Image used by permission, under license of Shutterstock/Microvector.

Image used by permission, under license of Shutterstock/Microvector.

Reporting Impact

Part of our responsibility to our donors, after receiving a gift, is to report back to them about what the donations they’ve entrusted to us have accomplished. We know they want to hear from us about the impact of their donations.

If we’re good at donor stewardship, we do this in multiple ways and in an ongoing fashion.  

  • We call our donors and say things like, “Hi! The tractors arrived on site today and started clearing for the new building and I was just thinking about you and how you’ve made this possible.
  • We invite them to our campuses and show them work in progress or programs in action.
  • We meet them for coffee and bring them pictures of something that happened last week that they wanted to see. 

Informally, the updates are regular.

But every once in a while, we do formal updates through Annual or Impact Reports as well.  As many of us plan this time of year to write and design our Annual or Impact Report, what should it convey?

The Independent Sector , Guidestar USA , and the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance in 2011 released a set of 5 questions  they wanted all nonprofits to answer in their Impact reports. They encourage nonprofits to answer these questions in narrative form on Guidestar’s website  as part of the Guidestar Exchange Gold Seal program

  1. What is your organization aiming to accomplish? 
  2. What are your strategies for making this happen? 
  3. What are your organization’s capabilities for making this happen? 
  4. How will your organization know if you are making progress? 
  5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far? 

Part of the intent of the three charitable nonprofit powerhouses behind the Charting Impact movement—Guidestar, Independent Sector, and Wise Giving Alliance—is to offer foundations and other donors a consistent way to evaluate organizations so that nonprofits can be compared.

You can call me a little skeptical on this point, but I think that this was also part of the motivating goal that resulted in the metric that became the divination of the largely discredited, but not-yet-defunct overhead ratio.  Nonetheless, these are good, important, high-level questions which we should all be able to answer. If we cannot answer them well, our organization, it would seem to me, would have a mission, vision, or leadership problem, so why not answer them? And why not communicate them in an Impact Report? 

While the format offered on Guidestar’s site results in a report that presents potential funders with something that looks akin to a college term paper, completely devoid of personality or creativity, in the report you develop for your constituents, you have an opportunity to communicate this information in a much more compelling way.

Most fundraisers know that what donors want (and need) to see from us is something that not only answers the fundamental questions above, but that does that in a way that captures their hearts, fuels their minds, or sparks their imaginations. To do that, we need few (or no) spreadsheets and pie charts, we need testimony, passion, and emotion (perhaps laid on top of those pie charts, and spreadsheets). 

Capturing someone’s mind or imagination is usually done by sharing someone’s story or connecting with someone’s passion.  Mary Cahalane’s has shared several great posts in the last few weeks about how emotions trigger giving and what donors are emotionally looking for from us.  She argues that donors give for emotional, not rational reasons (though it takes some rational work to follow up and keep a long-term relationship).  Being aware of the need for emotional satisfaction, and of particular types of emotional satisfaction, in all of our communications with donors—not just so that they will give, but also so that they will find what they are looking for from us—is important and Mary’s writings are helpful to us on these points. 

Gail Perry, who is the author of one of my all-time favorite books about nonprofit boards, Fired-Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion Into Action (2007), has an exercise that she writes about often to help raise the morale of board members and develop their elevator speeches.  Just tell people why you care is Gail’s message to board members. “They’ll never forget why you care.”

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about Generation Z—those born between 1995 and the early 2000s.  Unbeknownst to me (until recently), I’ve raised a Gen Z’er.  Remember that the Gen Z’ers, already some of our volunteers, increasingly our donors, and very soon to be our colleagues, are visual.  No pic, no read.  They also have an even shorter than average attention span (meaning: take-away: keep it short and sweet).

The best impact/annual reports this year: passionate, with answers to the important, key questions in short, visual ways.  Think infographics. Or brief videos. Tell a story. Or Break your story into 2 or 3 videos. Show, don’t tell.

One last tip, if you, your board committee, or your Executive Director are debating about including some snoozer of something in the report (“we’ve always done a welcome letter from the board chair,”) consider doing a quick poll of some of your donors, volunteers, or organizational friends (don’t put your poor staff on the spot). You could ask questions like:

  • “Would you like to see this feature in this year’s impact report?” Be sure to include several sections not just the obnoxiously boring letter from your Board president (with apologies to all interesting Board Chairs). 
  • On a scale of 1 to 5, how important is it to you to see this feature in the annual report?”  
  • Open-ended: “What questions would you like to see us answer in this year’s annual report?” 

Need help with your annual report? Let us know! Our principal, Rebecca Davis, has been engaged in writing and graphic design work for more than 30 years and has won multiple awards for it.  Call us today 706.429.8683.


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