Skip to content


Design effective social and environmental impact reports
Download Report


Impact reporting is an article of an organization's accurate demonstration of the impact of an investment or program. It is a manifesto of their theory of action that describes the current state of impact designed based on impact dimensions.  Accurate dedication of the current state (baseline) allows them to accurately communicate future impact goals aligned with internal impact themes.

Gone are the days' nonprofits or CSR would collect pictures of poverty-stricken children and report how many meals were provided.  In fact, we invite more journalism platforms or impact practitioners to call out such as greenwashing, impact washing, or SDG washing.



Social Impact Reporting is a communication strategy used to convey the change created by an organization or activity and how it was made. An impact report is not just a description of the stakeholder activities affecting the change because it also should include analysis about how much difference happened.

Sharing your organization’s impact with stakeholders is not a linear process. It is more than sharing inputs and outputs. The method of collecting, analyzing, and reporting information to internal and external stakeholders is critical to keep your organization on track to deliver impact. Communicating and learning from your data is as important as your organization’s frontline work. 

What makes an impact report effective? 

Effective impact reporting is a cyclical process that involves many stakeholders. Uniting the Impact Ecosystem: A Call for End-to-End Impact Management describes the entire impact ecosystem of players:  Asset Owners, Asset Managers, and Assets.

An impact report should communicate results that flow from the beneficiary's voice to the asset (the nonprofit or for-profit social enterprise, for example). It should also be accessible to asset managers and owners (think funders, like investors).

An effective impact report involves a step-by-step systems approach. And it is cyclical! 


impact report design

Diagram credit: Effective Reporting Framework from Sustainability Reporting to Improve Organizational Performance


An effective report does the following:

  • It makes the beneficiary's voice heard.
  • It goes beyond outputs and describes outcomes (e.g., Between Time A and Time B, there was X% of change)
  • Uses known impact frameworks (e.g., the Sustainable Development Goals) or combines them with customized frameworks
  • Describes how results were obtained (surveys, analyses used, etc.)
  • Is transparent about any negative impacts generated and/or areas of improvement
  • Is strategically designed for its intended audience.

Stakeholder, Stakeholder, Stakeholder

Often asset managers aggregate governance or activity/output.  This is wrong!  If organizations do not involve stakeholder outcomes, it is not an impact report. Period!

Lean Data Feedback System

Enterprises frequently collect feedback data in various forms depending on the relationship with their beneficiary. Data from rural beneficiaries come from simple offline tools and paper.

Factory worker feedback data comes from SMS or survey apps. Larger organizations may use online data management systems such as Salesforce, a custom solution, or a proprietary application.

These methods can create data islands of Excel / Google Spreadsheets, which cannot be easily reconciled and may lose integrity. More importantly, most enterprises cannot use data insights to decide their product or service feedback.

Impact Cloud provides a data warehouse solution. While data warehouse may sound like a complicated IT solution, unlike enterprise/corporate data warehouse, this platform is designed not to have to be super tech-savvy to use it.

what is impact reporting

The project manager's innovative importing process enables offline aggregation and SMS and online data both in non-real-time and real-time. The best part of this approach is to empower assets (non-profits, social enterprises) to receive faster feedback.



Another feature, Project Insight, uses advanced technology to find results from a beneficiary using qualitative and quantitative data analysis. It's a "Lean Data" approach that could potentially save organizations considerable time and investment.

Common language

How can we speak uniform impact language from a beneficiary to the asset owners? To start, we have to align Outcomes & Metrics between the Asset Owner/Manager & Asset. 

When all the organizations use the same system, metrics, and outcomes, setting up the system is even more comfortable because the Asset Manager and Asset can quickly provide different access levels for a story, result, and beneficiary data.

Once metrics are shared with the Asset, they can use simple formulas to calculate results year after year or for a specific reporting period. 


Reporting Alignment

While funders (Asset Owners) must define their impact theses and impact frameworks (or Logical Frameworks), the real test remains in the alignment of similar core metrics between their investees while also co-creating valuable social impact stories based on relevant outcomes and beneficiary insights.

The impact report for Asset Owners and Asset Managers must align with the original impact thesis. Faster and real-time data flow between different ecosystem players forces better financial and social accountability downwards and creates a better trust between other players. 

Read More: Case study: Transforming Families with Affordable Housing



  • Five dimensions of impact based reporting which allows holistic reporting and better storytelling
  • Impact strategy is a long term and iterative process. An organization should clearly describe start small but measurable approaches and improve the process until they get a holistic impact of funding.
  • Document future state impact strategy, including targets and progress towards both positive and negative impact. 
  • Impact reports are not about gloating. Readers will reward you for transparent results, learning from the stakeholders, and concrete steps to mitigate negative impact or progress towards targets.


Several underlying qualities make a good impact on reporting. Using these qualities to guide creating an impact report will ensure that the story serves its function and lends credibility to the activities being carried out to change.

a. Balance

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.

b. Inclusive perspectives

When thinking about your organizational performance and impact, it is critical that you capture your beneficiaries' perspective.

Don’t just assume, ASK. -- For frankness and transparency, this can be through direct anonymous reporting, an electronic survey, or 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.

c. Credible

Impact communication is credible or believable to stakeholders when they are consistent, representative, and error-free. Your organization does not operate in a vacuum. Ensure 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.

d. 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 is consistent with dropping rates of HIV or malaria? Were changes in educational outcomes result from a state policy change? Was micro-lending affected by low international interest rates?

e. 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 guide 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 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 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.

f. Comparable

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.

g. 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.


