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How To Create an Impact Report That Attracts Donations

create an impact report

How To Create an Impact Report That Attracts Donations

An impact report gives your nonprofit credibility. It shows how you’re making a difference. There are many types of these reports. Nature Conservancy, for example, has an impact report specifically for its operations in Alaska. They publish another for their work in Hawaii and Palmyra. Why do they — and countless others — take time to create an impact report?

Well, you might prepare such a report for a specific activity. For example, you could make an impact report that focuses on public awareness. Another reason could be to show your activities with specific ethnic groups. Regardless of the reason, creating an impact report is a vital aspect of increasing donations.

We’re going to look at a comprehensive type of impact report. Many nonprofits call it the Annual Report.

An annual impact report for a nonprofit is different from the annual report of a for-profit business. A profitmaking company needs to show its stakeholders that it’s making money. Profitability determines the business’ value.

But it’s different for a nonprofit. The impact on society determines its value.

Why Create an Impact Report?

Nonprofits aren’t required by law to publish an annual report. But a well-written annual impact report delivers a lot of value.

The Value To Your Organization

  • Shows how well you’re fulfilling your vision and goals.
  • Creates a springboard for setting goals for the future.
  • Celebrates your achievements.
  • Keeps the organization accountable.
  • Motivates the staff and volunteers.
  • Highlights lessons learned.

The Value To Your Benefactors

  • Builds trust.
  • Solidifies your credibility.
  • Equips them to make an informed choice.
  • Affirms that you have a cause worthy of their donations.

How An Impact Report Brings In New and Repeat Donations

Your non-profit organization does a lot of good in the world, right? So you deserve to rake in generous donations to fuel the machine. A shining impact report is a powerful tool for bringing in new and repeat donations.

We all like small-time donors. They may not have a lot of wealth, but they have big hearts. We tell them, “Every little bit helps.” And it does.

But let’s face it, wealthy people have a lot more to give. If you want a freeflow of revenues to fund your cause, you need to win over the rich.

When Beth Breeze and Theresa Lloyd wrote Richer Lives: Why Rich People Give, they built on research from 2004 to find what motivates people of high net worth to give to charity.

Do you know what they found? Rich people give because they feel good about supporting causes that make a real difference

Your impact report gives them the chance to see your cause is making a difference.

Write To Persuade

An impact report is very different from a fundraising letter. Yet, you still want to persuade donors. You’re not making a hard sale, but it’s selling nevertheless.

You’re selling your readers on an idea.

  • Your readers can make a difference.
  • They can give back to what’s important.
  • They can help ease suffering, end poverty, stamp out illiteracy, rescue the environment…

Grab Donors’ Attention With the Impact Report’s Headline

The headline will set the tone for the entire report. You want it to draw your readers in and make them truly care about what your report has to say.

Don’t try to be clever or cute.

It shouldn’t be very long. You only need a few words to give them –

  • A single strong idea
  • One alluring benefit
  • One compelling emotion

In other words, your title should have a single focus. It’s a short summary of your mission.

Here are some samples of strong impact report headlines:

You see how Girls Who Code gives us a unique vision? They’re not just teaching females the skills of a male-dominated profession. They are bringing them into a sisterhood.

Everyone knows what a giant the oil and gas industry is. Who’s gonna take them on? is fighting big oil and gas to keep it in the ground.

Covenant House isn’t just serving children in poverty. They’re making a promise and they intend to keep it.

See how the American Red Cross focuses on one idea? They’re bringing hope where there is none.

And see the single idea in NPR’s headline. A taxpayer-funded media? No, it’s the people’s media.

The Big Promise

Your non-profit exists to change the world for the better. You’ve made a pact with present and future generations. So make a big promise to your donors.

You’re showing your donors all the good you did with donation money in the past. Now make the promise that you can do even more good things with more money.

Why the World Needs You

Your nonprofit organization fills a great need. A well-crafted impact report shows prospective donors how you fill that need in a way that no one else can.

  • What is the problem?
  • Why does it matter?
  • Why is it important right now?

Take this excerpt from the American Lung Association report for example:

“Air pollution poses a serious threat to our nation’s health by harming our lungs and increasing our risk of lung disease.” 

The American Lung Association.

What is the problem? Air pollution. Why does it matter? It’s increasing the risk of lung disease. Why is it important right now? Because everybody breathes air. You’re breathing it right now.

Remember, wealthy people like to donate to causes they see making a tangible difference. Tell them how you are the unique solution.

See how the American Lung Association sets itself apart as the solution:

“The American Lung Association is the premier resource for any lung-related question from the common flu to lung cancer, pneumonia to smoking cessation help.”

They aren’t just any means of support. They are the premier resource.

Show the Proof

When people donate to a cause, they do so for emotional reasons. That’s why you want your impact report to really tug at the heartstrings.

But once their hearts are won over, they need logic to satisfy an emotional decision. Here’s where you bring in the statistics.

Numbers give your donors the rational support they need to justify their decision.

