Are you dreading putting together your annual report? You think it’s time-consuming, but it’s something you always do. Plus your board wants you to do it, although you’re not sure your donors actually read it.
And why would donors want to read an annual report when many of them are long, boring, and basically a demonstration of the organization patting itself on the back?
Annual reports don’t have to be a negative experience for you or your donors. You have options when creating your annual report.
First, you don’t have to do one, but you do have to share accomplishments with your donors. You might want to ditch the annual report and send short progress reports a couple of times a year or monthly e-updates instead.
If you decide to do an annual report, I encourage you to move away from the traditional multi-page one. Aim for something no longer than four pages. Shorter is better.
Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you create an annual report that won’t put your donors to sleep and make it a little easier for you to put together.
Your annual report is for your donors
Keep your donors in mind when you create your annual report and include information you know will interest them.
You may want to consider different types of annual reports for different donor groups. You could send an oversized postcard with photos and infographics or a one-to-two-page report to most of your donors. Your grant and corporate funders might want more detail, but not 20 pages. See if you can impress them with no more than four pages.
Make it a gratitude report
Donors want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit. Think of this as a gratitude report. You may want to call it that instead of an annual report.
Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. Get inspired by these examples.
How are you making a difference?
The theme of many annual reports is look how great we are. They are organization centered and not donor-centered.
They also include a bunch of boring lists, such as the number of clients served. You need to share specific accomplishments that show how you’re making a difference.
Focus on the why and not the what. Something like this – Thanks to you, 85% of the students in our tutoring program have improved their math skills and now have a better chance of graduating from high school on time.
Phrases like Thanks to you and Because of you should dominate your annual report.
Tell a story
Donors love to hear about the people they’re helping. You can tell a story with words, a photo, or a video. Share a success story.
For example – Kevin, a junior at Douglas High School, couldn’t stand math. “I don’t understand it and when am I going to actually use Geometry?” he asked. Geometry was worse than Algebra, which was” horrible.” Then Kevin started meeting weekly with Josh, one of our volunteer tutors. It was a struggle at first, but thanks to Josh’s patience and encouragement, Kevin is starting to understand math and is doing much better. Now he doesn’t dread Geometry class.
Make it visual
Your donors are busy and don’t have a lot of time to read your report. Engage them with some great photos, which can tell a story in an instant. Choose photos of people participating in an activity, such as Josh helping Kevin with his math.
Use colorful charts or infographics to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand. Include some quotes and short testimonials to help break up the text.
Be sure your report is easy to read. Use at least a 12-point font and black type on a white background. A colored background may be pretty, but it makes it hard to read. You can, however, add a splash of color with headings, charts, and infographics.
Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend
Beware of using jargon. Most of your donors don’t use words like underserved or at-risk, and neither should you. Use everyday language such as – Because of you, we found affordable housing for over 100 homeless families. Now they no longer have to live in a shelter, a motel, or their cars and have a place to call home.
Write in the second person and use a warm, friendly tone. Use you much more than we.
Planning is key
One problem with annual reports is organizations send them out months after the year is over and at that point the information is outdated.
Yes, putting together an annual report can be time-consuming. One way to make it easier is to set aside a time each month to make a list of accomplishments. This way you’re not going crazy at the end of the year trying to come up with a list. You can just turn to the list you’ve been working on throughout the year.
You also want to create a story and photo bank and you can draw from those when you put together your annual report.
Of course, a shorter report or an infographic postcard will help ensure your 2019 report doesn’t arrive in your donor’s mailbox the following spring or later. Remember, you also have the option of not doing one and sending periodic short updates.
Whatever you decide, put together an annual report that’s a better experience for everyone. Read on for more information about creating a great annual, or even better – a gratitude report.
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