Back to Guides
Guides

A complete 8-step guide to writing a social value report

In a world where data and storytelling converge, showcasing the real difference your initiatives make is essential.

Learn how to effectively communicate your successes, navigate challenges, and ensure that your efforts leave a lasting impact.

Dive into our 8-step-by-step guide (updated in 2024) and discover how to turn your social value data into compelling narratives that resonate with stakeholders and drive sustainable change.

Written by: Nil Khalifa

What does a good social impact report look like? Take a look at our eight-step guide – fully updated in 2024 – to better understand what to include, how to structure the report, and most importantly, have it stand out so people want to read it!

Introduction

As organisations, we have incredible potential to change lives, communities, and the environment. Thankfully, many of us have acknowledged and embraced that, ready to do our part to amplify the positive impact on wider society and the world, and to be accountable for and take action on any negative impact we are having. But making this difference is only half the battle.

You have your initiatives. You have your beneficiaries. And you have your data to show what you’re accomplishing. But to embed real long-term impact creation into your organisation, you must bring this data to life, communicate all the good you are accomplishing, and engage your decision makers impact commitment. 

That’s where social value and impact reports come in. Done right, social value reports can be an extremely effective way to bring your efforts’ crucial data, stories, and explanations to the forefront and into the hands of people who need to see them most.

It’s about ensuring what you’ve done is communicated transparently, and you are in the best place to continue to improve your impact well into the future. 

Social value reports empower you to assess and mitigate potential risks proactively, ensuring the sustainability of your initiatives. They also serve as a tangible testament to your progress, engaging your staff, stakeholders, and decision makers in the journey.

Now, let’s delve into crafting a compelling report. By understanding the key elements that make a report great, you can ensure that your impact resonates with your audiences and engages them to support you in continuing to make a difference. 

What is social value?

There are lots of definitions of social value . At Impact we align to the Social Value International definition of social value as “understanding the relative importance that people place on changes to their wellbeing and using the insights we gain from this understanding to make better decisions” and the UK Treasury Greenbook definition as including “all significant costs and benefits that affect the welfare and wellbeing of the population”.

Put simply, social value is the change you have on the wellbeing of people and the planet. Remember, this can be both positive AND negative!

At Impact we will work with you to align to the definitions of social value that mean the most to your organisation, stakeholders, and context.

Why is social value important?

Prioritising social value is more than just a box-ticking exercise. It means making morally sound choices and prioritising the wellbeing of our world (including people!). More than just being the right thing to do, there are heaps of tangible benefits for your business, too.

When social value is a priority, you:

  • Future-proof your business
  • Manage risks more effectively
  • Enhance your reputation
  • Attract and retain employees, consumers, B2B customers, and investors
  • Strengthen stakeholder relations
  • Drive innovation
  • Secure social licensing and accreditation to operate with trust
  • Keep pace with – and anticipate – future policy developments
  • Help stabilise societies, markets, and our environment
  • Reduce supply chain risk
  • Create new opportunities
  • Remain compliant 

However, making a difference alone is not enough. You also need to report transparently to communicate your impacts, showcase the good you’re accomplishing, and highlight how and where you aim to improve. 

What is a social value report?

A social value report should be clear, honest, and transparent, and should tell the full story of your organisation’s impact. It should include both positive and negative consequences of your actions and should demonstrate the real impact of what can be achieved, not just what can be easily measured. 

A well-written social value report should be more than just a bundle of outputs, facts, and figures. Done correctly, it should tell the story of how your work makes a difference in the lives of the people you’re trying to help or the issue you’re trying to improve.

Good social value reporting is a critical part of your impact practice. The insights you create from your reporting should shape decision-making, promote accountability and transparency, allow you to act with less risk, and ensure the best possible use of resources including making more informed decisions on any trade offs you have to make. 

Your impact report ensures that your work not only matters today but creates positive ripple effects in the future.  

How are social value reports different from annual reports? 

Your annual report provides a comprehensive overview of your organisation’s performance over the year. On the other hand, your social value report highlights the specific impact of your efforts on your key stakeholder groups, which could include staff, communities, suppliers, customers or clients, and your board, investors, or funders, as well as your place, geography, context, or environment. While annual reports typically summarise a full year’s worth of data covering your full operations, and certainly your financial performance, your social value or impact reporting may have a smaller scope, such as at project, department, or specific contract level. The time frame may be shorter, or longer, than your annual report depending on the scope of the activities you are trying to cover. You may need to be more concise and timely, such as for bid submissions, or funding or investment applications.

