Progress reporting is an oft-neglected aspect of effective fundraising. It is shocking to see how many charities still don't bother to tell donors what they have done with their money. Others simply supply bland, formulaic lists of tasks completed, satisfying no one.
Great project updates should teach supporters new things about the situation that they want to help address, bringing greater understanding to their commitment to the cause. They can move donors from an instinctive, emotional urge to give to a more cerebral engagement with the issues and a clearer perception of how their help is contributing to positive change in people's lives. The benefits of good reporting extend beyond keeping donors happy - they provide opportunities for helping your charity become more effective. It is also important that reporting regimes are not excessively burdensome and do not take staff away unnecessarily from the work they are trying to deliver.
If well-designed reporting systems should feed into improving projects year on year, their authors also need to report to donors, the driving force behind review work. It is vital not to cover up problems but to discuss them openly and honestly, explaining what changes will be made in future. This kind of critique makes reports more credible and helps donors to see that the charity is taking the time to identify problems and develop strategies to overcome them.
Unravelling the human impact of a charitable project can be a challenge. It is hard to unpick how the delivery of specific services plays out in the lives of beneficiaries. Very often, well thought-through surveys or sets of measurements are not taken when a piece of work is started, which makes it difficult to assess the work's impact.
Such aspects need to be considered when the initial funding proposal is put together - otherwise, how can you show that your project will bring about the changes that you are talking about so proudly?
Personal stories, which illustrate the less tangible benefits, add human interest and provide valuable evidence that the benefits asserted in funding proposals are real. Photos help supporters visualise the work and provide reassurance that it has taken place. They should be meaningful images that say something worthwhile, with their content clearly explained in the captions.
Writing progress reports is essential not only for firing up supporters; the process can also energise the authors, helping us to reconnect with why we are doing something every day. It is easy to get lost in the haze of our day-to-day tasks, but progress reporting can help us see how the pennies and pounds that we raise are translating into visible improvements in people's lives.
We are a crucial bit of the jigsaw, without whom none of this could have happened.
Anna Taylor is a freelance fundraiser, writer and researcher and a former UK director of Child in Need India