When I worked for an arts nonprofit, I learned how to use a very powerful tool to develop my department and the organization as a whole. The tool cost almost nothing except thought and time. And the benefits were plenty. What was this mystery tool? It was a simple monthly report.

Most libraries and musuems issue an annual report. The annual report is an encapsulation of all the work (programs, partnerships, events, donors, memberships, etc.) accomplished that year. It’s a chance to shine a spotlight on why your organization exists, and to help your organization’s family feel connected to your mission. But you might wonder why you would generate a monthly report as well, and how would you go about doing it?

The benefits of monthly reports depend on the audience. Is this report going to be shared with a board of directors? Internal stakeholders? Program partners? While you’ll want to tailor your reporting to the communication needs of the intended audience, there are benefits to doing the report regardless of audience.

First, it allows your team to come together and meditate on their accomplishments in the past month. It forces them to put in thought and intentionality to their reporting, and in a perfect world, this will translate into a more mindful approach to their work. We often suffer from a very rushed perspective, and the monthly report is an exercise in slowing down, taking stock, and evaluating your situation.

Second, it keeps things accountable for you and your team. A well-done monthly report will honestly identify the difficulties as well as the triumphs. In some situations, this will be extremely critical information to effecitvely communicate to your stakeholders. Monthly reports are a vehicle to avoid unpleasant surprises when the goal is out of reach, and could be used to help get the organization on course again.

Another reason why monthly reporting could be useful is to benefit your team directly. It’s an opportunity for team members to stop for a moment and come together and appreciate what everyone else is working on. Non-profits and libraries tend to operate at break-neck pace, and it’s rare to take the time to really understand the challenges and victories everyone else on the team experiences. For years, I kept a personal monthly report of a page or two that I would give to my supervisors. It was a useful reminder of the status of my projects, and gave context to our regular check-ins.

Monthly reporting can be trickier than it appears. There’s no fixed rule for length or composition. Here are a few maxims I’ve had success with when drafting a monthly report.

  1. Keep it simple. The report should not be a comprehensive deep-dive on everything the team has worked on in the past month. Updates and bullet points are useful for putting together a monthly report.
  2. Keep it focused. A good monthly report might vary in length, depending on the nature of the work being done and the size of the team. Don’t turn it into a monthly version of an annual report if you can help it.
  3. Change it up. Include images, charts, and graphs to illustrate your points and keep readers engaged.
  4. Include statistics. The hard numbers can be powerful, but it’s also critical to keep them contextualized.
  5. Drive a narrative. It shouldn’t take an advanced degree to parse out the monthly report. It should be filled with story points, easily-digestible portions, and make the current status of the team and its projects readily understandable to the audience.

A monthly report can serve as a powerful communication tool for your team or organization. It can serve to sharpen your focus, provide talking points to organizational leadership, and help your team come together and celebrate their accomplishments.

Does your team use a monthly report? Are you thinking of trying one out? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!