How to Draft an Effective Impact Report
For most charities, one of the biggest daily challenges is proving the results of your work. This is essential for securing the support of funders, donors, volunteers, and the wider community. It’s crucial that you know how to draft an effective impact report.
Many non-profits struggle to do this correctly, especially smaller organisations.
Naturally, writing an impact report does require a certain amount of specialised knowledge and skills. However, these are things which can be learned by just about anyone.
Today, we’ll cover everything you need to know to write an impact report. Let’s start with the basics.
What is an Impact Report?
Essentially, an impact report is a document that charities use to communicate how their work changes the lives of people in their local community. This can be used internally or externally.
The goal is to prove and quantify the exact impact of your projects. This can be used to improve on your projects, secure funding, or as a requirement of working with external stakeholders, like government agencies.
For this to work, there are several things that any effective impact report should include. These are:
The problem you want to address,
What you’re doing to address this problem,
The results of your activities,
How you measured these results,
What you’ve learned from your project.
Within each of these inclusions, there are several things you can do to make your impact report more effective. With that in mind, here are our five steps for drafting an effective impact report.
1. Understand Your Goals
The first challenge of any impact report is having a clear picture of what you’re actually trying to achieve. Many organisations fail to do this properly. That is, they assume that their goals are too obvious to consider in depth.
Say for example that you run a mental health charity, and you’re seeking to improve community wellbeing. Here the overarching goal is clear, but to write a proper impact report, it is necessary to be more specific, as community wellbeing can mean many things.
As such, you need to define your goals in terms of:
Target service users.
Level of analysis.
Indicators of success.
How these relate to your work.
Quantifiable changes you’d expect to see.
For example, within the overarching aim of improving community wellbeing, you might have the more specific goal of improving one age group’s access to mental health services, within a given time period.
Alternatively, you might have more than one of these more specific goals. In any case, effective goal setting will make writing an impact report considerably easier.
2. Know Your Audience
Before you put pen to paper, you’ll also need a clear understanding of who your audience is. Are you writing an impact report for your internal team, or for external stakeholders? Do these stakeholders have specific requirements for reporting?
The key here is to involve your stakeholders in all stages of the impact reporting process. Speak to them before, during, and after the drafting process.
This will help you to align what you write to the key insights that these stakeholders need. In turn, this naturally makes your impact report much more effective.
3. Operationalisation and Attribution
This is probably the most intimidating of the impact reporting process, but it’s not as complicated as it sounds. The key thing is to have your core indicators of success in mind well before you get to this stage.
Operationalisation and attribution is a crucial stage of drafting an effective impact report. In terms of definitions, what we’re talking about here is:
Operationalisation - How you quantify changes in your performance indicators.
Attribution - How you prove that your actions led to changes in these metrics.
If you’ve chosen the right performance indicators in the first place, this should fall into place quite easily. In essence, you simply have to choose an operationalisation method which suits your performance indicators.
Let’s return to our mental health charity example.
If your indicator was access to services, we could easily operationalise this as the percentage of people who need these services who actually receive them in a given time frame.
Alternatively, we might operationalise this as the number of people coming forward for wellbeing services, or the percentage of people in need who receive services in an acceptable time frame.
By contrast, you might have a less concrete performance indicator, like members of the community’s own perceptions of their wellbeing. Here, we’d have to utilise survey data, and compare this over time.
Respondents can rate their perceptions of community wellbeing on a numerical scale. The averages can then be compared from before and after your intervention.
4. Add Qualitative Data
Of course, readers aren’t only swayed by numerical data. When writing an effective impact report, it’s crucial to think about the other things which can sway your readers. One way to do this is to include stories from real life service users.
Sometimes, it can be difficult for quantitative data to feel real to readers. Graphs and charts on their own can often fail to communicate the real and lasting benefits you offer in your community.
Adding qualitative data like testimonials, quotes, case studies and survey responses helps to situate your impact analysis in the context of real people.
Qualitative data isn’t just effective in its own right. It also helps to make quantitative data more impactful. For example, say your impact report outlined how you secured counselling services for 1,000 extra people in your community.
Presented on its own, the meaning of this fact can be underestimated.
If this data is presented alongside a selection of stories from people whose lives have been improved by your services, then this is much more compelling for readers of your impact report.
5. How to Write Your Impact Report
Finally, it’s time to put pen to paper. Of course, this means actually knowing how to draft an effective impact report. The first thing to get your head around is the structure of your report. Here, it’s helpful to think about what, why, how and who questions.
A rough outline of the structure for an effective impact report is as follows:
What you want to achieve,
Why readers should care about this,
How you’re going to achieve it,
Who will benefit,
How you’ll measure your progress and attribute causality,
What impact you had,
What you have learned from your project.
Each of these can be divided into clear subsections within your report.
Additionally, it’s important to think about the readership of your impact report.
If you are writing for experts or specialists in your field, it’s important to use the right language and terminology, but if you’re writing for the general public, then you need to ensure your report is comprehensible for non-specialists.
You’ll also want to thoroughly research the formal requirements of external stakeholders. Be sure to include exactly what they’ve asked for.
Of course, one of the best things you can do to write an effective impact report is to work with specialists. At S3 Solutions, we have extensive experience of helping charities to prove their value to a variety of stakeholders.
Contact us today to find out more about our services.