In this fascinating piece John Schless, CEO at Greenwich SU talks about how he set about demonstrating outcomes from the SU’s work as part of the strategic planning process.
Joining Students’ Union, University of Greenwich (SU) in April 2016 I met a dedicated staff team that had worked hard over 4 years to grow participation across all SU activities. We’d had our highest election turn out, the largest number of society and team memberships, and over 5000 volunteer hours logged that year.
However when I asked the question to the SU team and our University partner ‘how satisfied are our members and what impact have we had on them?’ the answer I got back was ‘I don’t know, but I can tell you how many people have taken part’.
Prior to joining the SU, I’d spent 10 years working in fundraising and business development roles within the charity/ not for profit sector. I spent my time generating income from major donors, grant givers and public funders to fund specific projects that make real change to peoples’ lives.
Gifts I won included £250,000 from a major donor to fund a new autism service, £180,000 grant from Nesta, the innovation foundation, to develop a remote volunteering progamme and a £500,000 Big Lottery Fund grant for a specialist counselling service for The Mix (formally Get Connected).
Success in securing income came from being able to demonstrate the outcomes (change) the project was going to make for the beneficiaries.
I had partnered with Helen and Nicola, evaluation specialists at Icarus, to help with our Nesta grant. I was impressed with their support. I commissioned them to come and work with my SU team as we developed our Big Plan 2017- 2020.
It was a daunting prospect; the scale of services delivered at the SU is vast and complex for a medium size charity. Prior to my arrival the trustees had commissioned a piece of member research to get their feedback about the SU and what change they wanted to see. However as we began developing our strategy, I found the staff team focusing on operational issues such as communications, income and spaces rather than the change we needed to make for our members.
Helen and Nicola challenged us to change our thinking and we worked over a series of months interviewing managers, running group training and working with SMT (Senior Management Team) to help us translate the member feedback into an outcomes framework, suitable for our SU.
As a team, and with Icarus’ guidance, we developed our Theory of Change. Through this process we outlined our Actions, Assumptions, Outcomes and Goals. We agreed on 2 goals, which every part of the organisation is striving to achieve:
1) Members report that they have affected change
2) Members report they have had a positive student experience
We have set 8 outcomes that help achieve these goals and each outcome has a series of sub-outcomes to help better define the change we want to see for our members.
This process has helped us define what services we should be running as an SU and future services we need to explore the development of. As a team we have developed a series of strategic activities for each outcome that we will undertake over the next three years. We have stopped doing some things, which although tough initially, is now enabling us to focus on achieving our goals.
Our Big Plan launched in August 2017. We have worked hard to translate our outcomes framework and activities into a suitable narrative for our members.
Finally to ensure we can demonstrate the change we are making and have good quality data to back this up, I have created a Marketing and Insights Manger role that sits within the SU. The Manager is working with the staff and student teams to support them when measuring the impact of their activities.
Our Big Plan can be found on our website here