Communicating impact is growing in importance as more and more stakeholders in the development sector begin to see the value in sharing their journeys and success stories.
In a previous article we touched on the importance of transparency, especially as societies try to forge a new social compact that serves all members of society. One way to achieve this transparency is through strategic communication that showcases the impact an organisation has. This can be achieved by developing high-quality content backed up with data that shows evidence of impact and the use of strategic communication channels to share this information.
An impact report enables organisations to communicate with a range of different stakeholders and if done effectively can give meaning to the numbers that are typically the focus of these kinds of reports.
“Good impact reporting is an essential part of impact measurement; it allows you and others to learn from your work, and it promotes a culture of accountability and transparency,” explains Katie Boswell and Sarah Handley in an NPC Briefing document Result! What Good Impact Reporting Looks Like.
What are the essential components in an impact report?
- Executive summary: the executive summary captures and summarises the impact story that you want to tell and should highlight the key performance areas that matter most to your key stakeholders. It is written by the organisation’s leadership and is critical to establishing credibility, legitimacy and trust.
- The need: what is the need that the organisation is addressing? Tell your readers about the problem.
- Impact strategy: the next section of the report should outline the organisations impact strategy and how the organisation planned to achieve its key objectives. This could include a theory of change or logic model as well as key activities used to address the need. This section should emphasise how donor/social investment funds were used.
- Outcomes: Provide details on the goals the organisation aimed to achieve and how the organisation fared in this regard. What outcomes were achieved and which weren’t.
- Impact: this section should provide evidence on how the organisation made an impact; how did the organisation move the dial towards achieving its strategic investment and development objectives?
- Lesson’s learnt: this section is really important as a means to reflect on what worked, what didn’t and how this can be addressed in the future.
What are the principles that can create a more powerful impact report?
- Consider your audience: write with your key stakeholder in mind. If the organisation’s primary audience is donors then emphasise how their generosity has made possible rather than focusing on what the organisation has done. You can also include a heartfelt message of thanks if appropriate. If you are an investor – share your investment and development intent and what you have achieved. Also share how you are tracking your outcomes and impact.
- Clarity: ensure that your report is clear, concise, includes only the most essential information and avoids unnecessary jargon. Share how you have obtained your information and don’t forget to include the voices of those you have impacted
- Accessible: make sure that all the relevant information is easy to access for a range of readers. Consider if your intended audience want to read the report online, and if they don’t have access to the internet – consider printing the report for local distribution and also consider indigenous languages in this regard.
- Systems approach: use a step-by-step systems approach to capture data throughout the year to make sure the organisation captures all the data effectively. There is nothing worse than to get to reporting time, but you are not able to provide evidence – not only of your data collection process, but also your impact verification process. If you are a funder, consider sharing your M&E framework, so that all stakeholders are aware and can support your data collection efforts in the future.
- Balance: don’t only report on the positive, present a balanced story that acknowledges challenges and the lessons learnt. This can include provide context by looking at shorter- and longer-term horizons, governance, emerging issues and opportunities, and multiple points of view. Again, consider including the voice and stories of the stakeholders you have impacted.
- Credibility: to build credibility ensure that your report is error-free, so if possible use a professional writer and editor to document your story and journey. Also consider providing infographics to make your story more credible – and easy to understand.
- Provide context: where appropriate incorporate other data sources and information to situate your results within the broader context. Impact data is more valuable if it is benchmarked against other data. For instance, if you are telling a health story, share how your interventions impacted on the national or provincial health systems.
- Consistency: ensure that you present your data in a way that is easily comparable with other data sources and allow stakeholders to track performance year-on-year. Impact data in isolation means very little – especially if your interventions are multiyear development programmes – in this case it is better to share the journey from start to finish.
What to knock it out the park? Consider using these tactics:
- Beneficiary stories: the best impact reports include the voices of beneficiaries, investees and recipients of your investment and development efforts. This information can be captured through surveys, online tools or through one-on-one interviews. Consider using photos, case studies, pull out quotes of your beneficiaries to really make the impact stories personal.
- Align with the Sustainable Development Goals: by aligning your report with the existing reporting framework that the SDGS provide, you are situating your impact within a global framework that is easily and widely understood by all players in the sector. If your investments are aligned to national development priorities also provide the context of how you support the government in achieving their development objectives.
- Make it beautiful: most stakeholders are incredibly media savvy so make sure that your impact report is well-designed and uses high quality images and is available across social media platforms for easy access, but even more importantly, encourages engagement and feedback.
- Data Visualisation: much of the information included in an impact report can be dry and difficult to understand if simply using statistics and numbers. Take your report to the next level by including infographics, graphs, charts and other data visualisation techniques that make the relationships between the numbers really clear.
- Communication impact: the best impact reports go beyond outputs and activities and provide clear and compelling detail on the outcomes achieved. Show how you contributed to real, lasting impact by providing evidence of the difference you made.
Impact reporting has lots of benefits including giving organisations a chance to review their impact against their vision and goals, it builds a culture of learning within an organisation and helps to celebrate achievements. It also builds credibility and trust and is a useful way to share learnings with organisations.
To read about determining impact and return on investment, how to measure impact more effectively, and how to report on impact you can also visit our dedicated website that speaks to all things impact.
The Investment Impact IndexTM provides more insights and additional. You can visit the website by clicking here.