Vyacheslav Bakhmin: The NGO report as a way of saying “Let’s get acquainted”

posted 16 May 2018, 12:11 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 16 May 2018, 12:13 ]

3 May 2018 

By Vyacheslav Bakhmin, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, expert on the Committee for Civic Initiatives, and expert for the competition “Starting Point” 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group  [original source: ASI

How an NGO report can be an instrument of communication and in searching for partners

Applications to the competition “Starting Point” opened on 1 May 2018. 

In 2017, 325 applications were sent in to the “Starting Point” competition. The organisers hope that this year they will receive even more reports, since the project has many regional partners. But there are more than 100,000 socially-oriented NGOs in the country! And even if the statistics deceive and the working organisations are in fact an order of magnitude fewer, we’re still talking about tens of thousands of organisations that could participate in the competition with their reports. So where are they?

Somewhat surprisingly, the majority of socially-oriented NGOs simply don’t have public annual reports. And it’s not just the small organisations, working in the middle of nowhere and with no resources whatsoever, but also quite prosperous, successful NGOs, with sufficient means and capabilities to produce some kind of report each year. The question is, quite simply, why is it necessary for them? We’re trying to understand this.

Practically every non-profit organisation working in public welfare, solving different social problems, is faced with a range of clear, though challenging tasks. Every organisation wants to have adequate resources for its work; to be beneficial to its intended audience, i.e. those for whom the NGO works; and to be sure that it does what’s necessary, making a positive contribution and working effectively. Certainly, every organisation wants to have a good reputation, and wants to be loved and valued by colleagues, the authorities, clients and journalists. The organisation that achieves all of this thrives, is well-known, finds it easy to get funding, and has many friends, partners and followers.

In order to be so respected and successful, certain efforts need to be made, of course. Above all it is necessary to enter into communication and relationships with the surrounding community, with stakeholders (or interested parties), so that they know you and so that your activity is recognised and endorsed. Confidence in the organisation must arise, and it does so when you are open and transparent, when information about you and your achievements is accessible to anyone that wants to find out more about you. It’s precisely this goal that regular and reliable reports help achieve: reports that contain basic information about both the organisation itself, and the results of the activity in the given period. Usually, these reports cover a year.

Precisely this annual report demonstrates the organisation’s achievements to the wider public, showing how useful and effective it has been. It’s as if to say: let’s get acquainted, look how amazing we are, how much important and necessary work we do, join us, let’s be partners!

The material which is presented and how it is structured, as well as the language and visuals used, will of course differ depending on the report’s primary target audience. Yet even if you expect your report to be read only by your donors or colleagues, it must still be accessible to a wider group of readers, since organisations do not generally produce multiple public annual reports. Certain foundations and high-profile organisations print their reports on glossy paper with colourful illustrations, but this is expensive and by no means always necessary – the majority of NGOs content themselves with publishing their reports electronically. All the same, the task of drawing up the report is one which merits proper attention, since it showcases the fruits of your labours over the past year. Making such a report available on your homepage, for example, or another publicly accessible Internet site, can provide interested parties with a great deal of information about what you are doing.

Although annual reports are generally intended for external use and communicating with the wider world, they can sometimes be enormously beneficial to the organisation itself. After working together with his team to produce their first annual report, the head of an NGO once admitted to me, "For the first time I’ve realised exactly how much we do and what a great job we do!" The process of gathering data for an annual report forces you to identify and summarise all the things you might have missed in the general hubbub of day-to-day activity, and can reveal impressive figures and significant achievements. It is also worth noting that an annual report, like any debriefing exercise, should not be merely a list of the measures and programmes which have been implemented and the sources of funding which have been leveraged. The real value of a good report lies in its analysis of the work that has been done; what has happened, what went well and why, how the organisation grew over the course of the year, whether it succeeded in introducing any new technologies or ways of working, and whether the organisation is on an upward trajectory.

The substance of the report is a whole separate topic of conversation, and I would merely like to make the point that ongoing efforts should be made over the course of the entire year to gather pertinent information, highlights and specific headings, rather than waiting until the last minute when the deadline for publication has already passed. Incorporating these efforts into the organisation’s standard working procedures will mean that preparing the document itself requires very little time or effort. And once the report is complete, there is no reason why you should not submit it to the Russia-wide competition “Starting Point” in order to find out how skilled you are at talking about yourself and presenting the outcomes of your work to the public and your colleagues. Participants in the competition whose reports comply with the competition’s criteria for the presentation of information will receive a certificate which will no doubt also come in useful.

Donors are increasingly making financial awards dependent on the presentation of annual progress and financial reports, which is a purely pragmatic reason for producing such a report. The main benefit of doing so however is that it helps NGOs tackle the vital or even critical tasks faced by every organisation and discussed at the very start of the report. A compilation of an organisation’s annual outcomes ultimately represents an impressive chronicle of its evolution, and makes apparent the scope of its impact on specific groups of people and society as a whole. Any efforts in this respect are therefore likely to be handsomely rewarded.


More details about the competition, training courses and a helpline for NGOs can be found in a special section of the Donors Forum’s official website. The competition rules can be downloaded here.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds and Mercedes Malcomson