Moving towards good quality reporting

Impactful social value reporting is your way to fast track doing good, better. 

With a few simple steps, you’ll have the framework to create an inspiring social value report that answers your stakeholders’ deep and meaningful questions, and provides a transparent, and honest account of the impact and value that you are actually creating.

Step 1: Create a plan for your social value report

Your social value report should clearly outline your efforts and logically connect them into a story that resonates. 

Before you write your report, ask:

  • Who is your audience, or audiences, and where do you plan to publish your report?
  • Which specific frameworks or standards are you adhering to?
  • Are you seeking any external assurance or accreditation?
  • What are your material social, environmental, and economic issues? Do you have key impact themes or priorities defined in line with these issues?
  • What governance structures manage your approach to these issues? Do you have commitments and policies to support your management of these issues?
  • What are the aspirational outcomes you want to achieve, and what plans do you have to achieve them?
  • Are you clear on your impact data collection methodology? What data do you collect that you will need to include in your report?
  • What successes and challenges have you encountered in your journey? Be honest about your progress and areas for improvement.
  • What are the assumptions, professional judgments, limitations and associated risks of your measurement and valuation approach?
  • Do you have key messages for your report to highlight?
  • Are there any case studies, or individual stakeholder stories you want to include?

Answering these questions will set you up well to have the right information to start writing your report.

You can then start to draft the structure of your report. A social value or impact report can include as much or as little information as is going to meet the needs of your primary audience. However, it should at least include the following sections:

Good practice social value report sections

  • Introduction/Executive Summary (including the scope of your report)
  • Your company mission and the impact problems you seek to address
  • How you achieved/or are going to achieve this impact (the activities you are doing/going to do)
  • Who was/will be impacted as a result (your stakeholders!)
  • Methodology (i.e. how you defined your outputs and outcomes, how you collected the data, who you surveyed/engaged with, the frameworks you aligned to, your valuation approach, your approach to attribution, the assumptions and limitations of your approach) 
  • Outcomes, impact, and value analysis and results (ideally a combination of qualitative and quantitative results, as well as data insights)
  • Lessons learned (about your activities AND about your impact practice)
  • Next steps, and future plans (changing your activities, and changing your impact practice)

Each of these can be divided into clear subsections within your report, and you can also add any additional detail or sections to create the best report for your audience and purpose.

Step 2: Understand your audiences needs

Be clear about what information your audiences expect to see so your tone, messaging and content meet their needs. 

Potential audiences may include relevant organisational, financial, operational, and governance stakeholders like:

Knowing your audience will help you shape the format of your report, the content and language you use, and help you make your report accessible and relevant for them to use. Here’s an outline to help you.

AudienceArea of concernType of pressure/decisions
Shareholders
Investors
Board
Employees
Internal governance– Internal pressure
– Whether to invest
– Voting decisions
– Structure and strategy 
– Whether to work at the organisation
Suppliers
Customers 
Upstream and downstream value chain– External pressure
– Whether to continue supplying
– Whether to continue buying
Industry associations
Competitors
Market competition– External pressure
– Whether up to industry standard
– Place in market against competition
Government – legislation, regulation
External non-financial disclosures – voluntary or mandatory
Coercive mechanism– Coercive pressure
– Whether acting within the law
– Whether meeting voluntary / mandatory standards
NGOs, Media, PublicNormative mechanism– Societal pressure
– Social licence to operate
– Public reputation
Corporate sustainability, impact, ESG or social value strategyProactive, reactive– Strategic pressure
– Whether successfully meeting strategic goals
– Whether strategy needs to change

Step 3: Include your impact goals, metrics, and progress

A social value report should outline clearly the impact goals you are working towards, why you have chosen these goals (materiality!) and who was involved in that decision (which stakeholders?).

Your report should detail these goals and the progress you’ve made towards them, providing a clear and specific picture of your impact.

Clearly state your goals

Your report should open with a clear statement of your social value or impact goals. These goals should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, and time-bound. For instance, instead of a broad goal like “improving community wellness,” specify a goal such as “improving the elderly’s access to mental health services in Leicester within six months.”