Find out how to design effective impact report


The ideal impact report takes the reader (i.e. stakeholder) through the processes used to achieve the impact. This includes detailing things like an investment thesis, impact thesis, which metrics frameworks were used (e.g. Sustainable Development Goals, IRIS, etc.), the outcomes achieved, and the path forward.

impact report example


In more general terms here are three key areas fundamental to every impact report:

  • 01 Executive Summary
  • 02 Impact Strategy and Goals
  • 03 Data Visualization
The Executive Summary is perhaps the most critical section of the impact report. It should be written by your organization's leadership after you are confident of the impact story you want to tell. The summary should have a specific audience in mind and highlight part of your performance that matters most to them. It should attest that organization's leadership is standing by the information reported.

Whether you are reporting on the overall work of your organization, a portfolio of investment, the effectiveness of a single initiative program, or social return on investment or funding, you should be guided by a strategy.

Don’t make your stakeholders guess what that is, tell them! The impact goals you aim to meet along the way to achieving your vision can be expressed as outcomes or based on indicators.

Outcome: What are the big issues that you are trying to move the needle on? These should clearly align with your mission and project goals. Additionally, you may choose to align with sectoral or global goals such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Indicators: What performance gauges are on your dashboard to show how you’re tracking? Whether or not you publish them for external stakeholders, we recommend monitoring key social, financial and operational indicators throughout the year to ensure that you’re staying on track. Select perhaps five key indicators with three years of data to understand how much they typically vary.


Data visualization helps users analyze information by making complex data more accessible, understandable and usable. Think carefully about what you are trying to say with your data—what are they evidence of?— and choose an appropriate chart or graphic to show that.

Best Practices

Data Visualization in Impact Reports

Communicating impact shouldn't be paragraph after paragraph of text. Images often speak more powerfully, especially to specific stakeholders. Visualizing your data and your analyses' results can allow those insights to be more easily digested without losing their credibility or strength. With that said, keep in mind the following tips.

Things to watch out for when presenting data in charts and tables:

  • Large ‘other’ category
  • Bar charts that do not start at 0 on the y-axis
  • Confusing correlation with causation
  • Improper use of averages--do you want a mean or a median?
  • Abuse of pie charts: too many items, too much detail, confusing colors, similar slices
  • Too much color; visual clutter

data visualization for impact reporting data visualization and presentation data visualization for impact reporting

01. Nonprofit Impact Reporting

Non-profits often start their impact goals based on TOC or logic model-based approach. The following table is a good starting point based on your target sub-sector.
While there is no hard requirement for nonprofit reporting, nonprofits should undoubtedly work hard to build evidence-based reporting. Nonprofits should develop the theory of change or logic model.  Their data collection and reporting should certainly align towards an outcome (and not output/activities).  For high-impact nonprofits, we even recommend moving towards five dimensions of impact from the Impact Management Project.
 impact report design
INGO or International Development


International Development agencies are often funded through a combination of UN-based agencies, or country-specific agencies such as USAID, DFID, or large foundations. While there is no clear impact framework, there is a results framework and reporting framework (IATI). These frameworks should not be equated with impact goals, but these are the closest approach.
impact report design
Asset Manager or Asset Owners


Impact Investors should focus on Impact Management project is developing a consensus-based five dimensions help us all to understand our effects on people and the planet.
 impact report design


Read More: Impact Investments Measurement Best Practices

CSR or Corporate Reporting


Aligning reporting with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) methodologies can be made more efficient by using Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards to guide the process.

When stakeholders are primarily in the corporate sector you'll have a greater need to align standards to a CSR or Sustainability focus. Case studies also provided by the GRI will be essential as foundational learning before creating CSR-aligned impact reports for the first time. 

There are a number of CSR certifications that may be useful for your organization and can help create a further structure to the impact reporting process. One of the most well-established is the SA8000 Certification put forth originally by Social Accountability International. Other CSR accountability standards include the ISO 26000 Evaluation and those included in services provided by established organizations like Bureau Veritas.


Examples and Resources


Still, wondering how to build impactful reports? Look & Learn from  the following impact reporting example.

Demonstrating outcomes in education improvement for student beneficiaries, the Dream a Dream project.

Follow the link above to learn how the Dream a Dream project used various data collection and analysis tools to acquire in-depth outcome data for its impact reporting.


To execute a similar process, the SoPact Impact Cloud - Impact Maker could be used to do so efficiently and without the need for extensive training. The following steps are all executable using Impact Maker (Dream a Dream is an independent project which used their own implementation process.)

  • Create an in-depth strategy for output & outcome indicators 
  • Create data strategy
  • Survey design with the baseline and unlimited measurement points
  • Scorecard design for student/beneficiary outcome 
  • Cohort improvement
  • Stakeholder Insight and Reporting
Final Report 

Dream a Dream Website 



Read More: 5 Learnings from the Family Foundations Impact Investing


  • Information is beautiful: The art of data visualization
  • Gapminder:  Swedish 'fact tank'
  • Our world in data: Online data visualization portal
  • Biteable: Animated video maker
  • Animiz: Animated video presentation software
  • Rawshorts: Make an awesome explainer video
  • Pletica: Helping people visualize & connect information so they can get on the same page
  • Venngage: Infographics to help create a data narrative
  • Piktochart: A simple, intuitive tool that helps you tell your story
  • Visme: Presentations, infographics and other visual tools to communicate your story
  • Infogram: Create engaging infographics and reports


Impact reporting is a powerful way of demonstrating social and environmental impact.  The purpose of the impact report is to share impact reporting lessons, targets, and processes to improve results transparently to outside stakeholders.