Best impact reports from medical research charities

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In this blog, we’ll look at a few examples of medical research charity impact reports. We’ll also look at why a charity should have an impact report. Plus a few tips on how to write an impact report. 

Charities always need to show the impact of their work – primarily to show supporters how their donations make a difference. One way that some charities choose to do this is through a formal impact report.

Formal impact reports are often designed to coincide with major milestones or anniversaries, or to launch new initiatives and campaigns. 

In this blog, I’ve gathered a few examples of impact reports from medical charities, which show the impact of their research.  I’ve also outlined what purpose impact reports fulfil. And some overarching tips for how charities can approach the task of putting one together. 

Why should charities have impact reports?

In 2017 CharityComms published a best practice guide for annual publications. Although this guide focussed on charity’s annual reports and reviews, a lot of the tips are relevant for larger, more overarching impact reports. 

The CharityComms guide identifies five possible aims for annual reviews and impact reports:

  1. Accountability – show your audiences what the charity has done, as an act of transparency to retain and build their trust;
  2. Marketing & fundraising – use it as a marketing tool to engage potential supporters;
  3. Thankyou – show supporters the difference they have made, and say thanks;
  4. Inspiring action – encourage the audience to donate, volunteer, or campaign;
  5. Learning – the impact report is useful internally. Use it to take stock of how the charity is functioning and making the biggest difference. 

Another key piece of advice from the CharityComms guide is to understand the audience. The temptation is to say the audience is ‘everyone’. However, it is better to focus on one or two key audiences. And then provide the information in a way that they would prefer.

You might then find that traditional impact reports aren’t everyone’s preferred way to learn about your charity’s impact *gasp*. Yes, surprise surprise, not everyone has the time or patience to read a 40-page PDF document about your charity. Perhaps there are better ways to show them the difference your charity has made. I hope to share a few good examples later.

Examples of medical research charity impact reports

Below I share a few examples of impact reports from medical research charities. Some of these were written to mark a special anniversary. Madeleine Sugden has a blog post about other ways that charities can celebrate a birthday

On with the examples:

Blood Cancer UK – “60 years of life-saving research”

Blood Cancer UK released their report to coincide with the 60th anniversary of their charity and a rebrand, shared in a PDF report and on their website. The report shares a great number of impressive achievements across a wide range of blood cancers. I like how they’ve shared some of the key highlights early on in the report, followed up by a more in-depth look at the impact by blood cancer type. There’s also a fascinating section about the impact that their research has had on cancer treatment in general, highlight impact beyond their cause. Finally, it finishes with a lovely thank you message to supporters, which is both positive and hints at what’s needed for the future: “Because of you, the finish line’s in sight.”

Diabetes UK – “Changing Lives Together: through 80 years of research” 

Diabetes UK published their research impact report in 2018 (pdf) to mark 80 years of funding research in diabetes. Instead of presenting their work chronologically, they’ve presented it in themes. They talk about overarching achievements that have unfolded over years (and in some cases decades), with clear headings like “We’ve made blood glucose checking simple”, or “We’ve tackled blindness”.  – I love it.

The case studies have been written as short ‘feature’-style articles, rather than just a conventional reporting of the facts. For example, one story opens with the line: “One of the most difficult things about Type 1 diabetes is having to think like a pancreas.” It’s irresistible, you can’t help but read on. This makes the case studies and the whole report really engaging and easy to read. 

It’s clearly designed, with lovely photos of people who have benefitted from the charity’s work, the scientists behind it, and quotes too. They’ve bookended the impact reporting with statements, thanking donors for their support, and reinforcing the need for continued support.  

Crohn’s & Colitis UK – “Our impact – today and tomorrow”

Crohn’s & Colitis UK take a different approach from other charities. They put their impact report online, in the form of a digital interactive story. It’s beautifully designed, with bold colours and imagery, which keeps you engaged. They’ve got a mixture of facts and figures. As well as individual stories which you can read more about if interested.

But I particularly like how you can explore it by yourself. A sort of ‘choose your own adventure’ impact report. You decide which area of their work you want to focus on – providing support, campaigning, research and so on. This plays to the strengths of the format, and I would love to see other charities take a similar approach. 

Macmillan Cancer Support – “Cancer: Then and now”

Macmillan Cancer Support has opted for a more traditional ‘chronological’ report of the period 1970-2016 (pdf). However, whereas other charities may only share what the charity has been up to, Macmillan charts how the ‘story’ around cancer has changed over this period. This narrative features interviews with patients, nurses, and key figures from the charity’s history. Interwoven throughout are examples of Macmillan’s impact. It almost feels like Macmillan’s story takes more of a backseat to the main thread of the changing perception of cancer. It’s a thoughtful approach that simultaneously shows progress but also demonstrates the need for continued support.

Cancer Research UK – “Beating cancer: our progress” (timeline)

Cancer Research UK released the timeline of their achievements a few years ago. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m not a huge fan of charities using timelines to organise achievements. This is for two reasons: firstly, I think they tend to focus too much on historical achievements at the expense of more recent advances to which the audience can relate. Secondly,  I think they create pressure to fill perceived ‘gaps’ in the timeline with things that might otherwise go unreported.

Setting my reservations aside, Cancer Research UK’s timeline is an impressive achievement. It matches their impressive track record in research with the tangible difference made to people’s lives. Every achievement is a short statement, with a link to find out more. And you can filter the breakthroughs to focus on different cancers and different types of achievement. Like Crohn’s & Colitis UK’s impact report, it uses the digital format incredibly well. Plus, it looks like they’ve been updating it since it was released (which is an obvious drawback of printed reports). 

British Lung Foundation – “Changing Lives – Making a difference through research”

British Lung Foundation released Changing Lives to mark its 30th Anniversary (pdf). What I like about it, again, is how they’ve made their impact clear and simple to understand. Alongside interviews with researchers at various stages of their careers, they’ve provided evidence of changes to clinical guidelines as a result of their work. Weaved throughout are stories from people with lung disease, who reinforce the importance of the charity’s work.  

Things to think about for impact reports

There are a few common themes from these reports which are worth reinforcing:

  1. Talk about the impact that matters to your audience – this is crucial. As much as research metrics (like numbers of papers published and grants awarded), what your audience wants to know is the difference you’ve made to people’s lives. New drugs, new tests, new medical devices, improving support, updates to clinical guidelines. All of these are evidence of ‘real’ impact. Focus on these first. 
  2. Don’t broadcast facts, tell stories – the idea of an impact report might be quite dry. This doesn’t mean that it should be the place where you reel off facts and figures and academic paper references. The best impact reports tell the stories of the people involved. And the people who have benefitted using their stories as examples of the wider theme. Use great imagery and powerful quotes. While this is hard work it is worth it (see Diabetes UK’s report for a great example). 
  3. Highlight needs as well as celebrate successes – many of the reports highlight the need for further investment. They are not simply a list of achievements and success stories. The message sent is “we’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got work to do”. So this naturally leads to inviting the audience to get involved (e.g. donating, campaigning, volunteering etc). 
  4. Consider formats beyond PDF booklet – Crohn’s & Colitis UK and Cancer Research UK use digital formats to report their impact in an engaging way. The CharityComms guide shares examples of how charities have taken a different approach to annual reporting. The PDF reports are nice to browse through resonate well with certain audiences, but they are a big investment in time and resource and aren’t to everyone’s tastes. Could you consider not doing a singular report, and instead relay impact throughout the year in different ways? 

Do you need any help with writing your charity’s impact report? I can write your impact case studies for you, helping you to get across the difference your charity’s research is making. Get in touch to find out more.

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