comnet08 communications network annual report nonprofit getting attention nancy schwartz

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

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