Annual Reports

Welcome to our newest guest blogger, Tom Ahern. Tom is a leading expert on making donor communications more successful. He speaks internationally and has clients across North America.

Before you abandon your paper annual report completely, consider this true story. It’s about having the right communications item in the right place at the right time.

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Guest blogger Kimberlee Roth, one of our team’s valued writers, has written for the Chicago Tribune and The Chronicle of Philanthropy among other publications. She provides writing and editing services to universities, health systems and other nonprofits.

Whether told through gestures, symbols or spoken words, carvings on a cave wall or YouTube videos, we humans have used stories as a communications strategy for thousands of years. It’s intuitive in many respects to tell a story.

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Thanks to guest blogger, Kimberlee Roth, one of our team’s valued writers. Kim has written for the Chicago Tribune and The Chronicle of Philanthropy among other publications, and provides writing and editing services to universities, health systems and other nonprofits.

I harbor no ill will toward opening messages. In fact, I believe they can be an important component of a nonprofit’s annual report. When done well–well being the operative word–they provide context for the rest of the publication. They personalize it and make it more immediate, and they help point readers to key information and calls to action.

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I dug into VolunteerMatch’s recent annual report in video format the minute it reached my inbox. READ MORE

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We’re thrilled to welcome back guest blogger, Kimberlee Roth, one of our team’s valued writers. Kim also writes  for the Chicago Tribune and The Chronicle of Philanthropy among other publications, and is author of Surviving a Borderline Parent.

Still not entirely convinced annual reports present opportunity over drudgery? Many nonprofits are bridging print and digital content in creative ways that make their annual reports interactive, engaging and attention-grabbing.

Of course there are some caveats. But first, a few options for adding a third dimension so that “same old” becomes a thing of the past:

1) Print with online clone: Sure, you can create a PDF of your print content and put it online, but why not add clickable links in the PDF to make the report more interactive? Or explore some newer tools, such as treesaver and issuu that allow you to create sleek online, magazine-style publications with your content.

2) Print teaser and online complement: For its 2010 report, Partners in Health sent out an eight-page summary that points recipients to the full 40-page report (PDF) on its website.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute sent out a large, tri-fold brochure with summaries of its “top 10” stories. The full interactive report lives on the HHMI website, with a PDF option, too.

Getting Attention reader, Tara, of the Watershed Agricultural Council shared how WAC has shortened its print edition and uses issu for the digital version. WAC also includes an online supplement in PDF for additional information.

The Kellogg Foundation recently added QR, or quick response, codes to its report to connect print stories with online video. Communications manager Rebecca Noricks explains.

3) Digital only: VolunteerMatch went digital in 2009 and presented its entire report in Prezi, a novel presentation application. (Think PowerPoint meets kaleidoscope.)

Excited? Great. But not so fast:

In With the Old
A recent Chronicle of Philanthropy article pointed out that the move to digital reporting can be steep.

One way to manage costs is to look at what (well-done!) multimedia content you already have–videos, podcasts, photo-slideshows–that can be repurposed.

Strategy First
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of cool new tools, but always go back to your communications strategy. Ask yourself:

  • Who are your audiences?
  • What messages are trying to send to each?
  • What are the best ways to deliver? (QR codes won’t fly unless your audiences use smartphones (a lot); a direct mail report isn’t going to impress most Millennials.)

Preserve Prose
Photos and videos may be worth 1,000 (written) words, but don’t slash the text from your report. Clear, concise writing is critical–it sets the stage and gives context to your messages. Without it, disparate pieces of multimedia content can feel disjointed and confusing. Compelling prose ties the piece together and keeps audiences focused right where you want ’em to be: on your messages, mission and impact.

How is your organization thinking about approaching its next annual report? Please share your experiences and ideas here.

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We’re thrilled to welcome our newest guest blogger, Kimberlee Roth, one of our valued writers for consulting projects, writer for the Chicago Tribune and The Chronicle of Philanthropy among other publications, and author of Surviving a Borderline Parent. Here’s Kim…

They waste paper, money, time; they’re a project management bear; besides, no one reads them anyway. Know what I’m talking about? Yes (cue scary music): Annual Reports.

With budget woes that have touched us all in some way, it’s hard not to think about the resources and energy that go into producing an annual report. (And to wonder, as The Agitator did recently, “Are Annual Reports Dinosaurs?“)

But I assert that there is value in producing an annual report!

As a writer and storyteller specializing in nonprofit marketing and communications, I can’t help but think annual reports have gotten a bum rap. To me, and to most of my clients, they’re less drudgery than opportunity, satisfying even, to produce. Talk about a fantastic chance to convey not only the personality and zeitgeist of an organization, but its impact.

So many annual reports, though, are bo-ring. Donor lists, numbers served, satellite offices opened, equipment purchased. Me, me, me. Statistics and, often, buzzwords that lack enthusiasm, let alone context or a human face. No wonder the report is draining to produce.

Showing impact — through concise but compelling narratives, vibrant photos and interactive features — is what can excite and engage donors, volunteers, partners and clients. That doesn’t mean dozens of  glossy pages with a snazzy (read: expensive) design. What it does mean is authenticity, effective storytelling and a connection to your organizational strategies — in a welcoming tone that conveys both passion and competence.

