A Three-Month Planner to Produce and Publish Your Impact Report
It’s what we at Unit of Impact lovingly refer to as “Impact Reporting Season,” that 3-4 month window of time where companies with a fiscal year-end produce and publish their annual impact reports.
In our recent State of Impact Reporting research, planning for your impact report is listed as one of the top challenges faced by small businesses. The best way to plan for your impact – and your impact report – is to work on it all year around. Of course, even companies with the best of intentions aren’t able to do this, especially for small businesses who are short on time and resources. So, if you find yourself wanting to publish an impact report, but a little bit behind the gun, you’re in luck: We’ve developed an impact report planner that provides the steps to make it easier for you to produce and publish an impact report, at any time of the year – in three months or less.
Month 1 — Time to start, so let’s go!
Form your team.
You’ll start by forming your team. Identify who needs to be involved internally; this could include keepers of impact data, someone from HR, the CEO, an editor, the webmaster. You get the idea. You’ll also want to enlist a writer and a designer, either internally or as outside partners. And if you work with a sustainability consultant, be sure to loop them in from the beginning. A great way to start – hold a kickoff meeting to get everyone on board and celebrate the opportunity. First agenda item: Set measurable goals for what you’d like to see your impact report achieve. Next, determine roles and responsibilities. We recommend using the OARP framework: assign each member as an Owner, Approver, Reviewer, or Participant. This makes everyone clear on their role in the project.
Decide on a creative theme.
A central theme can provide inspiration and guide the creative development of your report. You might select a theme that focuses on your environmental impact, a specific United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (for instance, SDG2 – Zero Hunger), or your company’s innovative practices – ways your team has ingeniously minimized your products line’s carbon footprint, for instance. Perhaps it’s as simple as highlighting what you’re most proud of for the year. Your chosen theme will guide your headlines, copy, photography, and artwork.
Look at other impact reports for inspiration.
Check out impact reports for small and big businesses alike as you will always find a nugget that sparks ideas that you can apply to your impact report. Here’s a short list of examples to get you started; some are simple and straight-forward, while others are bang-up productions that are aspirational and recognized as leading examples of impact reporting:
Create a content outline.
Determine at the start what you want to communicate, and it will make the rest of the process more efficient. Here are some overarching categories to consider: your governance structure, community, workers, and the environment. Which stories of impact will you feature? Which Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will you present? What were your goals the prior year and how did you measure up against them this year?
A Stakeholder’s letter from leadership is usually a centerpiece. In it, you might cover accomplishments, as well as challenges you faced. If you fell short in some areas, talk about that, too.
Other items to consider: External recognition your company received, customer or partner testimonials, and acknowledgements of outstanding employee achievements. It’s always good to remind your audience of the company’s mission statement and its values. And don’t forget to talk about your products or services – don’t assume the reader or viewer is familiar with them. After all, it’s the revenue from sales that provides the resources to create the impact you’re reporting.
Identify your stakeholders.
Who are you talking to and what is their relative importance as far as the messages you want to convey? Determine who your audience is and speak to them: Typical stakeholders might include employees, investors, your board of directors, customers, community partners, certification organizations, and suppliers.
Contact your impact partners.
Storytelling is at the heart of effectively communicating your impact. You’ll want to contact nonprofits, customers, suppliers, and others for the impact stories you’ve chosen to feature in this year’s report. It’s important to get their buy-in, so they’ll be a proactive partner on the project, whether that’s providing impact data or their approval on quotes. This is also an opportunity to further strengthen your relationship, get valuable input from a trusted partner, and set the stage for them to distribute and promote the impact report across their networks when the time comes.
Month 2 — You’re in the thick of it now.
It’s time to collect!
Now it’s time to collect that impact data. People are busy, so start early to obtain your information from internal sources, as well as from external partners with whom you’ve created impact over the year. It’s important that all impact data can be substantiated, so make certain all numbers can be verified.
Set the design tempo.
