Purpose Reporting for Responsible Businesses

July 01, 2022

We are building social purpose into our businesses. Now, we have to report on it, to show our stakeholders what we’re doing – and why. 

There will be data and analysis. Yet it’s important to also ground your purpose report in authentic storytelling, giving consideration to your audiences.  Then, share and communicate your report so it makes an impact. 

Verity London’s Co-Managing Partner, Strategy, Debra Sobel, was joined by three other experts to discuss how it’s done.  If you missed the webinar, you can catch up with the recording – or carry on reading for just some of the key takeouts.

Responsible Business Experts 

Joining Debra on our webinar was Charlotte Boyle, Marketing Manager, Responsible Business, Deloitte; Susie Braun, Head of Strategy, Social Purpose at ITV and Olivia Bailey, who’s the Responsible Business Programme Co-ordinator at Burger King UK.  All shared their thoughts and advice for best purpose reporting practice.

Trends and Challenges of Social Impact Reporting

Our panel identified some key trends and challenges around purpose reporting. As we’ll see from our contributors, some companies produce annual reports that  integrate responsible business reporting. Others create a stand alone piece of work. There are other hybrid solutions, or alternative ways to communicate. Deciding what’s best for you and being aware of the options is a good place to start.   

A challenge is improving on and deepening top line information, and the balance between analysis and storytelling.  We look at how to get this right.

Once launched, you then need to think about how best to leverage your report to broaden conversations with stakeholders.  How as a company do you report the way you drive social change in a meaningful way, that’s robust enough for investors, yet also meaningful for consumers ? 

Getting the terminology right

Charlotte Boyle is clear about Deloitte’s purpose. Charlotte works in Deloitte’s Responsible Business team for its societal impact programme; which is grounded in the organisation’s global purpose statement.

Developing that consistency in how you refer to your team and your programme is very important so everybody can relate it to the company’s strategy. The titles have evolved alongside purpose in business itself. It used to be the remit of the CSR team. Charlotte argued that your terminology can demonstrate how progressive your approach is to purpose. For Deloitte, CSR started to feel quite traditional. Responsible Business better reflects the work of the team today, and how what they do is more than fundraising. It gives a coherence and helps everyone talk about what they do.   

Evolving Responsible Business actions to support your Purpose Report

For Susie Braun at ITV, the substance of what they do is more important than the terminology.  ITV has four areas of focus in its social impact remit, each with a published target they are able to report against.  So if ITV doesn’t deliver on one of its targets, audiences are going to know about it.  These targets are what create the momentum to deliver, encourage collaborative initiatives, and will help structure your reporting and results.

Finding the moment – and the best way – to talk about your purpose.

Burger King spent a few years setting up and delivering on responsible business,  getting its house in order behind closed doors. It only started communicating about it earlier this year, in 2021.

Olivia Bailey explained how a full report wasn’t the answer for its customers.  Burger King set up a website outlining its purposeful ambitions in succinct ways, using colourful and engaging infographics.  Internally, they call it responsible business and integration across the organisation is important. Externally, it describes what it does as, ‘Burger King for Good’. 

The way you report should be grounded in what’s best for your audiences – communicate to them however they will best digest and engage with your messaging. Think about who you are reporting for?  Investors? Customers? Clients? Employees?


Processes need to be able to capture data and activity from across the organisation, so collaboration from every team in the business is key.   The purpose team itself within your organisation may be small, and will drive the strategy and collection of information, the narrative and production of a purpose report – but effective information involves everybody in the company who’s been involved in action.

Next – the obvious question – but lay out what you want to report on – what you need to report on – and why.

Think about the balance you want between a data- driven report, or one that is more narrative-led. Maybe it’s a balance of both, but thinking about what your audiences need will help drive that decision.  Even if your data is quite top line now, what benchmarks can you put in place to improve and report on, that improve and evolve year on year? YouGov analysis and metrics around sales data are just some of the ways ITV  gathers campaign impact results.  Think about the overall tone and ensure you humanise your brand with its unique voice.

Consider how you are going to communicate your report.  Will it be available online and developed as an interactive digital asset?  Or a hard copy? Generally a report can take around three months to produce, depending on your in house feedback processes and maturity of your data – so allow for this, but think about your end goal up front and how you will distribute your purpose report to best tell your social impact story,.

Whether you integrate a purpose report into your company’s annual report, or have it standalone is another key decision. There are pros and cons to both, around length, structure constraints and freedom, depth and focus.

