UpMetrics Blog

Read the latest expert insights, trends, and best practices around impact measurement and leveraging actionable data to drive meaningful change.

Imagine you're a nonprofit executive director and your organization is gearing up for a capital campaign. During the planning process, you chat with a long-time major donor who expresses concerns about supporting your new venture. When you dig a little deeper, you discover the donor is skeptical that their contributions have truly made a difference for your beneficiaries. 

So, what do you do? 

You could come up with general examples of how donations have pushed your work forward. But wouldn't it be much more effective to pull out your organization's impact report and use it to speak to the major donor's individual impact

An impact report communicates your nonprofit's progress toward its goals and can take many forms, from a virtual display to part of an annual report or board report. It's a useful tool for staying accountable to your stakeholders and telling your organization's story

In this guide, we'll dig deeper into impact reporting and the steps your organization can take to create an exemplary report of its own. We'll cover: 

Note that impact reports aren't just useful for showing to your stakeholders. They're also important resources for your team members, as these reports can guide your organization's operations and strategies for driving better results for your beneficiaries. Let's go! 

Click through to learn more about UpMetrics' free Impact Framework Builder.

Impact Reporting: Frequently Asked Questions 

Let's answer some FAQs about impact reports that will prepare you to create your own. 

What is an impact report? 

This image and the text below define the term impact report.

An impact report is a document that gives an overview of a mission-driven organization's outcomes and achievements, focusing on the social, economic, or environmental effects of the organization's work. 

Typically, an impact report is built around quantitative data that showcases positive changes resulting from the organization's programs, initiatives, and interventions. This is usually supplemented by qualitative data, like case studies, testimonials, and analyses that add color to the hard numbers in the report. 

What an impact report actually looks like is up to the organization creating it. Some organizations provide impact reporting information on their websites while others include it in their annual reports or other documents given to stakeholders. When creating your impact report, use what you know about your community to determine how the finished product should look and be given out. Jump ahead to get inspired by some real-world examples! 

Who creates impact reports? 

Typically, the following types of organizations are interested in creating impact reports: 

  • Nonprofits
  • Foundations
  • Impact investing organizations
  • Businesses prioritizing corporate social responsibility (CSR)

These types of organizations are invested in understanding and reporting their impact for two reasons. First, they want to ensure their work creates positive change for those they serve. Second, they are supported by stakeholders like donors, board members, funders, partners, volunteers, and the general public, and they need to provide evidence that stakeholder support is truly making a difference. 

Even if your organization doesn't fit into one of the categories listed above, you may still be interested in creating an impact report, and that's great! Impact reporting is for anyone wanting a fuller picture of how their organization's operations affect some aspect of society. 

What are the benefits of impact reporting? 

On the most basic level, impact reporting provides you with an answer to give when someone asks, "Does what you do matter?" 

But there's more to it than that. Check out these impact reporting benefits: 

  • Accountability to stakeholders: From board members and donors to corporate partners and community leaders, your organization has many people invested in its success. Impact reporting allows you to stay accountable to these stakeholders and demonstrate the positive effect their support has on your cause. It also encourages your organization to be transparent and honest with supporters, which can boost the trust between you. 

  • More informed decision-making: Without an understanding of the progress your organization has made on its goals, it's difficult to plan for the future or make worthwhile improvements. Carefully studying your impact empowers you to make strategic decisions that can lay the foundation for organizational growth and more positive outcomes for your beneficiaries. 

  • Efficient resource allocation: Similarly, your organization will be most successful when you know the best ways to spend your time, energy, and funding. An impact report helps you see where your greatest needs are so that your team and supporters can fill them. 

  • Improved marketing: Sharing your organization's success stories is an excellent way to raise awareness of your cause and call for support. Elements of an impact report can be repurposed into marketing materials that inspire your community to get involved and stay involved with your work.

  • Streamlined compliance with relevant regulations and laws: Depending on where your organization operates, you may need to report on your organization's work to continue operating. Getting in the habit of measuring and communicating your impact can make this process much more painless.
  • Enhanced employee motivation: External stakeholders aren't the only ones who need assurance that their support is making a worthwhile difference. Your team members also need to know that the work they do matters, and in the day-to-day, the effects of that work can be hard to see. Share your impact report with your team to boost morale and productivity. 

