It’s budget time! And I want to talk about your annual report. If you’re on a fiscal year, you may now be struggling with what expenses you can cut so you can add in others for things like P2P fundraising, monthly giving, mobile fundraising, and making your data more actionable (to name a few).

One of the first things that comes up for the chopping block in organizations with whom I work is the annual report. Why?  Because they tend to represent a huge chunk of money (design, paper, printing, mail house and postage – not to mention all the staff time).

I’m not suggesting you do away with annual reports entirely.

They can be a wonderful way to showcase your accomplishments and tell your compelling stories.  They can influence grantors and major individual donors to trust you. So I do think it’s a good idea to send them to folks you’re seriously cultivating for larger philanthropic investments. That being said…

I’d like to suggest you take a look at streamlining and downsizing your annual report.

Short annual reports are becoming increasingly popular. Why?  It saves trees and money, and increasingly folks with limited time and attention spans appreciate having less information rather than more. They don’t want their donations going to produce glossy 24-page brochures.

Some organizations are doing annual reports completely online. Others are creating pared down versions that are mailed to fewer people. You can also consider a combination of these strategies.

Here are some issues to consider, together with some practical tips.

  1. How to get leadership buy-in

  • Show them lots of other organizations are doing it. Collect examples of short annual reports wherever you can find them. And forward them links to online annual reports.
  • Tell them the time/resources it will save by crunching the numbers.
  1. Consider omitting donor lists

  • No research I’ve seen shows it makes a difference. Anecdotally, people don’t complain unless they’re left off the list. Arguments folks make about why these lists work aren’t based in research.
  • Putting accurate lists together takes oodles of expensive staff time. You must generate reports, make sure you’re listing couples together (or apart if they’ve divorced), omit deceased, assure you’re using correct nick names, ascertain you’re listing folks under the correct giving level, alphabetize everything according to the most appropriate last name, and… proofread ad nauseum.
  • If you’re printing the report, including a donor list means a lot of added paper too.
  1. Consider omitting the letter from the executive director or board chair

Usually these are boring. You can use one, but it’s got to be doing something for you.  Not just yak, yak. And not just a rehash or summary of what folks will find elsewhere in your report. People really don’t want redundancy. Make it brief, friendly, jargon-free, and filled with gratitude towards your donors. Otherwise, leave it out.

  1. Consider more visuals and less text

Photos of your work in action (especially headshots and close-up action shots) are best.

Graphics are good to depict facts and figures.  If you don’t have design help, check out Canva or Piktochart.

Videos are terrific for auditory learners. You can find some examples here.

Meaning at a glance is your goal.

Can your reader “get it” w/o reading?

Possible formats:

  • 4 pg. PDF
  • 2 pg. PDF or trifold
  • Infographic
  • Postcard or Rack Card
  • Video

Video pointers:

  • Focus on both what we see and what we hear (some folks will watch w/audio off)
  • Uplifting music and pace. Can go royalty free or pick something popular and pay. If you use vocals, be sure that it matches your messaging.
  • Quality audio
  • Consider multiple voices if using voiceover
  • Consider a combination of still photography blended with life action. Or just stills with text overlay.
  • Consider a year-end highlight reel: 300 words. 12 accomplishments. Copy that can be read in two minutes. Narrator’s voice over stills and live-action video.
  1. Consider the best time to publish and/or send

  • Calendar year vs. fiscal year? You want financials to match storytelling. If financials matter to you, go FY.  If not so much, calendar year may be better as it’s the timeline your donors are on and this is when they expect to see annual reports. On the other hand, it can be useful to send the annual report in early September as a prelude that warms folks up to your annual appeal.
  • Don’t wait for audited financials to send it. Make a note that the financials are preliminary unaudited figures. It’s better to send it when it will have the most impact.
  1. Consider a “Gratitude Report” as a donor-centered alternative

Check out this example: Interval House – Gratitude Report.

REMEMBER: Any effective communication starts by very specifically answering the following questions:

  1. Who am I trying to reach with this content?
  2. What action do I want them to take after reading it?

Your annual report is a fundraising tool.

It’s not just a financials and impact report.

Its goal is to fire up your donors so they’ll continue their financial support of your work. So consider what will inspire them the most? You might even consider a one-question survey. Would they prefer a printed report they receive in the mail, or an email from you alerting them that the report is available online?

And don’t forget to include an insert donation envelope and donate button!

For ideas, check out my Pinterest board: Annual Reports, Nontraditional