There are a number of underlying qualities which make for good impact reporting. Using these qualities to guide the creation of an impact report will ensure that the report serves its function and lends credibility to the activities being carried out to create change.
It can be tempting to focus exclusively on the good news. Don’t. Think broadly to give a balanced picture of your organization's performance. Consider shorter- and longer-term horizons, governance, emerging issues and opportunities, and multiple points of view.
2. Inclusive perspectives
When thinking about your organizational performance and impact, it is critical that you capture the perspective of your beneficiaries. Don’t just assume, ASK. For frankness and transparency, this can be through direct anonymous reporting, by electronic survey or on your website. Some simple approaches to capturing these include net promoter score (NPS) or progress out of poverty (Poverty Probability Index). Consider including the images, words, and stories of your beneficiaries in your external publications.
Impact communication is credible, or believable to stakeholders, when they are consistent, representative, and error-free. Your organization does not operate in a vacuum. Make sure that you have done your research and explained why each aspect of your change-making process was done a certain way, from Input data and Compilation Processes, to Information Outputs, and Engagement Processes.
4. Triangulate with other data
Impact information is more credible to stakeholders when it is consistent with data from other sources. Where appropriate, and especially if your findings are surprising, use external data for context. Maybe the improvement in health outcomes are consistent with dropping rates of HIV or malaria? Were changes in educational outcomes result of a state policy change? Was micro-lending affected by low international interest rates?
5. Reporting Framework
One easy way to help ensure that your reporting is credible, balanced and comparable is to use an established reporting framework. A lot of thinking and stakeholder engagement has gone into creating these frameworks, which variously provide guidance on principles, subject matter, quality standards, and other measures to which you can align.
As with adopting or aligning to standard metrics, using a respected and familiar framework can be an easy way to establish a shared frame of reference with your stakeholders. It also enables your impact performance to be easily understood and compared by stakeholders with a top-down or comparative perspective.
The Sustainable development goals (SDG) are increasingly baked into prominent reporting frameworks, ensuring SDG alignment. For a primer on SDG-based reporting, please read “Aligning Impact Reporting to the Sustainable Development Goals”. The SDG Indicator Wizard (pictured) is also a good place to start in order to begin to align with the SDGs.
It is also worth keeping in mind that frameworks are designed with various purposes in mind, and just because a framework is ‘good’ doesn’t mean that it’s a good framework for telling your impact story. Reporting frameworks can be optimized for many things:
- Purpose can be screening, monitoring, reporting, or evaluation
- Time perspective can be prospective, ongoing, or retrospective
- Orientation can focus on input, output, or outcome
- Timeframes can be a short, medium, or long-term
- Beneficiary focus can be micro (individual), meso (corporation), macro (society)
- General approach can evaluate processes, evaluate impact, or attempt to express your impact in monetary value (SROI)
In recent years, frameworks that have been primarily developed with for-profit companies in mind are used for the social sector. GRI is the dominant corporate reporting framework for environmental and social issues.
Similarly, the London Benchmarking Group recently rolled out LBG for Community, a simple input, output, impact framework for non-profits to use in reporting back to their corporate partners. It includes a set of guiding principles for practitioners across non-profit and corporate sectors responsible for negotiating impact measurement, reporting, and partnerships.
Comparable impact information is provided in sufficient detail and in a format that enables users to match it to similar information across different organizations in an industry, and between years for the same organization. Comparability allows users to make decisions about the organization and choose between alternatives.
Make your impact information easy to find for your stakeholders. For example, if they want to know how many respondents participated in a survey and how were they contacted, they should be able to find out. Good metadata also improves the credibility of your impact communication, because you are supplying stakeholders with sufficient information to make a critical assessment of the quality and representativeness of your impact information.
7. Integrated with strategy
Impact information is integrated with strategy when it clearly ties impact goals to organizational goals. If your impact data collection has been driven by your vision, mission, and theory of change, it is hard for your impact communication to be anything other than integrated with strategy.
If you are starting impact measurement and reporting for an existing organization, your impact communication should reflect the organization’s larger strategy, and track progress toward the strategy. Organizational strategy drives choices about what data to collect and how to present information. The findings of your impact measurement informs and influences the strategic management of the overall organization.