  • More support for your cause: An impact report is evidence that what your organization is doing is working. Having that evidence will bolster your fundraising, volunteer recruitment, and grant-writing efforts as you demonstrate your organization's achievements and inspire people to give to your cause. Your report can also highlight your organization's most pressing needs that supporters can then address. 

  • Easier supporter recognition: Sharing impact is an effective way to say thank you to your supporters. It can be gratifying to know that the donation or time they gave to support your work had a tangible effect on the community you serve. When this information is easily available in an impact report, you can weave it into your larger supporter appreciation strategy. 

When should you create an impact report? 

While you should monitor and manage your organization's impact regularly, you'll likely create an impact report biannually or annually to share your impact story with stakeholders. 

Your organization may create additional impact reports when you reach certain milestones, like a significant organizational anniversary or the end of a large project or initiative. 

Ultimately, when you create and share an impact report is up to you and your team. Consider the best time to share impact information to enhance trust, build relationships, increase engagement, and encourage support. 

6 Steps to Creating a Stand-Out Impact Report 

The best impact reports contain valuable, accurate information that is communicated in a compelling way. Especially if it's your first time measuring and communicating your organization's impact, it can be tricky to know how to get from raw data to a well-written, ready-to-share impact report. 

Explore the following steps to get a strong start with your own impact reporting efforts: 

This image and the text below describe the steps of the impact reporting process.

1. Build an Impact Framework. 

The first step in effective impact reporting is to build out your organization's Impact Framework. This will allow you to define and measure what your organization needs to report on and monitor. 

Here's how to build your framework: 

  • Define your objectives. Your objectives are the more granular goals that will get your organization closer to accomplishing its overarching mission. As you write out your objectives, consider these dimensions of impact: 
    • Who you are serving
    • What you are delivering and how much
    • The quality of your delivery
    • How those you are serving are better off because of what you are delivering
    • Community contributions that support your organization's strategy 

  • Decide which KIIs you'll track. To monitor your progress toward accomplishing your objectives, you'll need to track key impactor indicators (KIIs). These are simply measurable values, like the number of volunteers retained, the percentage of program participants who completed a course, or beneficiary satisfaction. 

Your Impact Framework provides the structure your organization needs to collect data on its objectives and analyze its impact. It is the foundation of impact reporting, so take your time as you build out your first Framework. 

At UpMetrics, our tools make it easy for organizations like yours to build out an Impact Framework tailored to your unique needs. Here's what a full Framework looks like in our impact measurement and management platform: 

This is an example of what an Impact Framework looks like on the UpMetrics platform.

You can even get started with our Impact Framework Builder for FREE, allowing you to craft your framework with an easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface and guided process. 

Click through to get our FREE Impact Framework builder!

Looking for inspiration as you design your first framework? Check out these examples! 

Check out our Impact Framework Library for even more examples!

2. Use the DeCAL methodology to measure your impact. 

Once your framework is ready, it's time to measure and manage your organization's impact. At UpMetrics, our social sector experts recommend following the DeCAL methodology for doing this: 

This image and the text below describe the DeCAL methodology.

  • Define: Create your Impact Framework by defining your objectives and identifying the KIIs you want to track. (If you've already created your framework, you can cross this step off your list!) 

  • Collect: Gather data from your organization's existing sources (donor databases, marketing tools, etc.) and capture additional data. Then, format it so you can analyze it. 

  • Analyze: Examine the data, looking for patterns and trends that indicate changes over time. Depending on the complexity of the data you're working with, you may want to rely on impact measurement and management tools (like UpMetrics!) or partner with a data scientist who can interpret the data for you. 

  • Leverage: Put the insights you've pulled from your data into action. This is the step where you actually create your impact report and then use it to inform your decisions and strategy moving forward. 

Since you've already created your Impact Framework, now is the time that you'll jump into the Collect and Analyze stages. As you do, take into account both quantitative and qualitative data. Doing so will give you a fuller picture of the progress you've made toward your objectives. 

3. Consider your audience. 

Here is where you enter the Leverage stage of the DeCAL methodology. In other words, it's time to start building your impact report. 