See how Reading Is Fundamental does it:

  • 10.2M Children Reached and Impacted
  • 1,145,587 Books and Literacy Resources Provided
  • 113,888 Literacy Advocates
  • 8,057 RIF Communities Across the U.S.

Notice how they give specific numbers. They’re not saying, “Look, we’ve reached a lot of children.” They don’t tell you, “We’ve given out a ton of reading resources.” 

Vague numbers are emotional. Specific numbers are rational. That’s why they work better when you’re showing the proof.

Be Human

Your charitable work benefits real people. You want potential donors to see that their dollars connect them to real people.

Tell the Story

Everybody loves a good story. From children’s stories to classic novels to comic books and movies, stories are the most human way to communicate.

Stories are memorable. Your readers may read the facts, figures, and statistics. Chances are they won’t remember them. But a good story – that’s what’ll have them thinking about your cause.

Stories make a connection. When people are drawn in by a well-told story, they develop an emotional bond with the storyteller. The emotional bond creates a sense of loyalty. That’s why people have favorite authors. With good stories, you create loyal donors.

Stories engage all the senses. A good story makes people experience events as if they were there. 

Guide them through the struggles of a teen boy who used to look at a book and just see a jumble of squiggles on the pages. Take them on the journey of learning to read. Share with them the triumph of graduating from college with honors.

A good story makes them part of the experience.

But you’re not giving them made-up stories. You’re giving them stories about real people and real events. You’re putting readers into the scene where your non-profit is making a difference. They begin to see themselves making a difference too.

The best part is, your donors play the hero.

Personal Stories

Tell the tale of your non-profit’s impact through the eyes of one individual. It could be a volunteer, someone who’s benefitting from your cause, or even a casual observer. It could be the parent or a spouse of someone who’s doing charitable work in your organization.

Personal stories are heartwarming. Take, for instance, the story of the Anderson family and how Ronald McDonald House helped with their child, Manning. The nearest care facility that could treat Manning was in Toronto. It was a long way from their home in Peterborough, Ontario.

Ronald McDonald House provided a place where the family could be near Manning during treatment. Manning’s father, Jeff Anderson testifies, “[T]he hospital saved our son, but Ronald McDonald House saved our family.”

Success Stories

Let your donors share in your victories. Have them travel with you on the path to success. Like the Save the Children does with Estrella’s story.

Estrella was living in a single-parent impoverished family in rural Kentucky. She had low reading scores and was often disruptive in class.

Then she began attending Save the Children after school programs. There she had access to lots of books and reading materials, which are often not available to children in poor households.

She learned to love reading. Now taking tests in school is easy for her.

Your donors remember success stories. When they fork over the money, they’ll have the satisfaction of knowing it’s going to a successful venture.

Stories From The Frontlines

What’s it like to work as a volunteer for your non-profit? Let the people in the trenches tell their stories. Give your donors a peek into the lives of your volunteers and staff. 

They’ll feel as if they know these people. They’ll come to like them, and donors love to help people they like.

Case Study

A case study is a before and after story. It tells how your charity’s efforts brought a positive change.

What was the problem? How did your non-profit address the problem? What was the outcome?

The quarterly impact report for Feeding America has a case study for Brittany, a wife and mother of 2 boys. She and her husband both work, but their household income is at poverty level.

Sometimes they have to make tough choices when funds are tight. One winter, they turned off the central heat in their home on a cold night. They huddled the family in one room with a space heater.

She sometimes faced the choice of whether to buy food or medicine for her sons.

After she got help from a Feeding America mobile food pantry, she and her husband didn’t have to stretch every dollar until the next paycheck.


Testimonials provide social proof. People your work has impacted tell the story from their point of view.

This Habitat for Humanity testimonial comes from Collette. Her home in Texas had a leaking roof because of damage from Hurricane Harvey. She went to Habitat for help.

“When I think about Habitat, this song, ‘What Would I Do Without You’ comes into my head. What would I do without Habitat?”

A good testimonial provides a push for donations without being pushy.

Letter From Leadership

A letter from a Chairman, Pastor, CEO, or other leadership gives authority to your impact report. It’s the sign that the report is important. 

Don’t make it sound like corporate-speak. It should be a letter addressing donors as friends. It should give the reader a snapshot of the challenges and triumphs over the previous year.

The Leadership letter is a good place to mention any historic milestones.

The 2018 annual report from the Special Olympics has a letter from Chairman Timothy Shriver and CEO Mary Davis where they tell about the charity’s 50th Anniversary games. They held the celebration in Chicago, IL – the location of the first Special Olympics games in 1968.

The Financials

While this may seem like the most boring part of the report, it satisfies the donor’s need for proof. This is where you demonstrate that you are a stable organization and that you use donation money wisely.

When you reveal your financial statements, you’re telling donors that you value transparency. This helps you build trust.