This year, when “it’s that time again” and thoughts turn to all that goes into your annual report, don’t forget to focus on what you want out of it. Ask yourself, and your team, these questions:

  • What do we want this year’s annual report to accomplish? (Hint: Keep multiple audiences in mind, not only large donors.
  • What are some ways our annual report can advance our strategic marketing and fundraising goals?
  • How can our annual report complement, enhance and reinforce our other marketing tactics?

And, the $64,000 question:

  • How do we execute — within our budget and in ways that reflect our organization’s mission, personality and marketing and strategic plans — so that it delivers?

You already know my vote; what do you say? Drudgery or opportunity? I’d love to hear your thoughts here!

Readers, here are a few high-impact online alternatives to the traditional printed annual report. Worth some thought!

BTW, master fundraiser Tom Ahern is 100% aligned with Kim: “Think of your annual report as a once-a-year golden opportunity to deeply connect with your customers’ (i.e., donors’) feelings, dreams, aspirations, hidden and sometimes even embarrassing needs — like the need to be liked; or the need to do something good in the world, a need as common as the air in our lungs,” he says.

P.S. Get in-depth case studies, templates and tools, and guidance for nonprofit marketing  success — all featured in the twice-monthly Getting Attention e-update. Subscribe today.

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Ding, Dong, the Annual Report is Dead. Or Is ItI want to share with you what grantmakers are thinking about annual reports, as revealed in an emotion-packed (who knew?) session at the Communications Network Conference.

Not that foundations are in your shoes. After all, they don’t need to raise money or account to donors. But they are smart communicators and they do support organizations like yours, so their perspective should be taken to heart. Here goes:

  • Many annual reports are shaped to internal perspectives, a total waste of time and budget. Focus on impact and value, not activities.
  • Most grantmakers are moving away from the print annual report, and using online platforms to create more useful, more potent and more interactive looks at their work and impact. Some offer print on demand. Financials are always made available in print and online.
  • "The one-year perspective of the typical annual report is of limited value in looking at long-term social and systemic change." Wish I knew who said that but it struck me, hard. It’s trying to get a sense of the big picture when all you’re looking at is one tiny corner.
  • The question to ask is, "If we were starting today, would we do it this way?"

So here’s what your org needs to think through:

  • What do you have to report out annually (in some format) to satisfy key audiences, including the IRS? Clear financials, with clear explanations a donor can understand, are a must.
  • How can you most effectively share the impact of your work with your existing supporters? Don’t just create the old print annual report by rote.
    • While you’re at it, expand your goals to include engaging new donors and thanking those that have helped. Anything else?
  • If an annual report is part of that picture, what channels can you use to create one that brings your work to life, rather than packaging it in a deadly way? Of course you have to know your audiences well (and where they are, online or not) to make the right decision here.
  • Content wise, think about what is of greatest interest to those who support you, not the day-to-day or back-end stuff that’s really not too interesting to anyone.
    • Think stories–photos, profiles, testimonials–which speak more powerfully than any description you’ll write. Then connect the dots for your readers, piecing the stories together into your org’s story. Make it a best seller.
  • Is annually the right production cycle, or is there a way to add reflections and connections to ongoing program updates?
    • Radical idea here: Launch a blog for periodic updates that are then linked together, with connective commentary at year end.

What are you doing differently with your annual report this year? Share your story by clicking Comments below.

Nancy Schwartz in Annual Reports, Comnet08, Nonprofit Communications, Strategy | 0 comments

Jump Into Today's Free Online Discussion on Annual Reports wAR Guru Kivi Leroux Miller Noon EasternKivi Leroux Miller is the "be all and end all" expert on nonprofit annual reports, and you won’t get better guidance on creating an efficiently powerful AR from anyone else. And after all, the annual report remains a core element of most nonprofits’ marketing plans.

With that in mind, the Chronicle of Philanthropy features Kivi, along with nonprofit annual report-er Ken Grunke, in its free online discussion on the topic, scheduled for Tuesday Sept. 9th 12pm (eastern time). The conversation will focus on how your organization can get more mileage out of its annual report, creative ways to present it to donors and supporters, and how to use online tools to present the report in new ways.

More information here, where you can also submit your annual report questions for discussion.

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Nancy Schwartz in Annual Reports, Nonprofit Communications, Professional Development, Recommended Resources | 0 comments

How to Get Your Annual Report Read OnlineLet’s see a raise of hands for you nonprofits that publish a PDF download as the Web version of  your annual report. Thought so…way too many.

Remember, PDF’s are just a downloadable/printable version of something you’ve designed for print in most cases. Back to Nonprofit Marketing 101: Most design for print readers doesn’t work online. It’s just like putting on a blindfold.

If you really want audiences to see and digest the report, make it easier for them to do so. Take a cue from the University of Richmond(UR) with it’s new online catalog.

Higher ed marketer Bob Johnson, who brought this great model to my attention, lauds UR for making it easy for catalog readers to find what they want, right from the first page. It’s the equivalent of a table of contents, but in a narrative form that is a better fit with online reading habits while effectively highlighting the key points of entry for students.

Johnson points out UR’s request for feedback right on the home page. To me, this emphasis on feedback show’s how UR values its base (students) — and that comes through to the end-user. In addition, this interactive discussion enables UR to fine-tune the online catalog to work as best as possible for the students,and that’s who it’s for, right?

Think about who your annual report (and other marketing content) is really for, and create an online version that makes them want to dive in.

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Nancy Schwartz in Annual Reports, High-Impact Websites, Nonprofit Communications | 1 comment

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