4 Steps To Take Before Writing An Impact Report

Completing these steps will help you avoid writer’s block and set you up for writing success.

The topic of impact reports came up in a senior management meeting at Callahan last fall. We questioned whether we should we do one for 2020.

My initial emotion was one of anxiety. Not this again, I thought, adding it to my busy to-do list. My second emotion was fear. GULP. Without a historical report for reference, where would I start? How could I bring our brand to life?

Although my instincts told me to speak up and say this was not the year to start the report, I knew I was making excuses and this was, in fact, the perfect year.

Credit unions make an impact every day on their employees, members, and communities, yet too few are showcasing their efforts. Before you say, But we have an annual report, let me explain why the two are not the same. An annual report tends to cover the financial success of the credit union. Financial stability is important, but that’s not the full story of the credit union and reciting numbers will not inspire others or differentiate the organization. Impact reports, however, are a great way for credit unions to tell their unique stories and show just how different they are from other financial institutions.

Now, I realize creating something new from scratch is easier said than done, so I wanted to share the four-step process I used to prepare Callahan & Associates 2020 Impact Report. I hope it sparks some ideas for how you might bring an impact report to life at your credit union.

Step 1. Find Inspiration

A lot of organizations craft compelling impact reports. Make a list of your favorite brands and search online to see if they have an impact report. Write down your favorite elements, then use that list to create an outline for Step 3.

Take this example from Starbucks.

The elements I like in this report include:

  • CEO introduction. This message set the whole tone for the report.
  • Mission. I like how the company shared its mission early on in the report.
  • Statistics/numbers with bite-sized insights. Compelling stats make a report more interesting. I liked how Starbucks offers numbers, then provides a narrative. The narrative contained too much text for my liking, but I was inspired by how the retailer organized its numbers.
  • Powerful headlines. I like how Starbucks used gripping headlines that stated, for example, Strengthening Our Communities versus simply Our Communities.

Or, look at this example from Kohler.

The elements I liked in this report include:

  • Overall theme. Kohler uses better to anchor the entire report.
  • We Are Kohler. The report is not about Kohler, but the company did a good job setting up who it is at the beginning and taking the reader on a journey.
  • Design. This report contains a lot of content, but the graphs and imagery make it aesthetically pleasing. I used several pages as inspiration for Callahan’s report.

There are a lot of examples out there, but you don’t have to search for them alone. Callahan has collected 100+ credit union impact reports for our clients to use as inspiration. Visit the Policy Exchange on your client portal today to peruse the library and find inspiration.

Step 2. Perform An Impact Audit

Who are your key stakeholders? Most credit unions have three: members, employees, and communities. Some add a fourth: the environment.

For every stakeholder category, make a list of all the ways, big and small, the credit union has helped during the past year. What activities did you partake in? How did you bring people together? Where did you provide financial assistance? Remember, an impact report is about your stakeholders, not your credit union.

Start with narrative, then flag where you want to include specific data. These lists will help you will ensure you are telling the full story of your credit union’s impact without focusing on one area, such as charitable giving or financials. You can also ensure you equally represent all your stakeholders.

This is also a good time to ensure you are including the real voice of your members and employees. If you have personal stories, quotes, testimonials, etc., make sure to include them in your audit.

Finally, tap co-workers to help you pull data, unless you have direct access to it, or track down member and employee impact stories. Once you have a complete audit, rank the most important data and narratives from the past year. Cut the rest or save it for an internal follow up. You want the report to be compelling, not overwhelming, so include only your top impact items. One report I found was nearly 50 pages that’s way too long.

Step 3. Create An Outline

This step saved me. After getting feedback and data from others, I found myself staring at a blank sheet, overwhelmed by the wealth of knowledge and ideas I had gathered from Step 2.

An outline will be your best friend moving forward. Take those inspiration reports from Step 1 and start to draft which sections you want to include in your report in the order you think they should appear.

Here was mine:

  1. Cover page
  2. Letter from CEO
  3. We Are The Credit Union Company
    • Mission
    • Values
  4. 2020 Highlights
    • Data snapshots from the past year
  5. Navigating An Uncertain Year, Together
    • Best Practices & Content Generation
    • Collaboration
    • Data & Insights
    • Strategic Guidance
  6. Helping Credit Unions Find Their Purpose
  7. The Best Is Yet To Come
    • Message to industry
    • Employee photos

I wrote the headlines for 5, 6, and 7 after I decided the overall themes of those sections. Originally, they were this basic:

5. 2020 Efforts In Our Core Business

6. Purpose Activities

7. Closing

Those titles are not very compelling, but they helped me decide the direction I wanted to go. Get the general idea on paper, then go back and bring it to life.

Step 4. Brainstorm Emotions And Images

Before you start drafting your report, take the time to think through the look and feel you want to achieve special emphasis here on feel.

What emotions do you want to evoke? How can you bring forward the authenticity of the credit union? How can you humanize your leadership and employees? What types of images or themes might inspire your audience?

Jot down the answers to these questions and bring your examples to discuss with your designer. When it’s time to start writing, this exercise will also help ensure the vibe you want runs through the narrative as well as the design.

Taking the time to complete these steps will set you up for writing success (even our staff editor agrees). Do not wait until next year to take on this task. There is no better time than the present to showcase your credit union’s impact. Happy reporting!

Join Our Impact Network

We are building a network of leading credit unions that will help us define impact metrics and standards, share their perspectives and practices, and work with us to evolve the credit union story.

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March 29, 2021

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