How often have you created a report? For your board maybe, or for a donor? And how many times have you enjoyed this task? One of the reasons why many nonprofits find reporting so tedious is because it is not always clear what the point is for themselves. And many nonprofit staff are not clear on what is a good report?

First things first: why

The first question to reflect on is: who will be the user of the report and what is the report aiming to achieve with that user? Duh. You may think: I need to write this progress report for the donor, because it is part of the grant agreement.

That may be so.

But it can still be helpful to be clear on what it is requested for.

The donor wants to know how the project is doing.

Maybe because the donor wants to feel part of it. And to feel part of it, you need to know what is happening and how it’s going.

If you are aware of this, you can make sure the report contains information – and is written in a style – that will help the donor feel part of events.

So, identify the why (or maybe the different whys). And then make a list of elements that could be helpful in meeting these whys. What information will be helpful? And what style could you apply? How can the structure and design support the aim?

Next step – requirements

Now that you have a clear focus for the report (that is also more motivating than I-have-to-do-this), you can get started.

The next step is, to check if the donor has a format or template for the report they want. Or any other instructions that can guide you in knowing what chapters and sub-chapters they are interested in.

Be sure to always use and follow the format and requirements, if there are any.



What if there is no format?

It does not happen a lot, but there are donors who do not have a format to follow. In that case, you are free to report as you like. Keep in mind that it is helpful for a donor to be able to compare the plan in the proposal with what is actually happening. So use a similar structure and use the same terms in your report.

It is also possible that a donor has a format for an annual report, and that you want to keep them updated in the interim. In that case, the structure of your updates can be very different from that of a formal report. You might consider using a newsletter approach or similar for instance.

OK, let’s write a good report then

When writing your report, try to keep in mind the reader at all times. Are the words you use easy to understand for them or are they specialist lingo? Are they familiar with the abbreviations you use? Do they know the area you are working in, and can they understand all your geographic references?

Never forget that visuals can be powerful in sharing information, too. It is not true that a serious, professional report cannot contain pictures, graphics, maps, drawings, cartoons and the like.

When you think you’re done

Make sure you have time to leave your draft version lying for a day – and then to read it with fresh eyes and make adjustments as needed. Or ask a team member to read your report critically, to make sure it is understandable for someone who was not there during the activities. Ask them to mark any part that is even slightly unclear to them, and any part where they might lose focus or get bored. If they find such paragraphs, this is so super-helpful to you! (And to them, when they are writing their next report!).

So what is a good report?

A good report serves its purpose. It makes the reader feel happy, energetic, eager to start or continue doing something with whatever it is you report on.

My key tips

  • A report is supposed to give an impression of the impact achieved so far. So keep the description of what was done as concise as possible, to leave space for an analysis of the outputs and results, including stories and quotes.
  • A good report is not necessarily long, dry and text only. REALLY!
  • Plan for extra time at the start of your report writing to get clear on the why. And include extra time at the end for a review.
  • Each report is a starting point for new possibilities – or it may close the door to those if it disappoints.

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