Do you remember what it was like to be a child – to believe in the impossible? If as a child you fell over in the park and grazed your knee did your mum or dad brush you down and kiss it better? Did you sometimes do the same if your parents were in pain, look up and ask, “Is it better yet?”

We all have to grow up, it’s part of life – but sometimes it feels all too soon. A child’s belief in the power of a kiss to heal is a precious gift that is lost at a cost. The cost of the rational trumping faith, the sceptical banishing hope, the reality of hurt overwhelming love.

The question “Is it better yet?” is one of the simplest and yet most profound questions anyone could ask – not just a child. If you walk in the worlds of the voluntary sector or social enterprise you are likely to have charitable objectives to make something better.

If your sphere is more focused around business, corporate social responsibility or philanthropy you’ll increasingly want to ask not-for-profit agencies, “How can I ensure that my investment in you is actually going to ‘make it better’?”

The Bond development network* summed it up recently by saying, “The bar to prove we achieve what we claim to is being raised ever higher, and NGOs are compelled to respond.”

The way in which we in the third sector spend money entrusted to us has to be transparent. But it also has to be intelligent, contextual, innovative and sometimes even risky if we are to find the best possible ways to bring change – to ‘kiss it better’.

Sadly charities can sometimes come across as both overly optimistic about their results and defensive about the real cost of their work. This is due in part to a widespread public belief that a low percentage overhead equals an effective organisation.

Every year Viva conducts a Network Health Check. This global self-assessment tool helps our 34 community networks to analyse their effectiveness and put in place strategies for improvement for the following year. It also helps to measure the level of reach Viva has through the many collective action programmes we support.

It’s inspiring stuff and I was able to see some of the results for myself recently in a little corner of Delhi.

Meeting the boys and girls whose lives have been transformed through faith, hope and love helped turn the one-dimensional statistics into glorious 3D life! How do you measure the impact of the money you give to charity? Do you examine annual accounts, ask questions about sustainability, impact and lasting change? Have you been able to visit to see for yourself? Or do you go on the trust of a well-written story of hope – and of a kiss that can simply make it better for today?

However you use the resources you have been given, a wise investment can go a very long way.

* Bond is the UK membership body for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in international development: www.bond.org.uk

Martin Thomas

This article first appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of Sorted magazine and is republished here with their permission.