Stay Up Late’s Story: How impact measurement processes helped this Brighton-based organisation explore business models and define its strategic aims

“Amy has been great, gives focus to our ideas, asks great questions, and gives good advice,” Paul Richards, Stay Up Late

“I’ve found this experience really rewarding,” Amy Forbes, volunteer

Stay Up Late is a small but ambitious charity based in Brighton, with a mission to enable people with learning disabilities and/or autism to live full and active social lives, and to live the lifestyles of their own choosing.  The organisation’s activities include campaigning against inflexible support systems that impose bedtimes and other restrictions on adults with learning disabilities. It also runs a befriending project (“Gig Buddies”) that matches up socially isolated people with learning disabilities and/or autism with a volunteer who shares the same cultural passions.  They also work with other partner organisations to replicate the Gig Buddies model in other parts of the UK (and the world) as a social franchise.

Stay Up Late’s volunteer Amy worked for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, leading the government’s relationship with the BBC.  Before that, she worked at HM Treasury in financial services.  Her previous career was in the charity sector, working on health, social care and medical science policy at Arthritis Research UK, and on criminal justice at Victim Support.   Amy wanted to use her professional experience and skills to help small charities with strategic issues and business development, to broaden her experience and apply her skills to new situations.

The starting point

Paul from Stay Up Late explained that while they were confident that they were doing great work, and knew they were well regarded within the sector, they did not have an efficient system to measure their impact, and the main barrier to achieving this was a lack of time.  From going through the Measuring the Good process they wanted to achieve “an effective way of measuring our impact and being able to demonstrate this to the people we work with, potential new beneficiaries as well as funders and new partners”.

Deciding on the best way forward for Stay Up Late

Paul and Amy talked about how Stay Up Late could become more strategic about its impact measurement.  They started by properly defining the mission and purpose of the charity and making sure that all of its activities flowed from that.  They also explored different delivery and business models: They talked about the Gig Buddies model, and how it might be modified to be less onerous in terms of administration, and more efficient in terms of increasing the number of clients who benefit.  They also discussed making the most of the interest shown by high profile and corporate supporters in the charity as well as brand image, and why this matters. All of these elements were linked back to the importance of a structured monitoring and evaluation approach.

They met six times over 18 months, with plenty of gaps in between to allow the Stay Up Late team to make substantive progress. The work between meetings included getting the action plan and objectives they had drawn up agreed and then finalised by the trustees.

Confidence in what will be possible

As a result of working with Amy and making decisions about the future direction of the charity, Stay Up Late now have a clear and focused action plan, outlining where they are going to focus resources over the short, medium and long term. Paul explains: “We now have a strategic plan with a prioritised action plan and also a fully costed budget for the next 5 years which sits behind the action plan. We have also developed our own internal impact measurement process linked to our strategic plan.” This is underpinned by the organisation’s culture and engagement from across the organisation: “I’d say we have an open culture where everyone is aware of the challenges that face us but are also totally onside with our mission and ethos.”

Amy adds: “I gained an enormous amount […]. Really valuable insight into the charity’s work, and about an issue I didn’t even know existed! It was really great to spend time with people who deeply care about the work they do, and it was a pleasure to be able to help them with the areas they were less familiar with.”

Paul sees a robust and positive future for the organisation. He feels the change brought about as a result of working with Amy on Measuring the Good “will enable us to continue our work supporting people with learning disabilities but also makes us feel that charity itself is more resilient and prepared for the future.”