If someone asked you what your charity does, I’m certain you would be able to give them a great answer. But would you be as confident reeling off what your charity has achieved?
Many charities have an ‘achievements’ page on their website for this purpose. It’s important for credibility – knowing what you’ve done in the past will increase supporters’ trust that you’ll spend their money wisely in the future. They’re a useful internal resource for staff too.
But putting together an achievements page is not as simple as it might first seem. The danger is that it comes across like a history textbook which puts off people from reading it – leaving them none the wiser about the important things you’ve done.
I’ve had a look at the websites of a bunch of medical research charities, looking for how they present their major achievements. During this process, I’ve identified four challenges that need to be overcome when gathering and presenting successes (whether that’s on a website or in print):
- How to choose what to talk about
- How to organise it
- How to present it to make it appealing
- How to make it about the future (as well as the past)
Let’s have a look at how different charities have overcome each of these challenges.
You have stacks of stuff to choose from, but clearly, you can’t possibly talk about everything your charity has done. But how do you decide what to include and, by definition, what not to include?
The obvious answer is to pick the achievements with the biggest impact – in the past, or in the future. You get to decide what exactly that means for your organisation. This could be the direct impact for your charity’s ‘beneficiaries’. It could also be anything which indirectly benefits those people – for example, fostering research collaborations or bringing together policymakers to focus on a particular issue.
You should also consider how you’re going to organise your achievements – more on that in the next section, but for a quick obvious example: if you want to share your achievements across the different strands of your charitable work, then you’ll need at least one achievement per strand.
- Versus Arthritis have focused on six stories which illustrate the breadth of their work, and the real impact they had for people living with arthritis.
- Prostate Cancer UK have a taken a similar approach and focussed on five examples of their impact for men.
- Asthma UK have trimmed it down to three success stories.
- Alzheimer’s Society have opted for a nice and simple ‘top ten’ achievements. Having a ‘top ten’ list automatically makes you want to read all ten of them (think of those ‘listicles’ from Buzzfeed and the like).
The next challenge is about organising your achievements, so that the story doesn’t come across like a ramble with an elderly relative about what they did during The War. Different charities have used different approaches.
Timelines are a classic way of presenting what an organisation has achieved. Particularly for charities with a long history, it also gives a chance to demonstrate what things were like in the past and how things have changed since as a result of the charity’s work. British Heart Foundation have done this in their timeline, and Great Ormond Street Hospital explicitly compare old with new by using clever overlaying of photographs in a recent digital annual report.
However, I’m sticking my neck out and saying I’m not a fan of timelines. They can be useful sometimes, but they can also be cluttered and overwhelming. They tend to focus too much on the early history, and not enough on more recent achievements, which are more relatable to supporters right now.
And for the people putting them together, they also create an expectation that you need to put something in every year. This then leads to charities putting stuff in them that they wouldn’t have otherwise chosen to talk about, just to ‘fill the gaps’.
I’m not sure that supporters really want them either. I don’t think many people come to your website thinking “I wonder what this charity was doing in 1993…”.
It’s more important to get across the impact that the achievements have made – regardless of that might have been through the years.
When it comes to organising your achievements, I think it’s a good idea to follow what many charities do and opt for alternatives to a timeline…
- Disease area: If your charity works in a broad area of health, then you could talk about the impact made on particular conditions in that area. Cancer Research UK have done this – yes, they’ve gone with a timeline (an impressive one of that), but you can also filter it by cancer type. British Heart Foundation have also done something similar in an achievements section separate to their timeline.
- Disease stage: You could also organise it by different ‘stages’ of the disease. For example, Alzheimer’s Research UK have separated their research achievements into prevention, diagnosis, and treatments.
- Area of work: Another option could be to highlight the different ways you work. On their achievements webpage, Parkinson’s UK have highlighted different strands of their research, including early stage science, developing treatments, clinical trials, and improving quality of life.
Whatever way you decide to organise your research, I think there’s two things to consider. Firstly and most importantly, it must make sense to your supporters – so that they can read it and immediate understand why those achievements are important.
