Good donor report writing skills have everything to do with being able to paint a clear picture in your readers’ mind. Clear writing skills are essential to get your message across, secure funding, and build a relationship with your donor.
What is Good Writing?
- It is democratic: People can make informed decisions with the information you provide.
- It generates trust: You rely on the trust of your donors and supporters.
- It’s inclusive: Clear language is used which can be understood by a majority; avoid jargon.
- It saves you time and money: Your colleagues and the donor will understand what you are talking about immediately.
Some of the key questions to guide you when writing a donor report are:
- What does a donor want from your text? How can you give it to them?
- Is every donor familiar with the topic and terminology?
- How much attention do you think the reader will give to your text? Is it possible they have multiple proposals/reports to go through? Is it possible that their attention is divided?
- How will they use your text? Will they want to share it with their colleagues?
Most donors have objectives themselves, which your project is helping them achieve. Your information goes into their own reports, which they use to advocate for funding. Pictures, quotes and clear impact results can make a huge difference.
Ways To Get Your Reader on Board
We will focus on five ways to get your reader on board (donor report writing skills):
1. Be Consistent
When you work on a proposal or report, a lot of people are involved, many of whom will have different writing and syntax styles. As a result, you will end up with paragraphs in which various styles are used. This can come across as unprofessional.
- Some larger organizations have a style guide
If your organization doesn’t have one, you can refer to external guides. A style guide will indicate which spelling to use, how to present numbers, how to refer to images when to use capital letters etc
- You might not agree with the rules on grammar, form, and spelling, but if you have a style guide use it anyway
Example: Which is correct, color or color? It doesn’t matter. However, it is important to agree within your organization (or at least your proposal/report team) on which type of English you will use.
For names, places, and buildings, use the spelling they use themselves e.g. WFP is World Food Programme.
Make sure that the language settings on all your computers align. In Microsoft word, go to review>language>language preferences>English US (or whichever you prefer) as default.
2. Be Specific
- Use specific names and dates when referring to places or activities.
For example: “Rehabilitated 20 schools on 3rd December”
- Quantify (and verify!) numbers.
- Don’t use: “some of the participants”, “most of the children”, “a large number of teachers”
- Instead use “three out of eleven participants”, “12 out of 17 children”, “95% of the 302 teachers”
You can usually find these numbers in reports, surveys or with your Monitoring & Evaluation and programme teams.
- Don’t be vague
- Don’t use: “While distributing the cooling kits, we came across some challenges which we solved during the next distribution”.
- Use instead: Explain what the challenges were, how you overcame them, and what you pal to do differently in the future.
When working with figures, make sure these are based on the latest financial information, monitoring & evaluation data or situation reports. Getting ‘positive feedback’ on your project is great. Donors love it too – it helps them understand what difference the project has made to people on a personal level. Be specific: what exactly works well? What do people appreciate?
This is how you make feedback more specific – And build a better picture of what you are doing:
- Data: Which survey are you talking about? When was it conducted? Where was it conducted? How many people answered?
- Instead of writing ‘majority’, use a percentage.
- How was the feedback collected? Through feedback boxes, a hotline, evaluation forms after training or in-person to a staff member? How much feedback did you receive? What were the positives? What was negative?
- If you can get one, use quotes. A name is not essential, but always indicate a place and a date.
- Indicate: did you get back to people who had complaints about your project? If people made suggestions, what kind of suggestions and what did you do with them?
3. Use Simple Language
Drop long words, use short ones instead. For example; instead of ‘due to the fact’ you can use ‘as’, ‘because’ or ‘since’.
Use active sentences. Active sentences are not only shorter, they also put the focus on your organization and what you did. For example: Do not use: “The cooling kits were delivered by support to the people staff, 100 households received these successfully” instead use “We delivered cooling kits to 100 households”
Jargon excludes people and makes the text difficult to understand – including for the donor. Jargon is not the same as technical terms; please use technical terms if they are essential but it is vital that you explain these to the reader. You might even add a glossary at the end or beginning of your report.
