Whilst many donors, grant-makers, social purpose organisations and social investors are keen to report on their investments and impact, it’s not that easy to develop a good impact report.
Reporting your impact can help you to:
- Review your impact against your vision and goals
- Create a learning organisation where people focus on results and adapt and improve services
- Motivate staff, volunteers, and trustees through celebrating achievements
- Build trust and credibility with supporters, funders, policy makers, and beneficiaries
- Share lessons with similar organisations.
Over the past few years we worked with some of Africa’s largest social investors to develop impact reports that speak to their stakeholders’ expectations, and in the process, we learnt a few lessons.
Whilst we started with impact reporting for internal stakeholders only, our work has now progressed to sharing impact stories with our client’s external stakeholders as well.
One of the best resources for creating an impact report we have found is: The principles of good impact reporting – developed by the NPC : There are six specific principles that apply when organisations want to communicate their impact:
1. Clear purpose:
- Why do we exist? What issue are we ultimately trying to tackle?
- What overall impact do we want to have? What change do we seek?
- What impact do our key stakeholders want us to have?
2. Defined aims:
- What are our specific short and long-term aims?
- How does achieving these aims help us achieve our overall purpose/impact?
3. Coherent activities:
- What activities do we carry out to achieve our aims?
- What resources do we use to make these activities happen?
- What are the outputs of these activities?
- How do our activities help us achieve our aims and create change?
- Are our activities part of a coherent plan?
4. Demonstrated results:
- What outcomes/impact are we achieving against our aims?
- What impact are we achieving against the overall change we seek?
- How do we know what we are achieving?
- Do we have relevant, proportionate evidence of our outcomes and impact?
- Are we sharing evidence to back up the claims we make?
- Are we seeking feedback, review and input where appropriate?
6. Lessons learned:
- What are we learning about our work?
- How are we communicating what we learn?
- How are we improving and changing from what we learn?
- What has happened that we didn’t expect (positive and negative)?
- Are we allocating resources to best effect?
Impact Reporting is the Outcome of a Data Collection Process
The most important aspect to consider when developing an impact report is that the report is informed by impact data.
Questions that can assist you in this process include:Step 1: What data must be collected?
Identify what is needed to collect for reporting, for internal monitoring/planning and why. This includes:
- Identify data elements necessary for reporting
- Identify data elements necessary for program purposes
- Monitor and evaluate to improve overall capacity to meet the needs of target report recipients
- Once identified, use provided definitions for all data elements that are required for reporting and communicate agreed upon definitions used for all other data elements so that all partners understand what they need to collect
- Where does the data you need reside and in how many various places?
- Are there places to get the data from more easily?
- What does it take to get the data when, where and how you need it?
- This includes requesting, capturing, recording and storing data from these identified sources. It may also include development of inter-organizational agreements to ensure secure and appropriate access to data
- Develop or modify appropriate data collection tools and protocols to ensure you are collecting all targeted data as defined
- Define and communicate how data should be collected and submitted and provide the necessary tools for direct entry into a database or submission of previously collected data sources
- Ensure your data is appropriately stored to prevent inappropriate access, loss or theft through system breakdown
- Implement and communicate standards of confidentiality, privacy and security to protect the data
- Design and implement procedures to examine your data to ensure validity, reliability, completeness, timeliness, integrity and confidentiality
- These procedures can include communication and training as well as system checks and routine data quality improvement activities
- Follow procedures to correctly and efficiently prepare and submit your data to meet the data reporting requirements, or to meet the end goal of the communication piece (educate, inform, inspire)
- Interpret and present data to inform an audience
- Use the data to inform planning, evaluation, allocations or quality improvement
- Evaluate and improve your program activities
- Identify gaps
- Strengthen planning or expansion efforts
We have noted that organisations jump into sharing data. But creating a context for the impact story is equally important. In addition, reporting is seen as a once off event—but much more value can be created by sharing continuous insights from impact data.
With social media, communication is much easier and therefore impact reports should be integrated into regular communications. And of course, it’s the ideal opportunity to let the investees share their experiences. Far too often an impact report tells only one side of the story, that of the investor.
Other opportunities to explore with your social impact report include:
- Align your impact goals and portfolios and the results you achieved with the Sustainable Development Goals.
- Align your impact outcomes and results with your organisation’s sustainability strategy and share how it creates shared value for all stakeholders.
- Share your impact journey over time, make use of impact data from one year to the next and share how impact improved or increased over time from one funding cycle to the next.
- Also share where unintended impact and indirect impact was achieved as it may be a valuable lesson for the readers of your report.
- Ask for feedback – from all the stakeholders along the impact value chain – other funders and partners that were part of the impact you have achieved.
Outline for an Impact Report
The following section provides a framework for impact reports. It’s provided as a baseline to use when starting to develop your impact report. We trust you will find it useful.
- Executive Summary: Overview of the report – highlights and challenges, what is included and why and the purpose of the report.
- Your Mission and Approach: What is your mission and what challenge are you trying to address? What is your response to the challenge, and how are you responding to the people affected by the challenge?
- Activities and Results: What were your activities over the reporting period, and how do these translate into impact? How have you been measuring your impact and what were your results? Include the indicators you used to measure your impact, the values recorded along the value chain (from input to outputs and outcomes) and how sustainable your impact is. Also consider wider impacts like who else benefitted or was impacted.
- Reviewing and Responding: How do your results compare with your targets and objectives, what are the lessons learnt, and what changes are you going to make as a result of your findings? How do you see the next period unfolding, how are you going to interpret and deal with future risks, challenges and opportunities and how will this inform your future strategy?
Creating an impact report is about more than just sharing numbers. It shows responsiveness and inclusiveness. It indicates responsibility and accountability of invested resources.
But more importantly, tracking outcomes, measuring and managing impact also shows that you’re achieving the goals you set out to achieve.
Overall, an impact report is a tremendous opportunity to strengthen the relationship between your organization and your community of stakeholders.