Why don’t charities talk about results?

By Tris Lumley 22 September 2010

I owe everyone who’s heard me speak at conferences an apology. Not for ranting on about the importance of charities measuring and communicating their impact—that’s my job, and my passion. But for something that I’ve said pretty often in the past without having much evidence to back it up.

I’ve talked a number of times about impact reports, and how they’re a bit of a euphemism. How charities use them often to give the impression that they’re talking about their results, while they’re actually doing nothing of the sort. How impact reports are often simply a glossier version of the annual review, with a few more case studies. Given NPC’s focus on charities using evidence in their work, it was high time that we actually put together some evidence to back up this sort of sweeping generalisation.

In a paper we’re publishing today, Talking about results, we show that we were mostly right. Charities are good at talking about their missions, and about what they actually do. They’re less good at talking about their results. Only 41% of those we surveyed communicated effectively what they achieve, linking their activities to the outcomes they create and backing up these outcomes with evidence.

But we didn’t want our report to be doom and gloom. So we also included examples in our report of how charities can get better at communicating what’s important—we’ve highlighted these because we often hear from charities that want to improve their reporting, but aren’t sure where to start. We also highlight the five key questions that charities can structure a good impact report around. See whether you could use them to revolutionise your charity’s communications.