Telling Donors About Your Impact


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Do your donors ask you what the impact of their gift will be? If that hasn’t happened yet, you need to get ready. No longer are most donors content just to write a cheque to a charity. They are becoming personally involved with their giving and want to see what difference their funding makes.

At, we help individual donors and family foundations assess the impact of their philanthropic support. Some provide very small grants to many organizations, while others generously support Canadian charities with millions of dollars. All of them, though, want to know whether their support changed anything for the people that the charity serves. Larger charities receiving large grants should consider formal impact studies, but smaller charities may not be able to afford such reviews. How can they balance scarce resources between reporting back to donors and delivering their programs, especially if programs are funded by many very small donations? Here are six tips for reporting to donors on impact without going into a lot of expense.

1. Relate to your charity’s mission and mandate

Before you approach a donor, review your mission and mandate. What are you trying to achieve? What are your overall goals? How does this donor request help move you in that direction? How will your desired outcome move you closer to your charitable goals? Make sure you stress that when you seek funding from your donors.

For example, if your mission is to help those in poverty and your mandate is to run a school breakfast program, ask yourself how the breakfast program will help reduce poverty. You cannot possibly account for an overall reduction in poverty because of your one program; however, over the long term you may be able to show that children attending the breakfast program stayed in school longer and developed lifelong skills to find work and contribute to society.

2. Clear Expectations

When you meet with your prospective donor or submit your application, be clear about what their gift will mean to your charity and how it will advance your cause. Indicate what kind of reporting you will be able to provide and how often. Most donors are very flexible as long as they understand what to expect.

3. Look for more than just numbers

Numbers are important, but discovering impact takes deeper examination. With the breakfast program above, the charity can begin by asking participants what the program means to them, and asking teachers and principals if they have noticed any changes in the children. Are they more alert in class? Are their grades improving? Is there a change in their social skills? If the charity has access to parents, the charity can ask these parents what the program means to them and to their children. Their testimonials will help the charity and its supporters understand what donors’ gifts and grants have accomplished.

4. Invite the donor to the program

Nothing expands a donor’s understanding more than visiting your facility or program. They see for themselves that the breakfast program is being well used, the kids are enjoying the food, and the facility is clean and adequate. They may hear from teachers about the effects of the program and how the charity is viewed by the school, the students and the community. Some donors may even want to help prepare or distribute the food just to see how the whole operation works. That will help them to understand your report more fully when you send it in.

86% of donors consider themselves knowledgeable about the causes they support, a nine-point jump from the 2011 survey.*

5. Visuals tell the story

Many donors will not be able to visit your program, but you can send the program to them in the form of a short video or some photos with your report. In the case of the breakfast program, letters from participants, a parent or teacher also help donors understand what their support means.

6. Regular updates and reports

All donors deserve to know what difference their funding makes, but not all donors need individual reports. An annual report or a regular blog posted on your website or sent to all your donors will keep them up to speed on your organization’s activities and progress. For those donors with whom you may have specific agreements, or who have given you designated funds, ensure you report back as expected.

If you have received substantial support, make sure your report reflects the level of support. Donors like to hear how their funds are helping others, so if you have had a breakthrough or something you think the donor would like to know, keep in touch with short email updates along with your regularly scheduled reports. Keeping donors informed will motivate them to engage further in your organization and help them understand that you are indeed making an impact.

These simple steps will get you started on reporting on your impact. Once you try a few of these tips, you will find other things within your organization that will help you tell your story and keep your donors engaged.

*Source: “What Canadian Donors Want”, 2013 survey by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and Ipsos-Reid