Demonstrating that music-making has an impact seems to be a much talked-about topic these days. Whether that’s to do with increasing audience size, attracting new members to your group, having a greater profile in the community or undertaking outreach activities, it can feel as if producing numbers and evidence to show impact is a growing (and possibly unwelcome) additional demand on a leisure-time music group’s time. Indeed, if you have secured some funding, reporting on impact is often a standard requirement.
But it need not be burdensome and there are some benefits of a simple and proportionate approach. In fact you can also turn it to your advantage and collect some good information that will help you think about how to grow your group and improve the impact it makes.
Four advantages of measuring the impact your organisation has through music-making
Knowledge and evidence at your fingertips rather than guesswork
• Rather than just saying that you make a difference, having some evidence such as metrics as well as feedback from your group members and your audience about how music makes them feel will be a more powerful way to make the point. A moment to check the number of active members in your group and the year-on-year trend would also help to plan future membership recruitment campaigns. It may also be a way of benchmarking the progress of your music group against similar ones and could therefore provide information on where and how you could improve.
Focusing on activities and performances that have impact
• A better understanding of your audience and your impact on them should be helpful for marketing and to check that the values and branding of your group are where you want them to be. Knowing which of your activities, performances or engagement with particular audiences achieves the biggest impact means you can focus on these activities.
Strengthening your applications for funding now and in the future
• You are likely to need some information to pass to funders and grant-givers to prove that their support for your group has met their objectives of making an impact in the community. Funders will be keen to support you again in future and it will help to have evidence to hand if your group wants to approach a funding body speculatively.
It’s satisfying to know what you do is worthwhile and to prove it
• Music-making doesn’t happen by itself, it involves a huge amount of effort from organisers, the committee, your MD and not least the regular members who turn up week after week. Being able to show what all this effort achieves will make it feel worthwhile for everyone who is involved.
Some simple steps to take
If you need to provide information to funders or trustees check what they need to avoid wasted effort
Firstly, do check what your funders actually need from you if you are setting out to collect information on impact because they may have made it a requirement of the funding you have received. It may be that you already have the information, for example how many people in your regular music-making group, or how many people were in the audience at your concert that they sponsored. On the other hand some funders want to know the impact on the community that goes beyond feedback from attendees. For example Music for All asks groups that they have funded about the aims, aspirations and key benefits of the project funding has been requested for. This includes what are you hoping to achieve and the impact the project will have on music making in the local community including quantifiable outcomes/targets. It is also worth checking if the funders can help you to evaluate your project once it is complete
Start with your membership
A good starting point is your members. You probably already collect basic information about membership numbers and can show how these have changed over time. Growing numbers clearly shows a thriving music group that is attracting new members. Being able to describe the characteristics of your membership is sometimes helpful too, and is required by funding organisations, especially if the funding relates to particular groups e.g. participation amongst young people.
Beyond these basic metrics, a fuller picture of impact can be presented by asking your membership about how it makes them feel to be part of the group and what difference it makes to their lives. Why do this, it’s subjective and isn’t it a bit intrusive? In recent years there has been a burgeoning field of research into wellbeing (for example The What Works Centre for Wellbeing) and many more connections are being made to the positive wellbeing effects that music has on both performers and audiences. At the same time researchers have found ways to capture wellbeing impacts so that they can be measured and assessed in different situations.
It doesn’t have to be complicated, asking members 2 or 3 questions about what music making means to them and the difference it makes to their lives should reveal some results that can be used to show funders the benefits of regular music making in your group. Collecting this information might also help music making groups to pursue activities that make the biggest positive difference to their members. Help and advice on what questions to ask is available from the What Works Centre for Wellbeing’s new guidance on measuring wellbeing.
The key thing to remember is that collecting this information over time rather than on a one-off basis is most valuable. So perhaps consider three questions you could ask when annual subscriptions are due, just to keep it simple and regular. This could be paper-based and handed out at a rehearsal or your AGM, or you could use free survey tools which have the advantage or being quick and anonymous. Anonymity matters because you want to generate as honest a view as possible. And do make sure that you explain what the responses will be used for, and that they are treated in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulations.
Next, what about the impact you have on your audiences?
You probably already collect the basics such as the size of your audience at formal and informal concerts and the number of performances each year. If you are able to set out more detail about the diverse range of people that you attract to your concerts that’s also useful additional information whether that’s families, children, older people or perhaps people who are not regular audience members and may be listening to your for the first time.
It’s also a good idea to collect some feedback from the audience if you can. That can be as simple as collecting some quotes from people as they leave. You might also have boxes where people can drop in some written comments which are anonymous. Alternatively if you sell tickets online, you could generate a follow-up email, or link to a short survey, to ask about their experiences of the concert.
An additional and very useful approach on impact might be in the form of some case studies, for example particularly from people you have attracted to the concert for the first time. If they are happy to volunteer to explain why they came and what they thought, even better if they are able to say they feel inspired to come along or get more involved in your group. Again with any requests to members of the public do remember to say why you are collecting the information.
Unless you are performing a series of concerts or engaging with the same audience over a sustained period it’s probably not worth going beyond this basic level. Certainly it would be difficult to claim that a one-off concert had significantly improved the wellbeing of your audience, as much as we’d all like to think it had - so it’s not a great use of time trying to collect that information.
Finally, think bigger, what impact do you have on your community?
You may have received funding from a Trust or Local Authority for an event that involves several organisations: for example for a local music festival or commemorative concert. The funders may well will be keen to hear how the community at large have benefitted so it’s worth thinking how to provide some convincing evidence.
Again, you could start with the basics. Simply collecting some data on the numbers of performers involved, and on audience sizes, especially if these were larger than normal and attracted people who would not otherwise be listening to your music.
Beyond the basics, you could record information about the venue, possibly you have performed in a venue that takes you to a different location or part of the community. You will have had to liaise with the venue organisers, possibly built new relationships, or had joint committee meetings. Similarly if you have performed jointly with another music or arts groups, or worked with a charity, school or voluntary organisation this will have involved learning about them, forming new collaborations and holding meetings and conversations. These aspects shouldn’t be underestimated because you’ve broadened your reach in the community, forged new relationships, made new links, helped other community groups and all of this may well lead to further activities in future. What’s more the members of your music group might now feel a greater sense of belonging to the community as a result of participating, and that’s worth capturing as a positive impact too.
Rather than seeing this as a big data collection exercise at the end of your project/concert try to record the information as you go along for example the people and organisations you have worked with, plus any feedback you can gather on what people felt about the collaborative effort and how it has affected them – you can do that in the course of a meeting or conversation.
There is a more sophisticated level of evidence collection around community
wellbeing and social capital (see the What Works Centre for Wellbeing guide) but unless you have some help or work with your funders on this it’s quite a tall order to generate results. Nonetheless it’s worth being aware of the possibilities and at the very least a description of how you think you’ve made an impact on community wellbeing is a very good start.
Next time you are asked what difference your music-making has made, with a few simple steps you’ll be ready with a good convincing story to tell about the amazing impact music can have on people’s lives and the communities we live in!
We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.