Your Print Nonprofit Annual Report Can Work Wonders (Case Study via Tom Ahern)

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.

The Rhode Island Foundation is one of America’s oldest community foundations (est. 1916). Each year, it publishes a well-designed, well-written annual report. It’s available online, as a downloadable PDF; and also in hard copy.

In previous years, the Foundation printed as many as 10,000 hard copies for mailing. But in an effort to save money and trees, Melanie Coon, SVP for Communications & Marketing, has whittled that number down. “Last year, we mailed [just] 2,625 copies of the annual report.”

Among those who still get printed copies: local lawyers.

Therein lies a tale.

An elderly man walks into a law office in Rhode Island. He’s there to make a will, to get his affairs in order before it’s too late.

He’s early for his appointment. To pass a few minutes, he picks up the first thing that catches his eye: a handsome publication with beautiful photography of familiar scenes.

It’s the Rhode Island Foundation’s most recent annual report. He’s never heard of the Foundation, but now he starts reading. And he likes what he reads. He likes how the Foundation gives away money to the state’s nonprofits to help them with their missions.

The man has no close family left. But he does have a sizable estate. And up to now, he really wasn’t sure where to leave it. Now he has an idea. When the lawyer calls him in, the man takes along the Foundation’s annual report. A couple of years later, upon the man’s passing, the Rhode Island Foundation received a small fortune from him in the form of a charitable bequest.

All thanks to a printed annual report. Right item. Right place. Right time.

Addendum from Nancy: Thanks, Tom, for this important reminder. Let me take it one step further to advise that the medium is important but what’s in the report is equally so (right item).

Ensure you are sharing stories that your supporters and prospects will relate to, and make it easy for them to do so via clear, succinct language; integration of photos and data visualizations (from graphs to infographics) that make info that’s drier but a must (budget data, stats on impact) more compelling.

P.S. Get more peer guidance on strengthening your organization’s marketing impact with the just-released, no-charge Getting Attention 2012 Nonprofit Marketing Wisdom Guide.

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