The worst types of jargon are abbreviations, acronyms and initials. Some people, even within the sector, will not be able to understand what you are referring to when you use these. Make sure to:
- Always write out in full abbreviations the first time around. You should do this even for well-known abbreviations such as WASH, UN or GBV.
- When you work with abbreviations typical to your organization or sector, it is often better to write them out in full either every time or every new section of the text. Most readers will have forgotten two pages along the WPE refers to ‘Women’s Protection & Empowerment’. Remember most donors will have a variety of countries and programmes they support – even if you work with something every day, they may not.
Use clear language. Research has found that:
- People prefer clear sentences. The more complex the issue, the greater the need for clarity.
- The more educated a person and the more specialized the knowledge, the more they prefer clear language. It is your responsibility that the reader understands your text.
- We write to save the reader time and to get them on board, not to show how much we know about a subject or how many elaborate words we can cram into a sentence.
4. Keep it Short
Long sentences can be difficult to understand. Have you ever had to read a sentence that takes up half your screen after an already long day? How many times did you have to read it before you understood it – if you understood it at all?
Donors have lots of proposals to get through; make sure they don’t have to waste time understanding overly long or elaborate sentences. Varying the length of your sentences will add rhythm to your text. To make your point, use a short sentence if can. This way, it is more likely to stand out.
Rewrite nouns into verbs. For example:
Wipeout unnecessary words and padding
Always ask yourself: can it be clearer, crisper, and simpler?
Don’t stick with your first draft: The first draft is often a way to get to your point. You will often need to go back, edit and amend various sentences or sections.
Common padding words include: “very”, “considerable”, “a variety of”, “some”, “subsequently”. You can just delete these. For example:
Good donor report writing skills require that:
- Write factually and try to avoid embellishing your proposals/reports with emotion or judgment. Expressions such as ‘heart-breaking’ or ‘desperate’ are not appropriate to include
- Let facts speak to the reader. Don’t tell the reader what to think of your team, organization, or project but rather let the facts speak for themselves
- Avoid blowing your own trumpet. Stay away from phrases such as ‘this innovative project’, ‘our highly successful programming’ or our ‘experienced staff’. Instead go for specific examples: What is innovative about your project? What kind of experience does your team have in country with this kind of programming?
5. Follow a Clear Structure
What are the key points that you want the donor to know? A decent go-to structure looks like this:
- Plan and organize your text in bullet points before you start
- Grab a piece of paper or open a new document and order your thoughts around the five W (what, who, why, where) and the H (how)
- What is your key argument?
- Who are you writing the report for? What information do they need from you?
- Why are you writing this document? What are the needs?
- Where did your activities take place? Where is the crisis?
- How will your organization take action?
- These questions are applicable to different contexts and will fulfill the donors queries
- Donors are interested in results: numbers, percentage of needs met, children supported, schoolbooks distributed….
- Donors look for the impact of your work and how it has or will change the community. They also want to know about lessons learned and the challenges faced
Now you have your points jotted down, build your text. Get straight to the point (key message). Usually, this is the most important thing you want the donor to remember. Reveal it first and then expand on why this information is important and what this information means.
People Scan, They don’t read
Online, people only read about 20% of a text. They are scanning for information rather than necessarily reading in a linear fashion. For your donor report writing skills to be effective you need:
- Put important points you want to get across in bullet points
- You can also number your ideas or arguments
- Work with visuals to display facts and numbers -(infographics, tables, timelines or fact boxes)
- Highlights quotes or key arguments to make them standout
- Break up paragraphs and work with subheadings every two to three paragraphs
Donor report writing skills require that you make sure your report is consistent, specific, use simple language, keep it short and follow a clear structure. The reader should be able to know why you are writing the report, who are you writing the report for, what is your argument, where did the activities take place and how will your organization take action.