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Frequently asked questions - Charities
What kinds of charities do you help?
We will work with UK based registered charities and charities registered as Industrial and Provident Societies. Organisations registered as IPSs must demonstrate that they are a charity, i.e. confirm that HMRC regards them as such.
Any type of organisation other than the those listed above, including Community Interest Companies and those that describe themselves as social enterprises, must be able to provide us with evidence that a key component of their mission, stated in their governing documents, is to meet specific social/environmental objectives. The Charities Act 2011 lists thirteen descriptions of purposes or aims, which must be for the public benefit to be considered charitable.
We are not currently able to work with organisations that are based outside the UK.
How do you help charities?
Typically, our volunteers help charities who are looking to find out how cost-effective an intervention is. They use tools such as cost-benefit analysis, but have a range of skills that they can deploy.
We find that few projects are as straightforward as looking at the data and doing some cost-benefit calculations. Our economists often spend time advising on data collection if there is insufficient data to begin with. In some cases, where gathering primary data is not possible, they may be able to draw together existing data from a range of sources to help shed light on a certain issue.
It is important to be aware that, as our economists are volunteering their evenings and weekends, we are unable to deliver to tight deadlines, or to work on large scale pieces of work or research projects. We are more likely to be able to look at one service you provide than your organisation as a whole.
We do not offer help with proposals to other organisations for work or funding, and we do not respond to tenders.
What do economists do?
Economists study the allocation and use of resources such as raw materials, land and labour. They consider the costs and benefits of distributing and consuming these goods. There are many different areas of specialism in economics, but in general, economists are skilled in analysing data and using data to monitor and often predict performance and trends.
What parts of the country do you cover?
We work with charities across the UK. Currently, most of our economists are based in London, but we will always try to match a charity with economists based locally if possible.
Do you work with international charities?
We do not currently help charities that are based outside the UK, though we do work with charities that are UK based but have international operations or programmes.
How do we apply?
Applying is a simple process with our online application form. But please take time to read more about the process and the commitment before you apply here.
What is the process that charities go through?
We have a fairly standard process for projects that begins with a discussion with the charity about what they would like from us. We aim to set clear expectations at every stage to avoid as many surprises as possible as the project progresses.
It is worth noting that there is no such thing as a quick project! Our volunteer economists are often working in their evenings and weekends and so a quick turnaround is unlikely. It can also take time to find the right person, with the right skills, at the right time to take on a piece of work.
What do we need to think about before applying to you?
Some charities come to us with clearly formed ideas of what they would like. Some charities approach us with a more vague notion of wanting to tackle the impact issue, but without a clear idea of where to start. The first way is not always the best, as we often find that what is hoped for is not feasible.
However, we can increase the chances of success by encouraging charities to ask themselves some basic questions before applying.
How much time will the project take and how much input is needed from us?
This is difficult to answer and we simply can’t tell until we have received a Terms of Reference and the volunteers have produced a project plan. The scoping process will help to gauge how much data and other support is required from you, and you will be best placed to assess what this means for your organisation.
Some charities have found projects easy, needing only a light touch with data close to hand. For others, it has meant a point of contact working hard to engage stakeholders, digging out data hidden away in filing cabinets and on myriad spreadsheets. The most successful and speedy projects are those where the charity is engaged and able to commit time and resources with a project manager driving the work forwards.
Our average project length is a year, and if the outcome of the advice is data collection, a charity can expect to be collecting data for at least a year before anything can be done with it. It can be a commitment of several years.
What if the results are bad news for the charity?
We have a ‘do no harm’ policy. This means that if the data suggests a given intervention is not having a discernable positive effect, and the charity does not wish this to be in the public domain, we will not publicise the details of the report. However, we will ensure that the board of the charity sees the report, so that they are able to take appropriate steps. As with any project, we would follow up to identify whether our work is having an impact.
A more likely scenario is that there is some data, but that it is simply not enough to know whether the intervention is having a positive impact or not. In these cases we may recommend that further data collection is carried out.
We also have an agreement that states that all parties (the charity, PBE and the volunteers) must agree what is published. This ensures that nothing ambiguous or unclear will reach the public domain.
What happens after a project is completed?
A report that is very specific to a single charity and is unlikely to be of wide interest may be published on our website without fanfare. If there is a real good news story, or information that may be of interest to others, we may, in conjunction with the charity, do something more high-profile. How the report is used is up to the charity – fundraising, campaigning, or improving their performance. We will carry out a review after every completion so that we can understand how the charity expects to use the report, and we will revisit a year later, to see what has happened in practice.
Can you do an SROI analysis for us?
Social Return on Investment is a framework used to help understand the social outcomes generated by an organisation. We are not SROI practitioners and are not SROI accredited, nor are our volunteers. Our volunteers are economists who will bring to any project a range of skills and tools, and will use the most appropriate methodology to address the issues at hand.
If you are specifically seeking an SROI analysis we would recommend that you approach the SROI Network who have a directory of practitioners.
However, take the time to think about whether an SROI analysis is right for the needs of your organisation. It may be that there are other types of analysis are more appropriate.