Begin by reviewing what you know about the audience you want to share your impact report with. Here are a few tips for doing so: 

  • Review existing data. Go back to your organization's database and review the information you've collected about your audience over the years. Identify your audience's key demographics, interests, and communication preferences. Look at any feedback your community has provided you over the years that may inform how you create or share your impact report. 

  • Segment your audience. To fully engage different parts of your audience, you may find it useful to segment them into groups based on shared characteristics. For example, you could create donor, volunteer, and corporate partner segments. Or you might create segments based on giving level. This way, you can create different versions of your report that speak to each segment's unique needs and preferences. 

  • Consider your communication channels. On top of thinking about your audience, determine which communication channels you'll use to share your report. Use any data you've collected about your marketing efforts to identify which channels are most successful for reaching your audience and build your report around them. For instance, if you know most of your audience prefers direct mail, you may want to design an impact report brochure you can send out. 

Additionally, you may want to create an audience persona, which is essentially a fictitious person who represents your audience's typical traits. This way, as you design and write your report, you'll have a person to keep in mind who can guide the creation process and help you create a finished product that will truly resonate with your audience.

4. Design and write the report. 

Using what you know about your audience, determine what you want your finished report to look like. In other words, decide what "genre" you'll be working within to create your report. There are several options, like: 

  • Traditional written report 
  • Infographic or visual report 
  • Interactive digital report 
  • Interactive web page or microsite 
  • Social media campaign 
  • Video report 

You may also plan to include impact information in another report that you already produce on a regular basis, like your annual report. In this case, consider how your impact information can be woven into the usual details included in that report. 

Once you know what form your report will take, consider what information you want to include from your impact measurement and management work. Not all of it may be relevant to your audience, so knowing how to pick and choose the most useful insights will be essential.

Also consider any visuals you may want to include in your report, whether they'll be data visualizations from your impact management platform or pictures of your team at work. 

Next, it's time to create a draft of your report. Keep these writing best practices in mind as you do so: 

  • Start with a strong introduction that clearly explains your organization's mission and vision.
  • Prioritize transparency by briefly explaining the methodology you used for measuring your organization's progress toward its goals. 
  • Be clear and concise, avoiding technical terms or organizational jargon that may confuse readers. 
  • Use specific examples and other details that bring your main points to life for your readers. 
  • Include testimonials and quotes from beneficiaries, volunteers, staff members, and other individuals involved in your work. 
  • End with a call to action that inspires more support. 

5. Review and revise. 

Once you've drafted your report, it's time to refine it for your audience. This will require you to step into their shoes and consider what they need from your organization in order to understand the positive effects of your work and be inspired to continue supporting you. 

Start by reviewing the report internally. Then, you may want to ask a trusted stakeholder to review your draft and provide any feedback to make it stronger before sharing it. 

As you put the finishing touches on the report throughout this process, try asking yourself the following questions: 

  • Does the report effectively communicate our organization's mission, vision, and values? 
  • Does the report reflect our organization's most important achievements and high-priority needs? 
  • Is all of the information reflected in the report accurate and up-to-date? 
  • Have we effectively shared the necessary context for understanding the findings in the report? 
  • Is there a strong narrative flow in the report that helps to share our story in a compelling way? 
  • Are the visuals used in the report clear, relevant, and engaging? 
  • Is there a healthy balance between visuals and text in the report? 
  • Is the language in the report clear, concise, and simple? 
  • Is the structure of the report logical and easy to follow? 

While it will be tempting to get your report out to your community quickly, taking the time to revise it will ensure that the report supports your larger goals and connects with your audience. 

6. Share the report. 

At last, it's time to publish your impact report through the communication channels your audience prefers.

As you do, provide context as to why you're sharing this information now. For instance, you may be wrapping up a successful year of programming or getting ready to launch a new fundraising campaign. And don't forget to encourage your audience to stay involved in your work! 

Best Practices for Impact Reporting 

How you communicate your organization's impact matters, especially when it comes to encouraging involvement from your community. To make your impact report the best it can be, keep these tips in mind: 

  • Lean into storytelling. Stories made up of compelling characters, interesting conflicts, and satisfying resolutions are always engaging. Find a way to tell a story that positions your organization and its community as the key to resolving a large issue.

