Good impact reporting is an essential part of impact measurement. It allows you to communicate your value and share good practice with others, while discussing the results of your work to promote a culture of learning and transparency.
Impact reporting often takes the form of an annual report. The best reports present information honestly, explaining what worked well, what didn’t work quite so well and setting out how the organisation is trying to improve.
Many charities struggle to know what information to include and how best to present their findings. Here we offer advice on how to plan, develop, and review your impact report.
How to develop an impact report?
1. Plan your report
If you decide an impact report is the most effective way to share your findings, the first step is to develop a clear structure. Most evaluation reports will include the following sections:
- Executive summary: A synopsis of your key findings and recommendations.
- Introduction: A description of your monitoring and evaluation, the purpose behind it, and the methods you used.
- Findings and discussion: Information on what you delivered, how you delivered it, how well you delivered it, and what outcomes occurred.
- Recommendations: Actions that need to be taken to respond to your findings.
Make sure your report addresses the following questions:
- Need: What is the problem that you, as a charity, are trying to address?
- Activities: What are you doing to try and address it?
- Outcomes: What are the results of these activities?
- Evidence: How do you know you’ve made a difference?
- Learning: How will you change your work for the better?
It may be useful to read other impact reports to see what works well and what does not.
2. Develop your recommendations
Recommendations are more likely to be implemented if they are:
- Supported by evidence: Clarify how the recommendations build on your findings. It can help to structure them in the same order as the findings.
- Specific: Explain exactly what action needs to be taken, how, and when.
- Realistic and achievable: It can be helpful to categorise your recommendations according to which are easier and harder to implement, attaching timescales to each. More ‘difficult’ recommendations may need budget or staff changes, for example. These should still be stated, but so should their implications.
- Prioritised: You may want to split your recommendations into ‘essential’ versus ‘optional’, or ‘for consideration’ versus ‘for action’.
3. Review your report
Allow time for review and iteration, and involve other staff members, as well as beneficiaries and external stakeholders, where useful. You could ask them to help refine your research conclusions or suggest and prioritise recommendations based on a draft of the report. Or, if you’re planning to share the report widely, you may want someone outside your sector to review the whole thing to ensure it’s clear to external audiences. Take care that people base their recommendations on the evidence, not their own interests or preoccupations.
Adapted from content from NCVO.
When reviewing your report, bear in mind the six principles of good impact reporting:
- Clarity: Make sure the reader can easily understand the organisation through a coherent narrative that connects your aims, plans, activities, and results. Avoid jargon and long lists of statistics. Explain any terminology that might be unfamiliar. Be as clear and precise as possible.
- Accessibility: Ensure the relevant information can be found by anyone who looks for it, in a range of formats suitable for different stakeholders. Think about what your audiences need and want to know, as well as what you want them to know.
- Transparency: Be clear about how you reached your conclusions and be open about what you can and can’t say based on your data. If you weren’t able to hear from, or your sample over- or under- represents, a particular group, say so.
- Accountability: Reporting is designed to connect with stakeholders, partners, and beneficiaries to tell them what they need to know, and provide reassurance. Demonstrate that you are accountable, and be honest about where you’re going next.
- Verifiability: Claims about impact should be backed up, allowing others to review the information. Providing a range of qualitative and quantitative evidence is key. Avoid over-claiming your role and remember to report on evidence of other contributing factors; for example, the support received from other organisations. Explore alternative interpretations of or explanations for your findings.
- Proportionality: The level and detail of reporting should reflect the size and complexity of the organisation, and the complexity of the changes you’re trying to bring about. Some topics are better suited to detail than others, and it’s worth thinking about where you can add summaries for those looking for a quick overview of your work.
Finally, remember to check anonymity and consent:
As outlined in Ethics and data protection, it is vital to follow ethical research principles and protect personal data appropriately. Respondents will have said whether they want to remain anonymous and whether you should check with them before using a quote or case study in your report. Depending on the size of your sample and how easy it is to identify individuals, you may have to do more than just change the name to make someone anonymous. Remove references to anything that would allow people to identify them as an individual.
Read more tips for good impact reporting in our briefing and download our handy checklist to make sure you’ve covered the essentials of a good impact report.
This webpage has been adapted from the Inspiring Impact programme, which ran from 2011 until early 2022 and supported voluntary organisations to improve their impact practice. More information about the Inspiring Impact programme.