Finding a framework to report against can be confusing. There’s no global consensus on purpose reporting frameworks as of yet, and there are a few to choose from.   Which framework, if any, to report against and what to disclose has to be based very much on your organisation’s size, sector and needs.

Great purpose reporting examples

So what are our panel doing?  How have they decided to frame their purpose reports?

Deloitte has developed its own measurement framework looking at the depth of impact against its 5 Million Futures target. Partnerships with over seventy organisations help them measure impact and  gather data based on collaboratively working with teams within Deloitte itself and the organisations they collaborate with.   It’s pulled together at the end of the financial year, with company numbers part of the annual report, a mix of data and stories that help readers understand what they are doing and the difference it’s making.

ITV produces a separate responsible business report, alongside a concentrated piece about social purpose within its annual report. Its separate social impact report allows it to elaborate on the storytelling around its four focus areas.  Within ITV’s longer report there’s also a heavy data section, including around areas such as  ethnicity pay gap and disability

Burger King compliments its infographic style communication on purpose on the website with a section in the company’ annual report.  Its focus now is to concentrate on actioning on the promises it has made to deliver on, but including within that gaining the baseline data it needs to gather, so it’s there for a future purpose report, whatever form that takes.  It’s easy to get enthusiastic about initiatives and not collect the data and KPIs that will help you report on results.

Being transparent around your purpose and social value journey

Many in responsible business still feel they have a lot to do.  Which can make for a risk averse approach to purpose reporting and concern about what to communicate if your purpose reporting shows what is very much a work in progress.   Laying out targets authentically, showing what you’re aiming to achieve and being open about your plan and where things are still in development is OK.

Set out in your report what you have done, with evidence to back it up. Then include improvement pledges or something similar for when there’s some way to go.  Your audience will appreciate your honesty, and being up front with work still to be done, brings with it authenticity and connection.

Think about effort versus outcomes.  How you talk about the softer metrics and the efforts you make, whilst being sure to also address the outcomes.  The lives have been changed?  What tangible impact have you made?   

Ground in your core business

ITV focuses its social purpose around physical and mental health, and uses the airtime it has within its core business to leverage its campaigns.  It aims to use broadcasting – there to entertain – to campaign in a positive way around these topics.  It’s ‘Britain Gets Talking’ campaign at the start of lockdown enabled 6.4 million people to have more meaningful conversations.   

Deloitte knows that many of its people within the business love data!  But they try to gather information from many different perspectives, telling the stories around their responsible business activity from the point of view of different audiences.  Although Deloitte has a clear purpose based on what it does as a business, it gives a voice to the different organisations it works with to demonstrate the impact the collaborations make to them too, as well as hearing from beneficiaries and telling those stories when it can.

Burger King’s communications are based in data, but veer to the storytelling side of how it demonstrates impact within the promises it has made, which link to issues within the hospitality industry and what the public are interested in.  The data ensures the stories are credible.

Purpose is different for each organisation.  Each one will have its own processes and narratives.  Purpose Reporting needs a personalised approach that will ensure you speak to your various audiences in a way that is relevant and engaging, communicating your responsible business activities to promote what you all do as teams, and how it makes a difference to the world.

Top Tips for Responsible Business Purpose Reporting

Your purpose narrative and your ‘why’ needs to be strong – if you can’t articulate your purpose clearly, purpose reporting won’t be as engaging.

Different terminology can cause confusion, especially when you’re trying to engage external audiences.  Consistency and clarity of vision gives  your purpose reporting focus.

Have clear targets and outcomes that will help structure your report and results.

Choose the way you report on purpose by thinking about your current reporting tools, possible integration and – importantly – what your audiences will respond to best.

Set the tone and balance between data and storytelling that’s right for your business.

Don’t let risk aversion stop you from creating a purpose report.  Be authentic and transparent about your goals and achievements to overcome fears around ‘not having done enough’.

Create a communications plan to leverage the impact of your report across the year.  Aside from its launch, what can you take from it at different times, tent-pegging to various events that mean you can return to that data and those stories and demonstrate your responsible business activity in la variety of ways.   

During the webinar there were lots of questions from our attendees, and we couldn’t answer all of them in the time we had.   We’ve put them to our panel, and  an article with all their answers, giving further insight into best practices for purpose reporting will follow – so, keep a look out, we’ll be posting it soon! 

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