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Advice for Creating Your Impact Report from Impact Reporting Pros

A stage with red curtains being pulled back to reveal the words "Show Time."

If you’re in the business of creating social and environmental impact, it’s showtime, aka impact report season.

For most companies, their fiscal and calendar years coincide – which is why the first quarter of a year constitutes impact report season, a stretch of time to prepare and publish a narrative accounting of the social and environmental impact you’ve created over the previous year. (Most public benefit corporations are required to accomplish this within 180 days after year end – so if you’re on a calendar fiscal year, that means you’ve got until the end of April to share your impact.)

To help and inspire you for this opportunity, we’re sharing brief, actionable advice from impact reporting professionals to make your job easier – and your impact more compelling.

So, prepare for impact, friends – let’s go!

Sustainable Business Management

“People starting this journey should be aware that the reporting process is much more than preparing information for readers, it is a key source for sustainable business management: Identifying, measuring, and defining goals and actions taken.”

Tamara Bergkamp, Sustainability Consultant/Advisor

Benchmarking, Measurement, and Goal Setting

“In your impact report, emphasize more of what you ‘aim to do’ with a lot less ‘look at what we’ve done.’ Then in the future you can refer to these benchmarks and report on your actual progress achieving them.”

John Featherby, Founder, Shoremount

“The things I see businesses not doing most often relate to the following tips: 1. Be really clear on the impact you want to have as a business.  What’s the difference you want to make? 2. How does everything you’ve done ladder up to that overarching vision? Why did you decide those were the best things to do? Versus just a whole list of nice activities. 3. How do you know you’re making a difference?  What data have you got? And what can you learn from that data to improve in future?  That authenticity around mistakes, learnings, improvements is what stands out in the best impact reports for me.”

Hannah Keartland, Outsourced Chief Impact Officer, Keartland & Co.

“Track your impact throughout the year so that when it comes time to create your impact report, you aren’t scrambling to remember what impacts you created!”

Alisa Herr, Founder and President, Unity Web Agency + Co-Founder, Unit Co.

Put Your Stakeholders at the Center of your Story

“The views and opinions of your stakeholders are key sources of information. Engage with your stakeholders! The information gathered through these engagements will enhance your views. It will help you with the identification and understanding of the impacts that your business is generating on others, whether they are on people or the planet. It will also contribute to training your mindset to identify impacts.”

Tamara Bergkamp, Sustainability Consultant/Advisor.

“Look upstream for impact instead of just downstream – don’t forget to highlight your suppliers as stakeholder stories. Chances are, they are creating intentional impact in their own way and by including them as your partners, you are helping to fund their impact as part of YOUR impact.”

Russ Stoddard, Founder and President, Oliver Russell + Co-Founder, Unit Co.

The Case for Transparency

“Be open and honest. Give a complete picture of what’s happened and be balanced in the story you tell. You’re obviously going to want to shout loudly about all the amazing things you’ve done! And to make your impact report credible, share the negatives as well as the positives: Share any negative impact or unintended consequences; talk about what didn’t work out as you’d expected; be open about your limitations.”

Hannah Keartland, Outsourced Chief Impact Officer, Keartland & Co.

Sharing Your Story of Impact

“Publish your impact report online to make it easier to share with your audiences (not to mention, more cost effective and greener).”

Alisa Herr, Founder and President, Unity Web Agency + Co-Founder, Unit Co.

“Don’t try to tell us EVERYTHING the company has done in the past year. We see plenty of very long and detailed impact reports that took many hours to produce, but that no one reads as they’re hard to navigate and it’s tough to quickly find the cool and specific annual milestones. Pick a few exceptional highlights – a particularly memorable volunteer event, or an innovative new initiative – and focus on that in your storytelling. Save the many other milestones to be included in the highlights or a ‘by the numbers’ section.”

Polina Pinchevsky, Co-Founder and Creative Director, Roundpeg + Co-Founder, Unit Co. 

“Impact reports take a lot of work to produce and contain a wealth of content. As you’re creating your impact report, be sure to mine this asset and think about how you can slice and dice it to extend its life – identifying and preparing pull-quotes, statistics, testimonials, and other bite-sized content to be used for email news, your website, and social media posts – repurposing expands your story and saves you valuable time by filling up your content calendar.”

Russ Stoddard, Founder and President, Oliver Russell + Co-Founder, Unit Co.

The Next Frontier for Impact Reports

“The next frontier for impact reports is contrition and reconciliation but that’s a whole topic of its own!”

John Featherby, Founder, Shoremount