Detail your metrics

Provide a detailed overview of the key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics you use to measure your impact. Here are some examples of metrics you could include:

  • Number or percentage of people employed by a local community
  • Number of apprentices or work placements
  • Breakdown of workforce, including jobs created for underrepresented groups
  • Percentage of the workforce paid the National or London Living Wage
  • Hours of training provided per employee
  • Policy commitment to support Diversity and Inclusion
  • Percentage of invoices paid within 30 days
  • Total amount of time or money spent with local enterprises
  • Percentage of contracts within the supply chain that include social value commitments
  • Percentage of suppliers with responsible sourcing requirements
  • Number of hours volunteered to support local community projects
  • Donations or in-kind contributions to local community projects
  • Investment in initiatives aimed at reducing crime or tackling homelessness

Provide context and background

Each goal should be accompanied by a background that explains its relevance to your mission and the specific areas of your business it covers, whether it’s a particular project, your CSR activities, or an overview of your initiatives.

Examples of SMART social value goals

  • Generate £XX of social value by [date].
  • Support XX work experience placements per year.
  • Generate £XX in donations to our charity of choice by [date].
  • Hire XX apprentices by [date].
  • Volunteer XX hours in the local community.
  • Reach net zero emissions by [date] with a XX% reduction in carbon footprint by [date].
  • Ensure XX% of employees engage in XX volunteer days.
  • Survey beneficiaries [x times] per year.
  • Ensure all suppliers pay the Real Living Wage.
  • Update company policy to support diversity and inclusion.
  • Achieve an XX% increase in new jobs created for underrepresented groups.
  • Launch a supplier monitoring program to ensure compliance with social value commitments.
  • Spend XX% of procurement budget with local businesses.
  • Donate X% of office equipment to local businesses and schools.

Highlight achievements and lessons learned

Discuss the progress made towards these goals, highlighting both successes and areas for improvement. Be honest about your journey, including challenges encountered and lessons learned. This transparency builds trust with your stakeholders.

Make sure your impact mission feeds into your goals

Your goals and metrics form the core of your report’s impact mission. They define the narrative and ensure that it focuses on the specific impacts you are working to achieve. By clearly communicating these elements, you ensure that your report is both meaningful and effective.

Step 4: Outline any reporting frameworks  

Using a predefined reporting framework can help if you are needing to report in a compartive way for your sector, in line with contract requirements, to align to local, national, or international standards or goals, or if you are starting out and need guidance on what you should measure.

Tips for using a standard framework effectively:

  • Understand the reporting requirements, including the reporting principles, general disclosures, and specific disclosures.
  • Select the indicators that are most relevant to your activities.
  • Once you pick a framework that works, stick to it where possible. Consistent reporting practices make it effortless for stakeholders to compare your sustainability performance over time.

Here are some reporting frameworks that you might consider for your social value report: 

  • The Global Reporting Initiative Standards is one of the most popular of the sustainability reporting frameworks. It provides guidance on sustainability reporting principles, general disclosures, and specific disclosures that cover social aspects such as human rights, community impacts, and labour practices. 
  • While not specifically a reporting framework, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a cornerstone of best practice for many. They can be useful for demonstrating how your operations contribute to global social priorities such as poverty reduction, health, education, and environmental sustainability.
  • The National TOMs (Themes, Outcomes, and Measures) help you measure and report on social value by categorising it into themes such as jobs, growth, social, environment, and innovation. Each theme has specific outcomes and measures, making it easy to track and communicate your social impact.
  • PPN 06/20 (Procurement Policy Note) provides a framework for incorporating social value into government contracts. It emphasises policy outcomes aligned with government priorities and includes guidance on how to account for additional social benefits in contract delivery.

If you’re struggling with which frameworks to choose, don’t panic. You’re not alone. 

We understand the challenge of capturing meaningful data and demonstrating the real impact on people’s lives. That’s why we, as social value practitioners, created MeasureUp, an openly available measurement and valuation approach designed to support good practice social value measurement, valuation, and reporting. If you’re feeling lost in a swamp of frameworks, MeasureUp could help give you a steer.

Step 5: Analyse your gathered data 

Social value is moving away from being just figures on a spreadsheet or a tick-box exercise. It is going through an exciting transformation with new and evolving standards, frameworks and governance, with the UK government supporting initiatives such as the Social Value Model, MACs, and PPN06/20.

