Anatomy of an Accountability Report

There are 3 components of non-profit accountability: fiscal + regulator compliance, stewardship and donor trust. An accountability report touches on each of these in an interesting and informative way.

Accountability Report – a document assembled and distributed to donors to show outcomes and vision for a program they have previously supported.

This is different from an annual report. An annual report primarily features numbers from the books to show financial accountability to donors. An accountability (or outcome) report focuses on a specific program or service.

Traditionally accountability reporting has been reserved for major donors. For instance, if someone donated money to build a new building they should to be kept apprise of the progress and impact of the new building. This practice allows the non-profit to demonstrate good stewardship and continue to grow the relationship with donor. Considering the benefits of accountability reporting, it is worthwhile expanding this practice to annual level donors, too.

Annual donors often feel like they only ever get asks from non-profits. Consider mail and email your donors receive – how often do they get something that does not have an ask in it? Furthermore, consider the information annual donor receive about the organization. Is it in-depth? Is the donor being offered an incisive look at the impact they are having?

By creating an accountability report for annual donors, they will feel that their recent donation had an impact and they will know what that impact is. I recommend doing one per year and choosing a program/service that is easy to report on (ie. you can gather lots of data + information without too much of a headache).

Here is a run down of accountability reporting basics:

  • Decide on a specific program or service that you will create an accountability report for.
  • Create a budget for the project – Unless it is done entirely in-house and emailing it, consider printing and postage costs. (Side note: for community members who received the accountability report template, I’ve opted for a cost-effective one page format, rather than a booklet style.)
  • Determine who will receive the report – Will you send it to all annual level donors who gave to that appeal? Will be  donors who gave over $100, $250 or $500? Lay out these parameters now because you will need them to pull a mailing list.
  • Go back to the appeal donors received and create a list of benefits/features associated with the program/service that were mentioned in the appeal – These points are your accountabilities. To write a report, you will need to gather statistics, quotes, photos and stories to support the claims you made.
  • Write the copy – The point is to thank and share the tangible results of the program/service. Structure the copy in a way that flows and will not overwhelm someone who does not know as much about your non-profit as you do. Steer clear of buzz words and other jargon. Write in the same simple, concise manner you would use for writing an appeal.
  • Lay it out – Will depend on your budget and how you plan to deliver this piece. Make it engaging and logical.

If you’re having trouble with figuring out how to evaluate and measure program results, check out this guide.

As an added resource, PHILANTHROPY FOR ALL has created an extended Accountability Report Checklist + Tips. Make sure to check today’s newsletter for the link.

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Over to you: Do you have any tips for creating accountability reports that rock? What programs have you reported back to donors on?