How to Write Your Next Nonprofit Impact Report

Ryan Jones • May 17, 2021

The nonprofit market is becoming increasingly competitive, so it’s no longer good enough to make a difference, and hope people hear about it. 

If you want to convince new donors and supporters to give and keep existing donors coming back year after year, you have to demonstrate that your programs are making a positive impact actively.

While you’re probably already familiar with nonprofit annual reports, these documents only come out once a year, which isn’t exactly ideal for regularly capturing the attention of donors. Plus, they tend to go into great detail, including a lot of information about the structure of your organization—not the most riveting reading for potential donors.

Fortunately, there is a tool available to you to help prove your organization’s value, with the side benefit of helping you manage your programs and learn from the results. It’s time to get up close and personal with nonprofit impact reports.

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What is a Nonprofit Impact Report

What is a Nonprofit Impact Report?

A nonprofit impact report is a document that showcases the results of an organization’s activities over a given period, often explicitly focusing on one program or event. 

The goal is to connect the donations you receive with your organization’s operations and outcomes. These reports are proof that people’s hard-earned contributions are being spent on things that matter.

Impact reports are great for demonstrating effectiveness to donors and potential donors and other stakeholders like board members, fundraising staff, partners, and sponsors, anyone who needs to know that their contribution is making a difference.

Reports can be in a printable format, but with the availability and ease of sharing via social media, digital formats are more likely to reach a bigger audience. Plus, they allow flexibility in how you present media like photos, video, and audio. 

Your report should seek to achieve a balance between cold, complex data and storytelling that connects with your audience’s emotions. Not everyone is reading your report for the same reason: some will want to verify the numbers, and some want to feel good about making positive change. Either way, a well-constructed report will build trust and reinforce their commitment to your cause.

But don’t think that nonprofit impact reporting is just about your audience; it’s also super helpful for your organization. Regularly reporting on the outcomes of programs is a great way to ensure that your team is on the path to achieving key performance indicators and can help strategize and plan future activities.

Best Practices for Writing a Nonprofit Impact Report

10 Best Practices for Writing a Nonprofit Impact Report

There is a lot of room for creativity when attempting to report your nonprofit’s impact. Multimedia, branding, and data presentations can all be included in an engaging way that captivates an audience. But there are a few things that are must-haves for your report. Let’s get into it.

1. Use Layman’s Terms

Not everyone is a nonprofit insider. And even fewer people are likely to understand the conversations happening inside your specific organization. 

So when writing your report, leave out the charity jargon and lingo you use with your team. Instead, use well-established language that you might find in newspapers or magazines, which tend to be written at a roughly high school level. If you need some guidance, the AP Stylebook is a great resource, or if you’re a little farther north, have a look at the Canadian Press Stylebook.

2. Use a Positive Title

Get started on the right foot with a descriptive title that broadcasts the amazing impact your organization is making. So rather than “A Discussion of Outcomes from Our Forest Preservation Program” (snore), try something punchier like, “How You Helped Us Save 800 Acres of Endangered Forest Habitat”.

3. State Your Goal

Before you get too deep into celebrating your accomplishments, it’s a good idea to be upfront with your goals. Explain the problem that exists and the change that your organization is trying to make. 

Not every impact report will be a glowing result. In fact, it can be helpful to report failures, especially if the failure is a result of a lack of funding or resulted in key learnings that will help your organization improve in the future. So, laying out your goal at the outset helps people understand what you were trying to do. This practice makes it easier for you to measure your nonprofit’s impact later on.

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4. Describe your Inputs

Be sure to include a description of the resources that went into the project or program so that readers have an idea of what it costs to make positive change. It may be helpful to include data from your most recent fundraising report to show where those resources came from.

5. Outline Your Activities

Without getting too wordy, explain the strategy behind your program, what activities your team executed, and what the expected effect would be. Be sure to describe how the resource inputs were used to perform these activities.

6. List Your Outputs

For the portion of your audience who want to see numbers, it’s a good idea to lay out the tangible impact of your efforts. How many people did you help? How many pounds of trash did you recover from the canal? How many meals did you provide? Specifying numbers that allow people to see the relationship between inputs and outputs will help your donors and stakeholders understand the impact of their contribution.

7. State the Outcomes

Look at the data in your list of outputs and draw meaningful conclusions that help relate your program to the bigger picture. If your organization preserved a block of endangered forests, how many species are likely to be protected as well? How does that relate to your organization’s larger mission? This section will go a long way to reinforce future support for your cause since you’re helping people see how small steps forward can result in significant change.

8. Use Diagrams

Wherever possible, use diagrams, nonprofit logic models, and data visualizations to help readers understand the information in your report and clear the way between data and action. Include a narrative description as well, since not everyone accesses information the same way.

9. Add Testimonials

Nothing makes your argument better than hearing it directly from the horse’s mouth. Include testimonial quotes from beneficiaries and team members who participated in the program. This builds an emotional connection between the reader and your organization and helps your audience trust your reporting.

10. Include the Next Steps

Considering everything your organization has learned from this program, be sure to include a section that outlines how you plan to make improvements or changes in the future. This is a great place to include a subtle ask for bigger or recurring donations.

What to Do After Writing Your Impact Report

What to Do After Writing Your Impact Report

Once your report is written, the work isn’t over. There are still three simple things (and one complicated one) that you should do before moving onto your next great nonprofit triumph.

1. Share it With Your Team

Going over the report with your staff keeps them aligned, ensures they fully understand the results and helps them learn from past shortcomings and successes.

2. Share With Board Members

Reviewing your report with board members allows them to ask questions and share ideas that may help your organization achieve greater impact in the future. 

3. Publish Your Report

Spread the good news far and wide. Post your report on your website, social media, and send it in email communications to let donors and partners know that they’ve helped make a difference.

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When it’s all over, it’s time to take action on your numbers. Analyze your data, learn from it, and use those learnings to make better decisions next time. Though this is easier said than done, incremental improvements are vital if you want to stay at the front of the nonprofit pack. 

So, don’t think of your impact reports as solely marketing communications tools; think of them as a way to see exactly how well your team is doing, what you can do better, and how to make a more impact in the world.