Annual Reporting: Why Showcasing Volunteer Impact is Crucial

A nonprofit’s annual report is usually a comprehensive document that encompasses detailed reporting of the organization’s year. For the nonprofit, the annual report is not only a necessity, but also a strategic opportunity to engage with stakeholders—volunteers, donors, beneficiaries, and more. Despite its rather functional purpose, an annual report is also a tool for connection and potential growth. From illustrating accomplishments and highlights to contextualizing accurate financial data, the annual report is an asset to any organization.

While this report can include a myriad of elements and sections, one of the key elements to a successful report is the inclusion of volunteer impact. Because volunteers are an essential, fundamental resource for most nonprofits—often running events, acting as advocates, and dedicating copious amounts of time to the cause—their inclusion in reporting is a necessary staple. Without the inclusion of volunteer impact, nonprofits are missing a critical piece of value.

The power of gratitude

One of the most obvious benefits of including volunteer impact in an annual report is the opportunity for an organization to express gratitude to its  volunteers. Acknowledging and thanking volunteers plays a vital role in retention efforts and making volunteers feel seen and appreciated for their contributions. 

Since 2001, studies have shown that there is a strong link between gratitude and prosocial behavior, which can be defined as a voluntary behavior performed by an individual that has altruistic intentions (benefitting a person or community without compensation). Volunteerism is a perfect example of prosocial behavior—the engagement in an activity that’s sole purpose is to aid a specific person or community. Research also shows that gratitude is linked to an increased engagement from volunteers—the more gratitude a volunteer received (from either the organization or the beneficiaries), the more likely that volunteer was to contribute to the cause once again. 

So while thanking someone, or in this case, thanking volunteers, seems like a fairly expected gesture, the inclusion of volunteers and their yearly contributions in a holistic Impact Report signals their importance and value, encouraging them to continue their dedication to the organization.

The importance of community

Though many people strive to feel part of a community—enmeshed in a greater cause outside of themselves—the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly exacerbated and heightened that desire. With loneliness and feelings of social isolation on the rise, more and more people are seeking a chance to reconnect with their communities. Likewise, the pandemic has severely impacted nonprofits’ abilities to find and sustain a consistent volunteer force given chronic social isolation and fear of disease. Now more than ever, nonprofits can capitalize on the social fallout from the pandemic and re-build their volunteer participation. By showcasing volunteer impact, nonprofits have a chance to act on this acute moment in time.

By showcasing volunteer impact—statistics, photos, and more—nonprofits have a unique chance to entice volunteers to be part of their community. The opportunity to socialize with other community members or peers is a huge incentive—according to a survey conducted by Sterling Volunteers, more than 35% of their respondents reported partaking in volunteerism for the chance to make friends and socialize. Because finding and maintaining friendships is so central to overall life happiness and contentment, nonprofits are perfectly positioned to create a channel for this type of connection. From helping with fundraisers to cleaning up after events, volunteer opportunities are a gateway for many to interact and connect with old friends or new folks. 

Additionally, supporters want to see that there is an active community around an organization’s mission. While showcasing volunteer impact is important for volunteer retention, it’s also incredibly crucial for more general supporters and stakeholders. When nonprofits include volunteer information and impact, they’re able to subtly convey a communal enthusiasm for the organization’s work and progress versus an organization that has little to few people rallying around their cause. Potential donors will appreciate seeing a community around the organization, and the mission—perhaps inspired by the collective efforts of so much prosocial behavior—and might be more compelled to contribute to the cause.

Professional incentives 

Aside from the socialization incentive for new and returning volunteers, many volunteers partake in donating their time and efforts for some other, perhaps lesser-known incentives. Because including volunteer impact can be a strategic tool, nonprofits must understand the key components of the motivation behind that volunteer work.  

For many, volunteerism is a great opportunity to bolster their resumes—because employers often look for candidates with a diverse range of experience and expertise, charity work is often a highlight of any CV. Most notably, younger generations of adults, just graduating from college or amid a career change, are a fruitful target audience. This emerging workforce, many of which are Gen-Z—young adults born in 1995 and after—are also statistically more likely than many previous generations to donate their time and efforts to a cause they care about.

