The outcomes of your project

Whilst your goal can exceed the length of your project and involve other partners, the outcomes of your project should be within your organisation’s power to achieve within the length of the project that you are seeking funding for.  

Outcomes typically describe changes in knowledge, skills, attitudes or behaviours, although they can also relate to more tangible changes such as getting a job or achieving a qualification. Outcomes should work towards your sustained impact goal and be measurable.

 Example of outcomes:

  • Young people will be more resilient.
  • Adults with learning disabilities will be less isolated and more independent.

 Some funders may want outcomes to be more SMART (specific, measurable, achivable, realistic and timebound).  For example:

  • After participating in our schools-based arts programme, 125 children aged 8-12 will feel more confident in using creative activities to help them feel good.

3. Your Theory of Change or Logic Model

Your Theory of Change is a visual illustration of how the activities you deliver will lead to the outcomes you have identified and the sustianed impact goal, with an accompanying narrative.  It is often presented as a flow chart and should show the links between specific activities and outcomes, and outline the theoretical assumptions that underpin your approach to achieving change. 

A Logic Model is a simpler version of the Theory of Change that shows your proposed inputs, processes, outputs, outcomes and sustained impact goal.

NPC have some good resources on Theory of Change.

If you can coherently articulate your Theory of Change within your funding application, you will be making good progress on helping the funder to feel confident that your project will actually make a difference.  It should also inform your evaluation plan, by identifying the most important outcomes to measure and the pace of change.

If you can, include an attachment (or a URL) of your Theory of Change within the funding application.


4. How you will measure the difference you make

Funders are typically looking for a few good methods for how you will measure your project’s intended outcomes, but don’t over-complicate it.

Good monitoring & evaluation will capture evidence from three sources or perspectives (called triangulation) and should ideally involve at least one externally validated scale or measure.

However, it is important to keep M&E proportionate to resources – if your project is very small, one simple survey may be enough, whereas larger projects will have a greater expectation for robust evidence. 

Some funders favour ‘distance travelled’ measures, which involves asking questions before and after an intervention, but matching up the answers can be complicated if you don’t have good digital systems; get to good enough. 

Show how you will measure outcomes and other types of evaluation data within a Monitoring & Evaluation Framework (see Evaluation Support Scotland for some good resources on this).


5. How you will learn from the data captured

Larger funders are increasingly expecting organisations to move beyond simply reporting their data in a grant monitoring report to ensuring that monitoring & evaluation is a tool for organisational learning, to improve services.  This expectation is likely to spread to smaller funders in the coming years.

Tell the funder how you will learn from the M&E data captured.

One simple way to do this is to develop a Learning Log – a document that outlines what your data is telling you; how you have learnt this; and what, if anything, you will do differently as a result. 

Consider having a quarterly internal workshop where you discuss and record the successes and challenges of your project, key findings from your data and the strategic implications for your project or strategy. 

Trust me, this will be a very helpful record for the grant monitoring report!

Emma Insley


Emma has first-hand experience of the thrills and terrors of charity leadership. Dedicated to the non-profit sector for 21 years, Emma has both depth and breadth of experience as a CEO, Consultant, Trustee and Chair, Fundraiser and Grants Assessor.


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