Ah, the visual fun begins. Working from your content outline, start developing your design templates for this year’s report. You’ll want to create several, either for internal buy-in or to help you refine a final design by assimilating strengths from different options.
Come out, come out wherever you are.
If you’re like many, you’ve got existing digital assets, but they might be hiding. Make a list, determine what you have and what’s missing so you can determine what you’ll need to create to bring your design (and impact) to life: images, videos, artwork, etc.
Draft the stakeholder letter.
Meet with the author of the Stakeholder Letter for an interview. This might be the company’s president – or it might be you. (And then again you might be fulfilling both of these roles!) Give them time to consider the report’s theme and the message your company wants to convey. To make it easier, you can provide them with questions and prompts to assist in writing the letter.
Interview your partners.
You’ll want to interview your contacts at impact story partners (nonprofits, suppliers, customers, etc.) Begin by creating a list of interview questions you can ask or, if it’s more expedient for your partner, you can send them to your contact via email and they can respond to them on their own schedule. If you can interview in person, do it – it’s a connection that allows for follow-up questions and a good opportunity to get photographs.
Start writing the narrative.
Fly, fingers, fly! Get that keyboard warmed up as it’s time to begin writing. You should aim to complete a full first draft of all copy that will go into the impact report narrative during this middle month, so get an early start that will allow for the time this component of your impact report deserves.
Month 3 — Finish strong. (You can do it!)
Obtain internal and external approvals.
You’ll need to get final internal approval on all content. To make efficient use of time, this occurs prior to design and layout. Be sure to send copy for impact stories to external partners for their review and approval. Again, this should be finalized before giving it to your designer for layout.
It’s design time!
Now that you’ve got all the content finalized, it’s time to bring it to life through the design of the report. Your designer can now lay out copy and art assets into the design template you’ve developed.
You’re soooo close — complete final internal reviews.
Since you used the OARP framework at the beginning of this project, you already know who needs to provide final review of the report once it’s been placed into design. Be sure at least two sets of eyes review at this stage.
Develop a launch plan.
You invest considerably in the impact you’ve create and in the impact report you’re about to publish, so don’t let it sit on a shelf as simply a box that’s been checked. Develop a launch plan to maximize exposure of your report. Your team should identify distribution channels for the report. Some are obvious: posting to the website, emailing to your list, posting to social media. But take it a step further and think creatively about opportunities for additional exposure. One easy way to do this is to write a news release announcing your impact report and sending it to your local government or Chamber of Commerce, the local NPR affiliate, or trade publications for your industry, among others. You might hold a news conference with an impact partner to highlight your collaboration (as detailed in your impact report) to improve the community. Remember – it’s an opportunity to gain recognition for your company and to model behavior for the type of businesses you’d like to see in the world.
Your report is content rich — mine it.
We operate around the maxim of creating that content once – and then disbritube it many times. Your report is an amazing asset that can be shared in lots of ways. Make it work harder for you by building an editorial calendar that repurposes its content throughout the year. You can easily slice and dice its information as individual graphs, posts, snippets, and other creative assets for content in your social media, newsletters, and other communications media. If you’re ambitious, you can load it all into a social media scheduling software (we use Co-Scheduler) and have it set for the year!
Ready, set, publish!
Congratulations – you did it! Now it’s time to push the button and publish your impact report. This is a great opportunity to gather your team and proudly present the report and praise your employees for the impact you’ve all worked to create together. It’s important, if possible, to do this before you share it with the outside world. Next, activate that launch plan you put into place to share the report across your networks and those of your partners.
Getting the band back together.
Lastly, it’s always valuable to bring your impact report team together to debrief the process, assess results, capture team learning, and celebrate the effort! Oh, and yes – begin planning for next year’s impact report.
Join Our Unit of Impact.
The Unit of Impact platform makes all the above steps easier, saving you time and money while enabling you to conveniently create an impact report that tells your impact story to your customers, employees, and other important stakeholders. Sign up for a free 14-day trial today!