By Jennifer L. Hipple, Communications Consultant
Does the idea of pulling together your next annual report fill you with dread? You’re not alone. But what if we could pull the task off your “Hate to Do/Must Do” list onto the “Hey, This is a Great Way to Tell Our Story!” list? What’s the secret to an awesome annual report people will actually want to read and a communications tool you’ll feel really good about creating?
Celebrating your donors and showing them the impact their gifts make on those you serve.
So many annual reports are dry and painfully dull, comprised of donor lists, statistics, and lifeless facts, things that are difficult to be enthusiastic about; for you and anyone who reads them. Instead, focus on developing an annual report that is visually compelling with short stories about those you serve and how their lives have been made better thanks to the generosity of your donors. The annual report is also a place to recognize your volunteers and showcase how the talents, skills, and passion they bring to your mission are making a difference every day. Yes, you still need to be transparent about your operations by sharing your financial reports and you will still want to acknowledge your organization’s contributors but make sure to balance this with short stories and great photos that illustrate the lives you are impacting. And, draw your audience in to your goals for the coming year, After all, they are your partners in these endeavors. Tell them how they can help. These are the things that excite your audience and make them want to get involved, or continue being involved!
It’s also important to remember that sharing an annual report is critical in demonstrating your organization’s accountability and trustworthiness to those who might be consider donating to your mission.
Here are 5 things to guide you as you plan your annual report:
- Your audience: Assume that your annual report will be viewed by an array of audiences including your current and potential donors, your volunteers, community members, and those who “stumble” across your organization and want to learn more about you, to name a few. The annual report should explain your mission, your programs, outcomes from the previous year, and your objectives for the year ahead. You must be transparent, share the lows and the highs of your year, include the organization’s finances, and excite readers about who you are, what you do, and invite them to be part of it!
- What you’ve accomplished: Connect readers to your mission. Tell them about your programs and what you accomplished in the past year. Include stories about those you serve. Sprinkle in some quotes from volunteers about why they choose to spend their time helping you live out your mission. Readers want to see the impact of what you’re doing and how you’re changing lives, not just a list of your activities. High-quality visuals are a must for enhancing your accomplishments.
- Your financials: You can choose how you share this information. Some nonprofits share financial statements, while others prefer to utilize pie charts or graphs. Think about the total length of your annual report and your budget for designing, printing, and mailing. Listing full financials takes up lots of space. Using graphics with short descriptions about how you raise and spend money can be a more effective (and understandable) tool. If you like, you could place your full financials on your website and include a link to them in your annual report.
- Celebrate! As noted above, a key component of your annual report should be thanking your donors. While you may or may not choose to include your full list of donors, you should still convey a sincere thanks for contributions of all sizes along with bullet points (or very short examples) of the ways those contributions are being utilized to impact lives. Donors want to know they are making a difference.
- What’s next? After reading about your accomplishments and your financials, let interested readers know what they can do to support your work. Include some space at the end of your annual report with various ways people can get involved. Perhaps include a calendar with upcoming events. You can also list the types of donations you can accept. Be sure to include volunteering opportunities as well. And, finally, encourage readers to follow you on social media (and share those links).
While more and more of your stakeholders will prefer receiving an electronic copy (PDF) of your annual report, or a link to it on your website, you should also make printed copies available for current or potential donors who request them.
Remember, a well-written annual report creates an emotional appeal about the work you do, illustrates that the money you raise is creating real benefits for those you serve, and inspires future giving and engagement.