Because many volunteer opportunities often require leadership, management, or organizational competencies, volunteers can develop new skills and expertise (ideal for resume building), all while aiding a nonprofit organization. By showcasing volunteer impact, in this case, showcasing the specific roles and responsibilities of such volunteers, annual report readers may be more enticed to contribute their time. If young people have the opportunity to visualize and understand their roles in any given volunteer opportunity, they’re more likely to want to engage. 

How best to showcase volunteer impact

While the importance of showcasing volunteer impact has now been covered extensively, it’s equally important to understand how best to execute this section of the annual report. Because nonprofits are often inundated with information to include in their reporting, it can be difficult to decide what information is most pertinent, and how best to implement that information and content in the most strategic way possible. 

The term “volunteer impact” can mean different things to different organizations depending on the nonprofit’s mission and goals.  For some, volunteer impact can be easily measured with appropriate numbers and statistics (number of volunteers, number of hours spent volunteering, etc.). For others, volunteer impact might be less statistics-based. Depending on the organization, nonprofits should be sure to collect any relevant material about how volunteerism has helped progress the mission—statistically driven or not. 

For organizations with available statistics and those without, one of the most effective ways to integrate volunteer impact into an annual report is to do so through visual and more interactive elements, as opposed to strings of data and densely written content. In the past, nonprofit reports were often created with the intent of printing, so organizations could include them in paper newsletters or pamphlets. However, in recent years, more and more charities have begun to turn to electronic annual reporting, in light of new trends in the field and an ongoing commitment to “go green.” This more intuitive, and often more cost-effective avenue for annual report creation also allows nonprofits to engage and stimulate readers more effectively. Gen-Z, for example, which is an up-and-coming demographic for volunteerism, is typically more responsive to these visual elements—short videos, vivid images, etc.  

To effectively capitalize on this market, and showcase whatever relevant volunteer impact material each nonprofit has at its disposal, organizations should utilize available, intuitive resources for building their reports. For example, nonprofits can use a variety of new, easy-to-use tools through sites like Yearly—a hassle-free platform—to showcase volunteer impact more creatively. For nonprofits with plenty of photos or videos of volunteer impact, utilizing these tools is key— by embedding videos and photos of volunteer efforts like group photos, “action” shots or videos, and more, charities have a chance to “show” rather than tell—a more innovative and effective approach to crafting the annual report. For organizations with readily available statistics, platforms like Yearly also have the functionality to design an annual report with bold, impressive numbers. Readers won’t be bogged down by dense text or murky information—the volunteer impact will be both clear and compelling.

Though there are certainly many ways that nonprofits can include volunteer impact with innovative tools like Yearly, a great example of such inclusion can be found in Food & Friend’s annual report. Like most charities, Food & Friends relies on the consistent commitment and service of its volunteers for daily and weekly operations, so showcasing their impact is critical.

A picture containing text, personDescription automatically generated

Scattered throughout their report are vivid and compelling images of volunteers “in action” preparing meals, loading trucks, and more. The images make this report an effective tool for showing gratitude and a commitment to fostering community, and allows readers to get an exclusive glimpse into the roles and responsibilities of any given volunteer. Food & Friend’s approach to high-quality design and visual representation makes their annual report a compelling marketing tool.

In addition to the photos included, Food & Friends also expertly integrates accurate and easy-to-read statistics surrounding the measurement of such impact. While poorly designed annual reports often lack effortless readability, Food and Friend’s ability to pair the images throughout their reporting with helpful and clear metrics around contributions and volunteer impact allows the report to be much more effective. 

Leverage the power of volunteer metrics in your impact report to display the strength and prosocial community power of your organization. Use tools like Civic Champs to track volunteer engagement and statistics and easily turn those numbers and insights into gorgeous reports with Yearly. Happy, engaged volunteers and impressed donors and board members await.