Secondly, it should ideally align with your charity’s overall strategy, making it easier to report back on how you’re smashing your goals.
I’ve written in more detail about different charities organise their research in this blog.
Ok, so you know what you’re going to talk about, and how you might organise it. But that’s not enough unfortunately. How will you make people care about these achievements, want to learn more about them, and ultimately understand how great your charity is?
A lot of these ideas are similar to how charities make research lay summaries interesting, and with good reason – they work!
Setting aside how much I hate the term ‘case studies’, it’s clear that a great way to get across your charity’s achievements is to use examples of people who have benefited from them.
Saying something like “thousands of people have benefitted…” is impressive and will help people understand your impact. But people will feel it much more if youtell the story of even just one of these people.
Going back to British Heart Foundation’s timeline one more time, I love how they’ve put three people right at the top who have benefited from BHF’s research. What’s more, each story is told by those people (or their parent, in the case of the adorable baby Rosco):
On their achievements page, Diabetes UK have done this with a few name-drops:
“We’ve helped Professor Roy Taylor tackle sight loss, we’re helping people like Bruce produce their own insulin and we’re putting Type 2 diabetes into remission for people like Tony.”
Reading this, you immediately want to find out who Roy, Bruce, and Tony are – and luckily you can, by clicking through to read the rest of their stories.
And in Prostate Cancer UK’s fiveexamples of impact, each one is told by the researchers involved – highlighting the people behind each achievement, as well as the people who benefit from them.
Clever use of imagery can help bring a page alive. For Action Medical Research, their successes are highlighted using a wide range of images of children, researchers, and families:
MS Society’s achievement timeline avoids the clutter found on some timelines by using nice simple photographs, icons, and some neat animated GIFs too:
Short snappy copy
Keep it simple by providing a short summary of each achievement, with links elsewhere to find out more. This provides the highlights, whilst avoiding a ‘wall of text’, and allows for other things like images, quotes, video and generally nice design.
Cancer Research UK have done this very well in their timeline of achievements:
Whizzy scrolly things
Yes, there’s probably a proper name for these – but hopefully you know what I mean. Crohn’s and Colitis UK have displayed their report on 10 years of research in something really visually appealing, as have Great Ormond Street Hospital. (Tools like Shorthand and ReadyMag make this possible.)
There’s a small but real risk that anything about your charity’s achievements can leave readers feeling complacent. Focus too much on all the amazing things you’ve done, and maybe people will think that you don’t need their help. Even worse, it might even come across as gloating, or ignorant to the problems that people still face today.
However, some charities have avoided this and made their achievements as much about the future as the past.
When it comes to timelines, I think they’re most effective in chronological order (ie oldest achievements first, newest last). Though it might be tempting to put the snazziest most cutting-edge stuff first, it makes more sense to start with the past and work through to the present, which logically leads to talking about the future. Have another look at this one from MS Society and you’ll see what I mean – they’ve included an ‘Into the future’ section to make this point.
The words we use can also subtly prompt people to think about the future. To me, words like “achievements”, “history”, and “successes” feel like they’re in the past. But words like “progress” (as used by The Brain Tumour Charity or Alzheimer’s Research UK) or “advances” feel like they have a forward momentum, moving readers into tomorrow rather than yesterday.
Parkinson’s UK have done this brilliantly, firstly by calling their “Our research achievements so far” (my emphasis), a subtle reminder than there’s more great things to come. They’ve then gone on in the copy below to explicitly state “we still urgently need to do more”, prompting people to think about what’s left to achieve:
Talking about the future gives your charity the opportunity to ask for support. On an achievements page, it says, “we’ve come so far, but we still have much more to do – will you help us?”. That’s why many charities ask for donations on their achievements pages, such as this one from MS Society:
Putting together information about your charity’s achievements can be daunting. But with a little care it is possible to create something engaging, which celebrates your amazing work whilst making a clear case for future support.