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.
What’s the point of impact reports?
In 2017 CharityComms published a best practice guide for annual publications. Although this report mostly focussed on charity’s annual reports and reviews, a lot of the tips are relevant for impact reports.
The CharityComms guide identifies five possible aims for annual reviews and impact reports:
- Accountability – show your stakeholders what has happened in the charity, as an act of transparency to retain and build their trust;
- Marketing & fundraising – use it as a marketing tool to engage potential supports;
- Thankyou – show supporters the difference they have made, and say thanks;
- Inspiring action – you might want the audience to take action after reading, such as donate, volunteer, or campaign;
- Learning – the impact report is useful internally, to take stock of how the charity is functioning and making the biggest difference.
Another key topic in the CharityComms guide is to understand the audience (that old chestnut, yet again). The temptation is to say the audience is ‘everyone’. However, it is better to focus on one or two key audiences. Then provide the information in a way that they would prefer.
This might actually lead to the realisation that *drum roll* traditional impact reports aren’t everyone’s preferred way to learn about your charity’s impact *gasp*. Yes, believe it or not, 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.
How other charities are showing their impact
Below I share a few examples of impact reports from medical research charities. Some of these were written to mark a special anniversary. Of course, impact reports are not the only thing that you can do (or should do) to mark an important birthday, as Madeleine Sugden makes clear in this blog post.
On with the examples:
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. I love how they’ve made clear what has been achieved. 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”.
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… whizzy scrolly thing? (Someone please tell me the correct name for this!). 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. 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 have 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 40+ year period. The story features interviews with patients, nurses, and key figures from the charity’s history. Interwoven throughout are examples of Macmillan’s impact. Though it feels like this 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 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 (and others which I haven’t covered here) which are worth reinforcing:
- Talk about the impact that matters to beneficiaries – this is crucial. As much as research metrics (like numbers of papers published and grants awarded) are useful, 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, and so on – all of these are evidence of ‘real’ impact. Focus on these first.
- Don’t broadcast facts, tell stories – even though the idea of an impact report might be quite dry, that 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. Use their stories as examples of the wider theme. Use great imagery and powerful quotes – this is hard work but worth it (see Diabetes UK’s report for a great example).
- 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”. This naturally leads to inviting the audience to get involved (e.g. donating, campaigning, volunteering etc).
- 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?