How to write an impact report
13 June 2011
How do your donors know that the money they give you is making a difference? The answer is that they don’t, unless you tell them. Good impact reporting tells donors what their money achieves, but also appeals to outcomes-focused funders and helps organisations to develop and refine their own strategy to increase their effectiveness.
NPC runs seminars on impact reporting. These events are designed to arm anyone reporting their organisation’s impact with the practical tools to make it a success. The following five questions, for example, help make sure your reporting has a clear narrative for the reader. We thought we share them with you:
1. What’s the problem we’re trying to tackle?
Some problems are easy to describe—preventable blindness, for example—and others require more explanation. This is your chance to tell potential donors why what you do is important—tell them about the context in which you work, and the needs of your beneficiaries. You need to make sure your donors understand the problem you’re addressing and the impact it has on people’s lives, so they appreciate why you need their help.
2. What do we do to address it?
Explain your activities clearly—what you do day-to-day to try to overcome the problem you explained in question one. This is fairly straightforward for smaller, single-issue charities, but can be tricky for large organisations which carry out multiple activities in a range of different areas. Barnardo’s, for example, has over 400 projects, so one of the challenges it faces when talking about its impact is to explain how they all fit together.
3. What does that achieve?
Many charities find this question particularly tricky: it requires you to look at the outcomes you are achieving, and try to link them back to your activities, attributing changes to your work. How many cases of preventable blindness were prevented because of your charity? One way to think through the difference you make is to imagine what the world would look like if your charity wasn’t here.
4. How do we know what we’re achieving?
You need to provide clear evidence to support claims about your outcomes. By evidence, we don’t just mean complex measurement tools and randomised control trials—good impact reporting includes a combination of case studies, anecdotal feedback, survey results, web stats, and so on. WRVS’s impact reporting features real-life stories from beneficiaries, high level facts and figures, and regular social impact reports, amongst other things, to give a comprehensive picture of their achievements. RNID (now Action On Hearing Loss) communicate their impact very effectively through a series of videos on their website. Think about what is the right level of evidence for you—collecting a lot of unnecessary evidence is a waste of your time. Just because something is easy to measure doesn’t mean it will tell you anything useful about your impact.
5. How are we learning and improving?
Finally, talk about the challenges you’ve faced, the problems you’ve overcome and what you’ve learned from them as an organisation. Many charities are currently missing an opportunity in their reporting to explain how they have confronted challenges and changed their methods to become more effective as a result. Don’t be afraid to talk about your failures—as long as you can show what you’ve learnt from them.
Result! What good impact reporting looks like
On 18 January 2016.
How charities can plan and produce a good impact report.
Stories and numbers: Collecting the right impact data
On 20 January 2016.
NPC’s briefing paper following our event on how charities can decide what types of impact data to collect.