  • Use both quantitative and qualitative data. It may be tempting to focus on the numerical values that help quantify the positive change your organization is spurring for its beneficiaries. But qualitative data also plays an important role in telling your full impact story. Pair your quantitative insights with qualitative descriptions, experiences, and testimonials. This will help bring your data to life! 

  • Be transparent about your methodology. Remember, one of the benefits of impact reporting is strengthening trust between your organization and its community, and transparency is key to doing so. Let your audience know where you got your impact data from, how you analyzed it, and the tools you used. Also be clear that if anyone has questions about your insights, they're free to contact your organization. 

  • Focus on the good and the not-so-good. Your organization isn't perfect; it's normal to not reach every single one of your goals every time you set one. While you'll want to celebrate all the good you've done in your impact report, don't shy away from reporting on things that didn't go as planned. Follow it up with a clear statement of what you'll do the next time around to improve. 

  • Use visuals effectively. The right visuals can break up the text in your impact report and provide a different way of understanding the insights you want to share with your audience. Be discerning in how you select and position the visuals in your report, and take into account the visual look of your finished product before publishing it. 

  • Focus on what you're going to do next. An impact report is a sort of celebration of what your organization has accomplished so far in a specific period of time. Use your insights as a springboard to talk about what's in store for your organization's future, and invite your audience to get involved!

UpMetrics: Your Partner in Impact Reporting

Reporting on your organization's impact can be a daunting task, especially if you're new to impact measurement and management or your organization is working with limited resources. 

This is why many organizations choose to streamline the process by partnering with an impact measurement and management software provider like UpMetrics.

Screenshot of UpMetrics

UpMetrics offers both easy-to-use tools and expertise from a team of social sector professionals to help you:

  • Identify what you want to measure and report on
  • Gather and analyze data
  • Visualize your insights in customizable dashboards

With our platform, you'll have the information and visuals you need to build an exemplary impact report! 

Ready to get started? 

Click through to get a demo of UpMetrics and learn how to use it for impact reporting!

Examples of Great Impact Reports 

Wondering what your organization's impact report should look like? It can be helpful to draw inspiration from other organizations!

Here are a few examples of how UpMetrics clients have leveraged their organization's impact measurement insights and created engaging impact reports: 

Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC)

JARC is a nonprofit that teaches low-income adults and workers the essential skills they need to earn a living wage and overcome poverty. 

This organization created an engaging impact report visual that included key information from their UpMetrics dashboard: 

An image JARC's impact report based on information from its UpMetrics dashboard

This simple, one-page visual succinctly shares JARC's most compelling impact information, like participant demographics, program completion percentage, and participants' reported financial outcomes.  

Mentor California

Focused on growing quality youth mentoring relationships in California, Mentor California used the insights generated with UpMetrics' platform in its most recent "State of MENTORing in CA" report: 

Screenshot of Mentor California's impact report, which includes information from its UpMetric dashboard.

This is an example of a more thorough annual impact report document, which includes a foreword from the organization's executive director, an introduction to the organization, an explanation of the methodology used for organizational evaluation, and specific insights. The report is filled with engaging visuals that break up the text, and it also highlights survey and listening session responses from participants. 

National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS)

NFHS is an organization that writes the rules for most high school sports and activities and advocates for athletes and fine and performing arts participants.

Concerning their arts advocacy work, NFHS simply links to its UpMetrics dashboards on its website to showcase its impact: 

Screenshot of one of NFHS's impact measurement dashboards used for impact reporting

This is a less formal (but no less effective) form of impact reporting, as it allows stakeholders access to all the impact information available, which ensures transparency between the organization and its community. 

Wrapping Up

An impact report is an important asset for your organization, whether you're serving beneficiaries, funding nonprofits, or engaging your employees in CSR. It helps you communicate why your work matters and encourages further involvement from your stakeholders. 

Follow the steps above to create an impact report that will stand out, communicate your achievements and priorities, and let your supporters know about your needs and future goals. As you do so, you'll experience more support and strengthened relationships with those who help to fuel your mission. 

Want to keep reading? Check out these recommended resources about impact measurement and reporting: 

Click through to start your impact reporting journey with our Impact Framework Builder.


Post by UpMetrics Staff
May 24, 2024