Gone are the days where people needed to rush from work to get home in time to listen to or watch the news bulletin at 6 pm. These days, with a good internet connection, you could follow the news and any other event, many hours after they have taken place, irrespective of your location. Just like news updates, reports serve the purpose of updating the reader about events and activities that have taken place in their absence. This is similar to minutes of a meeting or research findings. It is also essential in documenting proceedings of events that have taken place as well as decisions that were reached in the absence of the reader.
For these reasons, report writing has become a vital component in the day-to-day operations of several organisations and particularly civil society organisations (CSOs) who rely largely on both international and local donor support to fund their projects.
CSOs use report writing as a primary means of communicating with donors and rendering accountability on how activities have been implemented and funds have been used. A good report is therefore critical in establishing CSO credibility and ultimately, increasing their chances of broadening their donor base.
Mastering the art of report writing then has become indispensable within the civil society sector. This article, therefore, seeks to explain how CSOs can leverage on excellent report writing skills to maintain their relevance in a fast-evolving world.
An excellent report is one that gives detailed and accurate information about an activity or event. CSOs must therefore remember that accurate information promotes accountability and generally projects a positive organisational image. The ability to produce credible reports is therefore very essential in ensuring CSO survival and sustainability.
Now here is the real deal. Acknowledging that CSOs know the benefits of producing excellent reports, a great number of them find the task of report writing daunting. Of course, it is if you have not mastered the process of report writing. A plethora of factors accounts for this common struggle.
Firstly, some of these organisations do not have the ability to deliver the necessary narrative and financial reports that meet the standards these donors have set.
Moreover, some are unable to submit reports to partners and sponsors including government agencies on the different activities and thematic areas they are engaged in a timely manner. Even when they do, the facts in the reports are presented in a manner that might not be easily understood by the reader.
Have you ever waited on delivery from an online shop only to be presented with a product that is completely different from the one you ordered? That is the exact image a bad report paints to your donors. This puts you at great risk of losing them if you continue on that tangent.
So you see, a little attention to your report writing skills can give you an edge over others and go a long way to impact your organisation’s sustainability. Let’s now delve into the details.
A credible report is always concise and factual. This means that the information should not only be useful, but relevant to the reader. When writing a report, try as much as possible to put yourself in the reader’s shoes. Ask yourself whether you would understand the report if you had not partaken in the activity. Evidently, the task of report writing can be very unnerving. However, if we are to follow certain guidelines ardently, then we should be able to improve our skills in this regard. It is worth noting that report writing like any other serious activity requires preparation and planning. These and other tips are discussed in the next few paragraphs.
Planning: The first guideline, therefore, is to plan what you intend to report. Planning requires you to brainstorm on your content, ask critical questions like who is going to read the report and why is the report being written. Planning also helps to identify the resources you need to write the report.
Keep it simple. Secondly, the report must be delivered in simple language. Some CSOs write overly lengthy reports filled with jargon their stakeholders and donors cannot appreciate. Always ensure maximum use of the Keep It Short and Simple (KISS) principle. This guarantees a factual report and minimizes the use of jargon while ensuring that it is reader-focused at the same time.
Training: Furthermore, Executive Directors and Managers of CSOs should invest in training sessions on report writing as part of the professional development of their staff, as is usually done at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Refresher training courses could also be organized periodically to keep staff abreast with improved contemporary reporting standards.
Practice, practice, practice: Finally, developing excellent report writing skills requires constant practice, do not be afraid to write as many reports as you can. As the maxim goes, practice makes perfect. Write as many times as you can and ensure that what you have written is always proofread.
In conclusion, the value of good reporting is immense. If these guidelines are put into practice, CSOs will become more accountable, transparent, and trustworthy. This will increase their visibility, make them more attractive to donors and other stakeholders, and ultimately increase their capacity to contribute effectively towards social change and development.