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When are impact reports impactful?

Recently I have been reflecting and refreshing my perspective on Penelope Burk’s ongoing research dedicated to evidence-based approaches to donor retention and raising more money to support missions of nonprofit organizations throughout the world.

This has been on my mind partially because I am a long-time champion of Burk’s pragmatic, qualitative and quantitative data and many nonprofits with a mid-year fiscal year-end are developing impact reports for donors and key stakeholders. Impact reports are valuable engagement tools appreciated by many donors and funders. Plus, these stories of change and accountability can lead donors to actively consider giving again and, many times, more!

Burk conducted follow-up conversations with donors several years ago leading to a second edition of her seminal book, Donor-Centered Fundraising, in 2018. Here are a few of the responses cited around impact reports:

I would definitely make larger gifts if … those solutions were backed up by better impact information.

I’ve narrowed my giving down to organizations that issue informative and concise reports about what they are achieving with donors’ contributions …

An update on what they are accomplishing with the gifts that I and other donors have already made is actually more effective than another appeal. The updates themselves make you want to give again.

Campaign Monitor and Qgiv looked at nonprofit marketing strategies that are both effective and efficient use of resources from the perspective of more than 1,000 donors. They found there is power in hearing from real people, about real people, and the results a donation is creating. In fact, 61.1% of donors want to hear stories about organizations’ impact and how their services are helping. 

Consider when you make a gift to your local food bank, health clinic, early education center as well as your church and alma mater. Are you interested in receiving the free lapel pin, plaque, or month-at-a-glance calendar? Or would you prefer a brief, personalized communication highlighting the difference your investment made in the lives of people … many of whom you probably will never meet? Personally, I do not need another swag bag. I value understanding and seeing the results of my giving and welcome the opportunity to learn more through the eyes of those whose lives have been changed, transformed, strengthened, or enhanced.

I invited several colleagues, peers and fellow philanthropy professionals representing diverse sectors and experience to join me for a conversation on the topic of impact reports. I asked them to define an impact report, share how they measure the impact of this communication tool and a key learning for the next generation of impact report creators. What a robust, insightful and super fun conversation! Here are a few of my key takeaways you might also find helpful:

  1. Impact reports are a time to share the why and how of the organization. It’s not just the facts; it’s an opportunity to tie the donor’s gift to the mission.
  2. It answers the question “so what?”. A science-based education institution describes intellectual stimulation, excitiing youth and turning on “light bulbs”.
  3. Changing the behavior of a client through resources, education and opportunities to connect with others is hard to document because its qualitative. We tell stories, show faces, use different technology including video.
  4. These tools also are an opportunity to provide a sneak peek of what’s ahead and sparks curiosity for follow-up conversations.
  5. Donors experience impact; show them personally rather than telling them. Inspire them to feel the importance of the work by inviting them to “wear the shoes” of those the organization serves through a virtual field trip for instance. Be creative!
  6. Impact reports come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe they are regionally specific or as simple as a phone call to share a recent breakthrough. And keep telling the stories in compelling ways that speak to the heart and soul of the organization and its work.

As a nonprofit professional who may or may not have a background in writing but has been charged with creating your organization’s 2020 impact report, where might you start? It can seem like a daunting task but you are well-positioned to ensure the relationships your organization has with its donors and stakeholders are built on a strong values-based foundation of accountability and integrity.

It’s as simple as telling a story!

About the Author

Kerry Bartlett

Kerry A. Bartlett, CFRE, MBA, Managing Director

Kerry has spent more than 25 years in the nonprofit sector as a fund development professional and has particular expertise in annual funds, major gifts, endowment campaigns and legacy giving. Kerry is also known for creating and implementing effective donor-centered stewardship programs that build, maintain and strengthen nonprofits’ relationships.

About Carter:
When it comes to transformational change, nonprofits are experts at knowing what they need to achieve, but don’t always have the tools they need to get there. Carter makes the journey easier. With over 500 years of combined experience, the Carter team is comprised of 36 senior-level professionals working to advance philanthropy worldwide through fundraising, organizational planning, and governance.

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