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Forgetting Your Donors is Dangerous!

Updated: May 17




 

In the past month, I’ve repeatedly been reminded to inform donors about organizational accomplishments.   And that there are consequences for not doing so.

I work with many successful nonprofits that have gone from grassroots to impressive growth quickly. Their original mission became a vision, then plans and goals, and finally, reality.  They have gone from “We must launch a new program” to “We have a program serving 50 children.” Or from ”Our dream is a new facility” to “Our facility is completed!"


So, what’s the underlying challenge?

As organizations grow, they must tell their donors what they have accomplished, not merely with pretty words and pictures but also using solid facts, figures, and well-presented graphics. However, organizations often take their success - and donors - for granted.


I’ve long warned my clients to get ahead of the curve. If your donors and grantors are probing you for data and information, there’s a reason—probably not a good one. And if they aren’t asking you, it may be even worse.  


There is only one way to win

Last week, one of my clients received an alarming letter from a foundation that had funded them for years. As required, the grantor had been sent a two-page grant report describing how their $50,000 grant had been used.  But that’s all they had received – a bunch of words and a few sparse numbers describing what had been done with the grant itself. 


When I saw it, I could not help but groan. The organization had been busy all year, so much so they gave little time to stewardship. So, they failed to produce an impact report on the organization itself!  In response, the grantor sent a polite but stern letter saying, “We would like to hear more about your progress; please send us a more detailed report.  Muy malo.


I hate saying, “I told you so,” but you can’t take your donors for granted. You must tell them what you’ve been doing, and tell them again, and then tell them again! We live in a time of maximum skepticism. Organizations must provide regular evidence that a donor’s support—their investment in your cause—is worth making.



 

What is An Impact Report


A donor impact report is a document created by a nonprofit organization to communicate the outcomes and impact of donor contributions.

The report usually covers a period of six months to a year. These reports allow organizations to express gratitude to their supporters for their generosity and demonstrate the importance of their contributions in the present.


In ancient times, these were considered annual reports- beautifully produced, lengthy, and expensive. But in today’s age of social media and emails, people absorb bite-sized chunks. Forget annual reports, which (apologies to some) are typically produced by big organizations with hefty communication budgets.


These reports typically include information such as:

  • Financial Summary: Details on how funds were utilized, including expense breakdowns and allocations to different projects.

  • Program Achievements: Recent accomplishments achieved due to donor support, such as the number of people served, communities impacted, or goals achieved.

  • Stories and Testimonials: Personal testimonials from individuals who have benefited from the organization's work.

  • Visuals: Graphs, charts, photos, and other visual aids to illustrate key points and make the report more engaging.

  • Future Plans: Teasers about goals and strategies, including how continued donor support will be utilized to further the mission.

 

Six Tips and an Extra


Here are six tips that have worked for me in preparing Impact Reports over the years. 

Show Me the Numbers: I recently worked with a terrific organization that would describe their accomplishments without any real measures. “We take sick children to medical care every day, then take them back home”. Excellent, but how many children, how often, how many medical vans, what do they cost to run, and how many employees are dedicated to this task?” This was the tip of the iceberg – they had at least a dozen incredible accomplishments to report.  We fixed it.


Prioritize: I just received a beautiful emailed impact report from a young organization. It was chock full of significant accomplishments, emotional pictures, and details. Someone on the board will say they read every word, but unfortunately, most people won't. If you try to sell everything, you sell nothing. The average adult attention span in 2024 is 8.25 seconds. So 8 seconds; if you don’t grab them quickly, you won’t grab them at all.

Scheduling: Twice a year is best. You want your supporters to review the latest and greatest rather than treat your Impact Report as one more boring piece of communication. Then, could you keep this report and attach it to every grant update and essential communication to your donors?   Please put it on your website, front and center.  Use it!

Stories Sell Facts: Include a touching story. And here’s a secret—one story is better than two! Read this lost dog story if you don’t believe me: Little Dog Lost. This isn’t about volume; it’s about impact!

Professional Design: This report should have an attractive look and feel. Hire a professional to create it. If you can only do Canva and the like, do your best. But I will argue there’s a big difference between a talented insider and a professional who designs for a living. 

Printing versus Emailing:  Emailing an older audience may work or may not. Let’s face it: young or old, everyone misses or ignores emails. A printed piece will stand out while emails come and go.  Doing both is best.

A Special Tip: Create an Instagram-style Video Impact Report highlighting and connecting accomplishments. It should be two minutes or shorter. Could you attach it to every emailed report? It works wonders!


 



 

Too Busy to Measure?


Overall, impact reports play a crucial role in maintaining solid relationships with donors, ensuring transparency and accountability, and, ultimately, advancing the mission. They are often the most critical communications piece a supporter will ever read. 

I always hear this complaint: We are too busy to measure and implement processes to gather the facts!   But you can’t be credible, transparent, and impactful if you don't commit resources to measuring.  Sorry, I don't buy it.  Start by identifying the most motivating and vital things you do, then commit to measuring. 


It’s just not optional any more!


I’d love to hear and share your stories about impact and challenges faced, and answer your questions!  Write me at roland@cp-impact.com or set up a call!

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