The message is clear: those businesses that significantly contribute to social and environmental wellbeing will win more work.

However, to truly demonstrate the impact of your contributions, it’s crucial to use accurate and meaningful data. This not only backs up your statements with solid statistics and figures but also shows your commitment to transparency and accountability.

To achieve this goal, you have three options: manual information gathering using a social value portal or a broad ESG platform. Each option has unique considerations.

  1. Manual information gathering: When gathering information manually, many people start with Excel and tools like Power BI. However, these methods are cumbersome, prone to human errors, and not always suitable for handling large volumes and diverse arrays of data feeds.
  2. A social value data management system: Tools such as Impact Reporting are specifically designed to track, measure, and analyse social value and sustainability initiatives, providing a comprehensive overview of all initiatives on a centralised platform.
  3. A broad ESG platform: These are complex and expensive to customise for social value bids, requiring significant time and resources. The investment may outweigh the results.

No matter which data collection method you choose, the most crucial factor is to have a single source of truth. This means that all your data is accurately captured, giving you confidence in its reliability. By cross-checking all relevant departments and data capture methods, you can verify attribution and ensure data accuracy, reducing the risk of costly issues after your report is produced.

Step 6: Give your data context

Because the data you collect underpins decision-making, it’s crucial to disclose your collection methodology clearly for proper attribution. Are you gathering qualitative or quantitative data? Is it primary or secondary? 

Guide to data types

  • Qualitative: Emphasises understanding concepts and experiences through detailed, descriptive data from interviews, focus groups, observations, or text analysis, exploring the “how” and “why.”
  • Quantitative: Involves collecting and analysing numerical data through surveys, experiments, or secondary data analysis to identify patterns and make predictions.
  • Primary: Firsthand information collected directly from sources, tailored to specific research questions through surveys, interviews, or observations.
  • Secondary: Previously collected information reused for new research, including data from studies, reports, or historical records.

Alongside explaining the type of data collected, it’s equally important to mention:

  • How you gathered and analysed the data 
  • The frameworks you’re using 
  • Assurance mechanisms
  • Valuation approaches or standards that are being followed
  • Who was responsible for reporting the information 
  • Mitigating measures in place to prevent reporting from going off track

Be open and honest about associated assumptions, limitations, and risks 

No matter how good we are at collecting, analysing, and reporting data, it will always be challenging. Moving from counting inputs and outputs to account for outcomes, value, and impact involved numerous judgments and assumptions. Given the significance of your data collection process, it’s crucial to openly discuss the assumptions, limitations, and risks throughout your report. This transparency enables users of your data to make well-informed decisions regarding its relevance.

Don’t forget to include your materiality assessment  

Your assessment should show how materiality decisions were made, clarifying what has been included or excluded and the reasons for these choices. This will help the reader understand the reasoning behind your data collection strategy.

If you’re aligning with specific frameworks or standards, adhere to their materiality guidance. GRI, for example, requires a double materiality approach in its disclosures and defines material topics as “topics that represent the organisation’s most significant impacts on the economy, environment, and people, including impacts on their human rights.”

Begin with a general overview of your materiality assessment process, then delve into the specifics, organising the discussion into distinct sections as necessary.

Use causality pathways to showcase your outcomes

Outline how your activities lead to specific impacts using such as:

Your format should be free from ambiguity and show the entire causal pathway. Describe the sequence of events from the activity to the engagement, outputs, outcomes, and finally, the impact, explaining how it is valued by the affected people.

After defining these pathways, present the results, including key impact areas or goals, both positive and negative changes, and any unexpected outcomes to demonstrate how the impact was achieved. 

Results 

Once you’ve established the causality pathways, you can present your impact results. 

This should involve collecting data, sharing impact stories, and providing insights from data and the adopted value perspective. For transparency, include both positive and negative changes, as well as any unexpected discoveries. Keep the earlier tips in mind, and be sure to go into detail.  It’s not enough to keep your information surface-level. draw real insights from your data, conduct meaningful surveys, and highlight challenges and successes.

Lessons learned 

Reports are most effective as part of an ongoing process. Once you report your results, talk about what you learned from your activities and how you’re going to improve in the future. Showing that you continuously learn from outcomes and feedback is how you reassure stakeholders of your willingness to adjust for better future results proactively. 