Here are some of the financial statements you’ll need to include in your report:

  • Revenues.
  • Donations
  • Investment income
  • Government grants and contracts
  • Other revenue sources
  • Expenses
  • Mission program services
  • Mission support
  • Managerial and general
  • Fundraising expenses
  • Administrative and other expenses

You may want to show donors more detail about where the money comes from and where it’s going. For example, the American Cancer Society backs up financial statements with a breakdown of revenue sources:

Public Financial Support

  • 24% – $172 million. Relay for life (including corporate sponsorships).
  • 20% – $149 million. Planned gifts (legacies and bequests).
  • 11% – $178 million. Other community-based events (including corporate sponsorships).
  • 11% – $77 million. Direct response (direct mail, telemarketing, online)


…also the breakdown of expenses:

How Your Financial Support Impacts Our Mission

  • 36% – $269.2 million. Patient support.
  • 19% – $147.9 million. Cancer research.
  • 14% – $104.2 million. Prevention, information, and education.

…and so on.

How you present it is up to you. There are no rules. But make sure the numbers you give them are accurate and relevant.

Make It Visual

Your impact report should be visually appealing and interactive. In fact, a top-notch impact report is virtually a big infographic.

Here are some visual elements to add appeal to your report:

Pie Charts. They can be the traditional round charts with wedges or more novel charts.

Take, for instance, The American Heart Association’s report:

The Impact Of Your Dollar. You see an image of a dollar bill with color-coded stripes. The stripes are varying widths, and have a number and % sign. Below, you can see circles with the number percentages. They act as bullet markers for the text.

  • 33% (in a blue circle) Public Health Education.
  • 22% (in a purple circle) Research.
  • 19% (in a green circle) Professional Education and Training.
  • 11% (red) Fundraising, 8% (orange) Management and General, 7% (yellow-orange) Community Service.

Maps. Show your prospective donors where you operate and where you’re making a difference. Your maps can show:

  • Where your offices are and the areas you serve. The American Heart Association’s report, for example, has a map of the United States with shaded areas showing the regions their offices serve. Several “pins” on the map show the locations of their offices throughout the country.
  • How you’re impacting a particular location.

Timeline charts. Demonstrate how your presence in certain places makes things better. You can also show how things are getting worse in places without your influence.

Photos. Donors like to see their money in action. That’s why your report needs action shots:

  • Volunteers and staff in working the front lines.
  • People that you serve.
  • Before and after shots.
  • Images of smiling families, obviously happy because of your non-profit’s impact.

Getting Your Impact Report Found On the Web

Most nonprofits publish their impact reports online in PDF format. But if you publish an HTML version, you have the advantage of being able to optimize the report for online searches.

Donors are searching for you. Search engine optimization (SEO) lets them find you. It involves matching your text with the words they’re using to search for you.

If you publish an HTML version, be sure you use images and graphics that load quickly. Have you ever been reading something on a web page and the text suddenly jumps out of your view? That’s because a graphic above the paragraph loaded while you were reading.

You probably had to scroll to find the place you were reading. Then when you found it, another image loads and the text jumps again.

Most people will give up on reading at that point. That leads to “reader bounce.” That means the reader hits the back button or closes the window after a short time on the page.

That hurts SEO. Search engine leaders Google and Bing look for sites that best fit what the web surfer is looking for. Their search algorithms look at how much time searchers stay on a web page when they link from search results.

Reader bounce tells the search engine that the page isn’t what the surfer’s looking for. The page then moves lower on the search rankings.

You want your donors to give, not give up.

Thank Your Benefactors

It’s essential that you give a shout out to corporate and individual sponsors. Reserve a section for acknowledging those whose generous donations helped make the good things you’ve done possible.

Do you have celebrity donors? They have a lot of influence. The Alzheimer’s Association annual report has six pages dedicated to acknowledging celebrity donors.

This is a good place to thank those sponsors who donated their products and services to your cause.

For example, Ronald McDonald House shows appreciation for gifts from their corporate partners.

  • Coca Cola donated product and support for fundraisers valued at over $3.5 million.
  • Lazy Boy donated over 500 pieces of furniture for Ronald McDonald Houses and Family Rooms.
  • Southwest Airlines provided travel vouchers and Rapid Rewards points.
  • Thirty-One Gifts gave welcome bags for families staying at Ronald McDonald Houses.

Call To Action

The call to action doesn’t have to be pushy. Simply ask them for the donation. But be sure to ask.

Most of your donors will see an online version of your impact report. It’s easy to place a “Donate Now” link. Don’t put donation links on every page. That’s okay in a fundraising letter, but an impact report is a much softer kind of selling.

Place the call to action link in a header. That way it’s always in front of the reader, but not screaming at them. You can have another after the report’s conclusion.

The Special Olympics keeps the call to action on a sidebar. In the column on the left, you see a list of links to different sections of the report and “Donate Now” at the bottom.

Final Thoughts on Creating an Impact Report

Your annual impact report should appeal to both the head and the heart. It’s not just about facts and figures. It’s a way to make a human connection with donors. But most of all, it’s a tool for fundraising. Although you aren’t making a hard sale as you do in a fundraising letter, you should prepare it with the intent of persuading the reader to donate.

Creating an impact report, though, is only one part of the process. Using the DonorWerx Framework, you can excel at all the other parts as well. Schedule a Discovery Call with us today. We’ll provide tips — free of charge — that can grow your donations 10% in just six months.

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