Even in smaller organizations, an annual report has a way of taking up a lot of space. (Or time, but they’re the same thing, I’m told.)
Day to day work halts. Reports are requested from all departments. Designers and writers are hired.
An annual report is often seen as the one marketing piece worth investing in. After all, you can use it in all kinds of ways, right? And it’s good for a whole year!
Let’s face it: most annual reports are not a scintillating read.
How much thought do you give to the most important audience?
Your goal isn’t to win awards for your copy and design team – though that’s nice. Your annual report shouldn’t be an ego document.
Your main goal isn’t a pretty document to leave around the office and send to marketing targets.
Make your goal to inform and uplift your donors. Corporate donors. Foundation donors. AND your individual donors.
To avoid the same old thing, don’t start with the same old thing
Sure, it’s easier if you know exactly where you’re going. Maybe you update some photos and a little copy and… done.
But if you want this document to be useful and read, maybe it’s smart to break the old mold and start again.
Start with reevaluating the old letter from the ED. Do you
really think what she or he has to say is so interesting people will be eager
to read it? Or is this about your ED feeling important?
Chances are, you don’t need it. Ditto the board chair’s letter.
- What must this report include?
- What stories can you tell to illustrate what matters?
- What do you want to leave readers feeling and thinking?
You’ll want to include basic financial information. Because this can satisfy reporting requirements and because this information can tell a story itself.
But you don’t have to make the information hard to read. Think about illustrating the facts in a more graphic way. Think about simplifying the information for readers who aren’t eager to jump into a balance sheet. Or at the least, explain to them what the numbers mean for your organization and your mission.
Here’s a cute example from Oregon Food Bank. You get financials for those who like more detail, but also a cute way to show as well as tell. And tied to their mission.
Show your work
Think about how you can really bring the reader into your mission. Use stories. Use great images – either photos or artwork. Be creative!
Begin with the cover. If that’s dull, it’s not likely any reader will venture inside.
1. What are the key things your organization does?
Think: Who do you help? How do you do it? Why do you exist?
Then think: how could I make that jump off the page?
2. What is most important to celebrate from the last year?
NOT internal news. Not how hard you worked on your new brand.
What did you accomplish that helped people? And how can you show donors it’s what they accomplished?
3. What are the challenges you fought or discovered?
It’s OK to talk about these. Donors like to solve problems. Put challenges in the context of the ongoing work.
As you do, think less “report” and more “narrative”. Reports are usually dull and hard to read. But doesn’t everyone like a good story?
Remember who the star is
Remember this isn’t a chance to brag about your organization. Every good thing you did, you did with partners. And this is your chance to be sure those partners understand how important they are to the work.
I want to say a word here about “gratitude reports”. Thanks to wonderful work like that of my friends at Agents of Good, these are becoming “a thing”. And that’s good! Because gratitude is the reason to create a document like this.
But too often now, I see regular old annual reports with “Gratitude Report” slapped on the front cover. That’s like giving someone last year’s birthday present and expecting them to feel great.
Gratitude: don’t just say it, do it.
If you start out thinking of your report as a great big thank you letter, you’ll be in a better place. This is all about bringing partners closer. Do that by making them feel great about being supporters.
How can you add gratefulness to every section of this document?
Gratitude is good for every audience
But this is what we use to send to institutional funders and government representatives!
If you think that something warm and grateful will be a turn-off to these audiences, think again. Remember that every institution is created and run by… people. And people like to feel both useful and good about themselves.
You’ll do absolutely no harm to institutional relationships by making this report warm and emotional. You do stand the chance to make some human, rather than merely institutional, connections though.
Step back from the cookie-cutter annual report
Start with who you want to reach, what you want to say, and what you want readers to feel and do. Then find your most grateful mindset and write a beautiful thank you card.