You can consider making adjustments at all stages of your activities. These changes can include, but are not limited to, adjusting your:

  • Activities 
  • Systems 
  • Frameworks 
  • Methodologies 
  • Processes

If this isn’t your first report, you can include a section on the differences between this and the last report and how you’ve improved or where there is still room for improvement. Be sure to also communicate your goals for the next reporting period. This could be as simple as “We want to increase our number of apprentices next year, so we’re going to observe X, Y, and Z before taking action.”

Step 7: Tell human stories to create an emotional connection with your reader

Social value is human value. While documenting and reporting on qualitative and quantitative data are important, it’s easy to get bogged down with a binary view of social value as being all about financial metrics and hitting targets. 

Statistics and percentages undoubtedly have their place in your reports—especially for the benefit of external stakeholders—but so do meaningful, human stories. Facts and figures are there to back up your story rather than the other way around. The best reports strike a balance between the two. 

To weave personal stories into your report to bring the value of your outcomes to life, you can include:

  • Inspiring case studies
  • Quotes from a range of voices 
  • Real-life stories from participants and stakeholders
  • Photos and videos of your activities in action

Step 8: Over to you, it’s time to write your impact report

By following this outline, you’re guaranteed to produce an accurate, useful, and effective report tailored to your specific needs and purpose. 

You’ll also instantly avoid some of the common social value report writing pitfalls:

  • Focusing purely on financial values
  • Over-exaggerating figures and success
  • Making reputation-damaging claims
  • Prioritising outputs, not outcomes

As you get on with writing your social value report, remember that how you present your information is just as important as what you’re presenting. You don’t want to bore your readers with walls of text.

As with your other sustainability reporting, the data you present should be scannable and engaging. 

Here are our top tips to transform your social value report from good to great:

Full disclosure, always

Throughout your report, ensure transparency by providing links to data sources and any other external references. Resources such as the draft Transparency Criteria developed by the Capitals Coalition help enhance the credibility of your data and align with best practices in impact reporting.

Use visually captivating layouts

There are several effective ways to make your content more engaging:

  • Apply your colour scheme and a layout that provides enough white space. 
  • Visual aids such as graphs, charts, images, and diagrams also help to present information more effectively. 
  • Case studies and impact stories break up the page while relying on social proofing. Photos and videos can help tell a more compelling story about the work you do and the results you have achieved.
  •  Why not try using QR codes to make your content interactive? 

Create scanable content

Being able to keep your entire report short and sweet would be great. However, sometimes, you need to go into detail to paint a full picture. This doesn’t mean that your report should be so dense that readers need a fine-tooth comb to get to the point. 

The best social value reports are clear and succinct throughout, making life easier for your reader, not harder. 

Top tips for scanable content:

  • Use short paragraphs
  • Highlight key points with bullet points
  • Be creative with the design to break up the flow and keep your readers focused on your content. 
  • Consider a topline summary for longer explanations

Make each page count

When finalising your report, put yourself in your reader’s shoes. You don’t want to overwhelm them with too much information, but you don’t want to send them an excessively lengthy document, either. To make your social value report reader-friendly, avoid overloading any one page with too much information. 

Proper formatting can be the subtle difference between a hard-to-read report and an effortless one. Use no more than two fonts: one for the titles and another for the main text.

Conclusion

In a world where transparency and accountability are paramount, your social value report stands as a testament to your organisation’s commitment to making a positive impact. By following the steps outlined in this guide, you are well on your way to creating reports that not only highlight your achievements but also drive meaningful change for the future. Remember, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to writing a social value report, as each client and opportunity will have different drivers. 

Now is the time to take action. Begin crafting your social value report today and ensure that your organisation’s efforts resonate far and wide. Showcase your commitment, inspire your stakeholders, and lead by example in the pursuit of a better, more sustainable world. Improving the world is something that we’re all responsible for. It’s an ever-continuous journey.

But you don’t have to go through it alone. Get in touch today to see how we can help.

Ready to get started?

Let’s start doing more good, together.

What to expect

  1. Schedule your 30 minute call using the form.
  2. During the call, you can share your impact goals and current challenges.
  3. Our consultant will provide an overview of Impact so you can better understand if it's the right fit for your business.
  4. Q&A