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  • Ryan Brooks

How to Create a Nonprofit Impact Report

Updated: May 1

Nonprofit annual reports are important, but impact reports focus attention on your work.

The annual report is a classic document for nonprofits. You've probably seen dozens of these from various organizations and perhaps even written your own. But, has your organization created an impact report? While most annual reports focus on key activities, data, and financial information, an impact report is higher-level, focused on storytelling, and it emphasizes, you guessed it, your nonprofit's impact

The goal of an impact report is not to necessarily tell a detailed comprehensive story of your non-profit, but to share a compelling, easy to digest overview of your key work and accomplishments. Data is a critical part of telling that story, but so are actual stories and pictures of the people you serve. The impact report is great marketing content for your organization because it can be shared with a wide variety of audiences - from the community you serve to your board of directors to potential donors. 

Impact reports started in corporate America to showcase the impact of socially-minded companies' philanthropic, sustainability, or community efforts. There are a lot of great examples that show the glossy, storytelling-focus of these impact reports from companies like Warby Parker, Bombas, and Marine Layer.

In the nonprofit sector, an impact report can tell not just part of your story like it does for a for-profit company, but your whole story at a high level.

What's in a Nonprofit Impact Report?

Here is roadmap to help you get started with your impact report:

Introductory Letter

Impact reports typically start with a brief letter from your CEO, Executive Director, or Board President (if you are a fully volunteer organization) sharing the goal and purpose of the report. This should be only a few paragraphs that share things like an overview of the report's time period, a reminder of report-relevant strategic goals, and a celebration of the great work of your organization. 

The Basics

Impact reports should have a one to two page overview of the “basics” of your nonprofit including: your mission, vision, values, and any other “foundational” components of your organization which guide your work and decisions.

Key Metrics

Key metrics are, er..., key! An impact report should have at least a page or more dedicated to the key things your organization tracks that show impact, such as number of individuals/families/children served and any success rates of your work. If you aren’t sure what your key metrics are or how to collect them, check out countbubble’s blog posts on Data Collection Fundamentals and Measuring Nonprofit Success. Ideally, you can display your key metrics in a visually pleasing way using simple graphics or “infographics” to make them more skimmable.

Be cautious. Don't throw a hundred "key" metrics into your report. Even with infographics and easy-to-understand visualizations, too many "key" metrics makes each one a little less interesting. After you create your first draft, ask yourself whether a number you've added is critical to explaining your impact.

Success Stories

Since an impact report is focused on storytelling and a bit of marketing, the most powerful way to do that is stories of your client’s success. If at all possible, interview one ore more clients and get their permission to tell their story, along with pictures, in your report. Sprinkle a handful of stories throughout the report to keep readers attention and build an emotional connection with your work.

These stories don’t need to be long, multi-page, in-depth journalism. Rather, a brief series of quotes or a few paragraphs detailing how your organization supported someone and their outcomes are enough to get across the importance of your work. If your organization doesn’t serve individual clients, stories of your work and success in the community are just as powerful and important to include. 

A Bit of Strategy

An impact report is not an in-depth strategic plan update. However, it can be helpful to highlight specific achievements toward your strategic plan, and you can include a few comments about where you are looking in the future. This can be a series of bullet points for current successes and future goals. Even this snapshot gives the reader a sense of the strategic direction of your organization and may inspire them to become more engaged.

Call to Action

Ending your impact report with a call to action - or what you want someone to do after reading the report provides you with an opportunity to ask for what you need: volunteers, donations, participation in events. After sharing your inspiring story, take the opportunity to ask the reader to get more involved!

Who is the Audience of Your Impact report? 

There are three main audiences for an impact report:

  1. Board of Directors - the impact report is a useful tool to remind your board of your successes, achievements, and impact. It's also a handy guide that helps them talk about and promote your organization with their networks.

  2. Potential Donors - the impact report can serve as a high-level marketing piece to support your organization. It won’t offer details that some large donors will want; but it can whet their appetite as well as inspire new donors to give smaller gifts.

  3. Your Community - the impact report can and should be shared widely with the community you serve. It helps demonstrate your value in the community to key constituents and partners, like city or county officials, other non-profits, and perhaps most importantly, your clients.

What Does a Nonprofit Impact Report Look Like?

So what does an impact report look like? We have already shared that it should be high-level, without a lot of dense text. I think that the best impact reports are an opportunity for your organization to show your creativity and can be fun (if you are into that sort of thing).

Impact reports are:

  • Highly graphic and stylized 

  • Short and to the point

  • Include easy to digest numbers and metrics

  • Feature compelling stories and pictures

Examples of Impact Reports

That all sounds nice but many of use are visual people. The examples from the companies listed above are helpful, but I am guessing you don’t have the marketing budget of a multi-million dollar company.

Here are examples of some great impact reports I found from non-profits around the country that can get you started:

I hope these impact reports inspire you to think about creating your own and flexing you and your team’s creative muscles to tell your story in a new and dynamic way!

Reporting your impact is hard when you’re juggling spreadsheets. countbubble makes it easy so you can focus on your mission.

 countbubble is case management simplified. We can help your nonprofit master data collection and reporting. Email us  or sign up for email updates on blog posts, useful content for nonprofits, and product updates.

Founder, CountBubble, LLC

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