Data is an important tool you can use to demonstrate your charity’s impact. Here’s how you can use it to maximum effect
Impact reporting is a vital activity for a charity. It provides the opportunity to showcase the charity’s activities and achievements, to build awareness for its cause, and to foster the trust needed to spur people into volunteering, supporting, or making donations.
It’s an opportunity that may only come around once a year, so it is important to make the most of it when it does. Here are some tips for better impact reporting.
Say what problems you want to fix
Perhaps the most important thing a charity can say is what it is that they are trying to do. Or, as Stephen Covey put it, "the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."
If you can’t articulate what your charity is for then why should anyone be interested in what you do or in helping you to do that?
Explain how you are trying to fix the problems
This is where you can showcase some or all of your charity’s activities, projects, and initiatives, and show how your supporters’ money is being used help the intended beneficiaries of your charity.
This is also an opportunity to tell the stories that you want to tell about some of your recent activities, and to trigger an emotional response which may inspire readers to donate to your charity or to volunteer for your cause.
Tell the reader what you have achieved
No-one wants their charitable donation of time or money to go to waste, and this is where you have the chance to show readers that you are making a difference.
So highlight the outcomes of your charity’s activities, and demonstrate that these activities really are helping to achieve what your charity has set out to do. This is really the heart of the report: showing the impact that your charity has had and providing evidence to back these impact claims up.
If the previous section was about eliciting an emotional connection, this one is all about presenting facts and data to prove that supporters’ money is having the desired effect, and that your charity is one that deserves to be trusted and supported. The most important question to answer (and to back up this answer with evidence) is what long-term impact your charity is having on the key issue it is involved with.
Look to the future
It’s important that an impact report is not exclusively backwards looking, concerned only with what has been done and is being done now. You should also talk about the future, outlining how you will use the knowledge and experience your charity has accumulated to change and improve what you do in the coming months and years to achieve more impact.
It’s important to use facts and data to prove to readers what your charity has achieved.
This type of data is known as outcome data: it provides information about changes and benefits that your activities have driven.
In particular, it can be used to answer questions about how your charity’s services are helping people, what activities achieve the most valuable results, and whether you are reaching the people who need your help most.
But outcome data is only one type of data that your charity should collect and use in an impact report. Other types of data that it is important to collect and use include:
Pure data is generally very dull, so it is important that you present it in your impact report in appropriate ways to engage the reader.
And as there are likely to be many different types of reader, you will likely need to present the data in many different ways. For example, if you want to use data to inspire people to volunteer for your charity, then you might want to present it in an easily accessible way such as a pie chart or infographic. But that type of approach may not be suitable to provide accountability or transparency, or to show how data has driven particular actions and initiatives.
It’s also important that all the data that your charity collects - including existing data in a CRM system, for example - is easily accessible so that it is available for use in an impact report.
It may be necessary to break down some data silos to ensure that all the data that is needed is easily available.
The final thing to remember in an impact report is that most donors do not distribute their charitable giving to organisations based on an understanding of real need. Instead they donate because a particular cause has touched them, or perhaps because of an emotional connection to some of the people that a particular charity seeks to help.
So provide a message in your impact report that resonates with the reader: when you make their heart sing, you are giving them a reason to become a supporter of your charity.