Whether or not you realize it, your most powerful tool is your annual report. So, don’t sell it short. Yes, it’s a reporting mechanism to meet your fiduciary responsibility to donors. But don’t stop there just to cross it off your list. It has the potential to be so much more…
Here are six steps we’ve identified – with the help of Addie Moody (Director of Foundation and Individual Philanthropy at The United Way of the Greater Triangle) and Lauren Williams (Director of Development at Healing Transitions) – to transform your annual report into a platform for storytelling and fundraising.
Reimagining your Annual Report in Six Steps:
1. Tell a story
Create a narrative. Have a hero. Build tension. Present a solution. Include a call to action.
An annual report isn’t just about the financials and impact numbers. Of course, those are important, so your donors know you’ve put their investment to good use. But, don’t forget about the stories! Make sure to include a narrative that highlights different perspectives: program recipients, donors, volunteers and board members. Discuss the challenges they face and position your nonprofit as the hero who guides them to resolution.
As we always say at Angel Oak Creative…make sure you tell your audience the next step to take. Remember fundraising communications is a journey. Don’t lead your audience to a dead end.
2. Keep it simple
Know your audience. Create a theme. Use fewer words. Let pictures tell the story. Use infographics. Continue the journey.
Make sure to keep your audience in mind. What do they want to hear? And how do they want to hear it? Less is more. And we’re not talking shorter. We’re talking fewer words – replacing them with pictures and graphics to depict the journey. Fitting an entire year’s worth of content into one piece can be overwhelming. So, consider a theme to provide focus (like Healing Transitions’ 2019 theme: It starts with you.)
As Lauren mentions…our audience wants to see stories of healing, so we produce a larger piece with lots of photos. Then we use iconography to highlight milestones and impact numbers throughout the piece.
3. Cast a vision
Tie the past to the future. Make it inspirational. Clearly communicate your goals. Inspire your audience.
Look back, yes. Pause and celebrate the accomplishments of a hard year’s worth of work. But don’t stay there for too long (unless there’s no more work to be done). Your audience needs to know what’s coming next. People “buy in” to bold visions. So, connect the dots for your audience. Make it really clear that you can’t get to your next big milestone without them.
As Addie reminds us…it’s important for your donors to see themselves in your annual report. This may or may not mean including an actual list of donors. But it always means making sure they feel like a part of the bigger vision and see the role you need them to play in your future.
4. Invest in design
Look the way you want to be perceived. Invest in original photography. Keep it on brand. Consider novel formats. Leverage free resources.
Pretty (and professional) doesn’t have to mean expensive. But if you want to be an established nonprofit, then you need to look like one. Just a few upgrades like original photography and creative formats (gatefold panels, mini booklets or unique folders and inserts) can really elevate your annual report. And, if you’re navigating a tight budget (many of you are), there are free design and stock photography platforms like Canva and Unsplash.
As Angel Oak Creative advises…before you try to design it on your own, consider approaching a champion about sponsoring your annual report and funding its production. If there’s one piece to invest in each year, it’s your annual report. Articulate the strong potential for ROI and you’re likely to get a “yes” from an underwriter.
5. Bring it to life
Try a multifaceted approach.
Print it, mail it, video it, email it and post it on social. Multiple touchpoints will give your annual report the weight it deserves (back to our recommendation for getting a sponsor to cover your costs). You’ve worked hard on this annual report. Now put it to work for you.
As Addie has experienced, the noise keeps getting louder and breaking through it keeps getting harder. So, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
6. Leverage it
Give it a shelf life. Equip your ambassadors. Consider the ask. Point to future need.
Be strategic with this tool and let it serve you for the entire year. Put it on your website as an easy reference tool. Take it to major donor meetings as a discussion point. Give your board members copies to keep in their cars and offices for on-the-spot distribution. Go ahead and tease an upcoming need. The goal here is to leverage this piece to cover your investment.
And as Lauren reminds us, you might be surprised by the unsolicited donations you receive. Simply including a remit envelope in Healing Transitions’ mailer over the past two years has covered their production costs (and then some).
Now you’re ready to reimagine your annual report! Here are a few ways to get started today – and reach out if we can help.
- Determine your investment (design, multimedia, rollout)
- Identify/collect your content (story, vision, theme)
- Know your call to action
- Think outside the box (shelf life)
- Crush it!
– Caitlin Clinard, Chief Success Officer
Last week, we received the crushing news that a colleague’s life had been cut short. He loved the nonprofit sector. He loved comeback stories (having one of his own). And he loved annual reports. In fact, he coined the phrase for us back in 2017: “reimagining” the annual report. So, as we reimagine the annual report this year for our clients, we will do so in his honor.