Everyone loves that time of year when you and your academic partners compile data, stories, and pictures that perfectly captures how each and every donor dollar was used and the difference it made. All your donors are awaiting that envelope, read each and every line, share it with friends and family, and not only thank you but ask about what they can do next. Yes, annual impact reports are a glorious time of year!
What? Not so much? I’m afraid, for most of us, impact reports come with a collective sigh from all involved.
Let’s face it, if the funds were actually spent, getting the information on how the funds were used can be difficult. Asking for a personal narrative on the personal/professional value of those dollars can be like pulling teeth. You and your team live in fear, afraid something was missed or misspelled.
Sadly, donors can also never actually see the report – “filing” it away in that round file bin along with all the other random mail they receive. If they open it, although filled with great information about the financial health of the university/foundation, the personalized section can be lost among the charts and paragraphs of “updates.”
So, why go to all the trouble? Because, it’s an important part of the promise we make to donors. The promise that we will be good stewards of their money. There are donors who pore over this report every year. That information is very important but when it comes to impact, the report alone doesn’t cut it!
Development professionals, this is all you, and it’s not a once-a-year exercise. Here are five steps to take throughout the year to make impact report time less grueling and help you deliver meaningful ROPI (Return on Philanthropic Investment) to your donors.
1. Audit Accounts
Keep track of all donor-funded accounts. Who are the “signers” on the account? Let them know when any funds are deposited and the intended use of those funds. Audit those funds regularly, noting all expenses (or lack thereof). Remind faculty of available funds throughout the year.
2. Don’t Wait
For each expense, find out what those funds actually did. Is it picture-worthy or did it make someone’s life better? If so, capture that story and share it with the donor personally or on behalf of the dean/academic. It can be completely informal—a quick call, text, or email. “Look what just arrived” or “We were thinking of you today when…”
3. Take Initiative
Draft both summary and narrative for the academic on the overall impact of that fund. Ask the faculty member to add his or her personal spin.
4. Get Creative
If it’s getting close to the end of the year and nothing has been done, suggest using even a portion of funds for a very specific project that is person–centric and picture–worthy. An example would be a small travel stipend for a student to attend a conference related to the purpose of the fund. Send that story and picture to donors.
5. One Free Pass
You get one free pass to share that the dean/faculty member is using the funds to leverage additional funds or letting funds accrue to do a bigger project in the next fiscal year. You are still showing impact but not having to spend the money this year. You can use this pass only one or, at most, two times, so use it wisely and make sure you follow through on the promise to use the funds!
You are the driver of the great impact report adventure. It’s a long winding road and will always be bumpy but the destination will not disappoint! You’ll have happier, more engaged donors and faculty who may no longer avoid you when they know it’s “that time of year.” Both lead to meaningful relationships and future support for your college or program.
With more than 15 years of experience as an advancement professional in non-profit management, alumni relations, higher education, and health sciences, Kelley has extensive expertise in principal and major gift strategies, board relations, strategic planning, alumni relations, planned giving, and management.
Attend one of our public offerings—such as our virtual session of The Art and Science of Donor Development—to learn research–based, donor–centered processes.