'Tis the Season for Annual Reports

Best practices and strategies to help you create a compelling annual report that your stakeholders will actually notice, and may even get excited about reading Here are a few thoughts on how to get the most out of your annual report in 2016:

Make them feel good about giving to you

An annual report provides a retrospective look at what happened during the preceding year. But it’s not enough just to tell donors what you did – you need to tell them why it matters.

What is the impact of a gift to your organization? Who are the people (or in the case of the Michigan Humane Society, the animals), that benefited? How has the world improved (even if it’s a very small world) because of your organization?

While your administrative accomplishments are important, most donors don’t really care about whether or not you hit your fundraising goals, how you improved your electrical system, or how much you saved on health insurance for your employees – unless it’s had a direct impact on the delivery of your mission.

Your annual report provides a very public platform in which to recognize the donors, volunteers, and staff members who are essential to the success of your organization. Use this opportunity to thank them for their commitment and to highlight the differences they’re making. Consider profiling a few key stakeholders; invite them to tell you why they chose to get involved and include direct quotes from them throughout your report. See how Children’s Hospital of St. Louis lets its stakeholders know about the impact they’ve made.

A picture tells a thousand words (at least)

Your stakeholders are bombarded with information every day. How can your annual report break through the clutter and get noticed? Use visual content to show your story—it’s easier and faster for the human brain to process. Take a look at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s 2015 report for some inspiration.

The key is to use meaningful visuals, not just stock photos – your readers are smart enough to ignore them. The Salvation Army does this beautifully. And don’t forget captions. If your stakeholders do nothing but look at images and read the captions, they should still be able to get the gist of your message.

Infographics are another great way to show your stakeholders how your organization is making an impact. They provide an innovative, interesting and easy-to-understand way to present information. Here are some great examples: Washington Access FundSpringboard for the Arts, and the New York Public Library.

Should I print it? Create it online? Post it on Facebook? Email it? Put it on YouTube?

Think about how people really want to get communication from you, not just how you are used to sending it out. Segment your audience, and determine which format is the most appropriate for each group. For example:

  • Busy executives might be more likely to watch a short video-summary sent to their inbox than they are to visit a microsite annual report
  • If your stakeholders are environmentally conscious, think twice before sending out that 30-page, full-color, glossy booklet
  • Millennials may pay more attention to your report if it’s shared with them by a friend via social media than if you send it to them directly through email

Consider printing full reports for your most influential stakeholders, but send postcards with a URL to everyone else. If you have a healthy email list, send a link to your report along with a brief note from the executive director. Offer a printed annual report upon request. An executive summary – in print or digital form – is a great way to communicate your most important messages to an over-stimulated audience.

Digital reports have many advantages over print: They can be cheaper to produce than traditional reports; they can include dynamic content that encourages interaction with stakeholders; they allow for the use of videos, podcasts, and slideshows; and it’s possible to track how many people actually open the reports and which content is most popular. It’s also possible to include a link to donate – which users will surely be inspired to do after reading your report!

Keep in mind, though: online reports will save on printing and postage – but they’re not free. Make sure to consider software costs, photography editing (to make images suitable for web), development of interactive graphics, staff time to get up to speed on new methods, etc.

The gift that keeps on giving

A video testimonial, like this one from the Robin Hood Foundation, could be part of an annual report but could also be used as part of a donor presentation or a YouTube channel. Photos commissioned for a printed annual report could be used on social media or on your website. An info-graphic that explains your financial results could be used to update staff on the organization’s performance. Include a link to your most recent report in your email signature.

Putting together an annual report can seem like a daunting task. But with a thoughtful strategy, you can create an inspiring and informative record of what your organization has accomplished – one that will also be a source for compelling content you can use throughout the year.