When we talk about reporting, especially annual reporting, often it seems to be about all sorts of easily measurable things. Like statistics, numbers, facts, and activities. It seems to be more about what we did than about the impact we’ve generated with our nonprofit. Interesting stuff, surely. But numbers and statistics are usually not what we dreamed about when we created or joined a nonprofit. When fantasising about nonprofit work, we focus on the good we can do. The impact we want to achieve in the world. So how can you show impact in your nonprofit annual report?

Impact is about change …

Impact is about the change your work has made possible or even created. And yes, change can be visible in numbers. For instance, if you’ve managed to decrease air pollution you can easily show that with numbers and graphs. And it’s certainly great if you are able to have clean air and if you can show that.

… in the lives of the people you serve with your nonprofit

But the impact of that is, what happened in the lives of the people in that area. Or if you’re serving a cause, the impact could be what does it mean for the plants and animals in that location? (And maybe that has an impact on the lives of people, too).

That picture is sometimes hard to catch in numbers.

Impact is hard to catch – time

An important challenge in sharing impact is that it’s usually visible only after some time. Many nonprofit projects have a timeline of two or three years, if we’re lucky to get grants for such a period. And that may be too short a time to see and show clear impact.



Impact is hard to catch – attribution

Because impact happens over time, it is also hard to prove that the impact you see is actually caused by your work and only your work. Imagine your own life. A great many changes may have happened in it. And it may not be easy to say very assuredly that one change was caused by one intervention only. In fact, changes may come about because of a series of events that act consistently.

Impact is hard to catch – proof

As impact has many different aspects, it can also be very challenging to collect real proof, like scientific proof, that it exists and that it can be attributed to your project or work. As nonprofits we cannot hire a whole team of scientists to work on this for a number of years.

So … no impact then?

All of this means that we need to think very carefully how we can show the impact we’re creating. What can we share that will showcase our impact? How can we do that in a way that’s meaningful, relevant, and feasible for us. Storytelling is a very powerful tool we can use, combined with great interviews using an approach like Most Significant Change for instance. This way we can share impact stories as told by the people whose lives are affected by our work. Highlighting exactly what’s so important for them about this.

This is not necessarily cheap, because you’ll need to invest time in this. Maybe you’ll even need to invest in training on storytelling, Most Significant Change or another approach you pick. But it’s very doable if you plan it cleverly. And it will get you the most powerful testimonials for the importance of your work, ready to use in your annual report!

How I can help

I can help you with:

Check out my video Impact reporting for nonprofits hype or good practice

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