How to Create a Better Annual Report

19523182406_27b919a580_zIt’s annual report season, for better or for worse. Often it’s for worse since many of them are long, boring booklets that put your donors to sleep.

You don’t have to do an annual report, but you do need to share accomplishments with your donors. You may opt to nix 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. These take a lot of time to produce and there’s no guarantee your donors will read it. Aim for something no longer than four pages.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you create a better annual report.

Your annual report is for your donors

It’s not for your board and you don’t have to do it the same way you’ve always done it – no more massive, boring booklets.

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 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 dazzle them with no more than four pages.

One way to shorten your annual report is to not include a donor list. The Annual Report Donor List is a Stupid Waste of Time If you feel you must have one, put it in on your website.

Show your donors how much you appreciate them

Donors want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit. Think of this as a gratitude report.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. Get inspired by some of these examples from Agents of Good. Annual/Gratitude Reports 

How are you making a difference?

The theme of many annual reports is look how great we are. Are You Bragging Too Much?

They also include a bunch of boring lists, such as number of clients served, You need to share specific accomplishments that show how you are 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 are reading at or above their grade level and now have a better chance of graduating from high school on time.

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 – Jeremy, a fourth grader at Clark Elementary School, used to get a pit in his stomach if he had to read aloud in class. He struggled with the words and hoped no one would laugh at him. Now after weekly tutoring sessions with Kevin, one of our volunteer tutors, his reading is much better and he doesn’t dread reading time.

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 Kevin helping Jeremy with his reading.

Use colorful charts or infographics to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand. Sprinkle in quotes and short testimonials to help break up any 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.

Write as if you’re having conversation with friend

Go jargon-free. Most of your donors don’t use words like underserved or at-risk, and neither should you. Use everyday language such as – With your help, 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. Of course, use you much more than we.

For more information on creating a better annual report, I encourage you to take time to watch Kivi Leroux Miller’s great webinar Go Short with Your Annual Report

 

Do Annual Reports Make Sense?

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The answer is, it depends. Annual reports take a lot of time to produce and there’s no guarantee your donor will read it. But if you can produce one that’s filled with gratitude and shows your donors how they’re helping you make a difference, then yes an annual report makes sense.

You don’t have to do an annual report, but you do need to share accomplishments with your donors.  Some organizations send short progress reports a couple of times a year or monthly e-updates.

If you do decide you want to produce an annual report, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Your annual report is for your donors

It’s not for your board and you don’t have to do it the same way you’ve always done it. That means it’s time to re-think the massive, boring booklet.

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 two-page report to most of your donors. Your grant and corporate funders might want more detail, but not 20 pages. Aim for no more than four pages.

Show your donors how much you appreciate them

Donors want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit. Think of this as a gratitude report.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. Get  inspired by some of these examples from Agents of Good. Annual/Gratitude Reports 

How are you making a difference?

Too many annual reports are just boring lists, such as number of clients served, and tend to be one big bragfest.  You need to share specific accomplishments that show how you are making a difference.

Something like this – Thanks to you, 85% of the students in our tutoring program are reading at their grade level or above and now have a better chance of graduating from high school on time.

How You Can Share Accomplishments Without Bragging

Tell a story

Donors love to hear about the people they’re helping.  You can tell a story with words, a photo, or video. Share a success story. For example, Cara, a third grader at Riverside Elementary School, used to get butterflies in her stomach if she had to read aloud in class.  The words didn’t come easy.  Now after weekly tutoring sessions with Alicia, one of our volunteer tutors, her reading is much better and she doesn’t dread reading time.

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 Alicia helping Cara with her reading.

Use colorful charts or infographics to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand.  Sprinkle in quotes and short testimonials to help break up any text.

Be sure your report is readable.  Use at least a 12-point font and black type on a white background.

Write as if you’re having conversation with friend

Most of your donors don’t use words like underserved or at-risk, and neither should you.  Use everyday language such as – With your help, we found affordable housing for over 100 homeless families. Now they no longer have to live in a shelter, motel, or their cars and have a place to call home.

Write in the second person and use a warm, friendly tone.  Of course, use you much more than we.

Annual reports do make sense if you can create one your donors will want to read.

Click here for more information on annual reports.

Is Your Annual Report Brilliant, or Boring?

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Annual reports get a bad rap, and sometimes deservedly so.   They’re often these massive, boring booklets filled with mind-numbing text and statistics.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

Remember, your annual report is for your donors.  As you put together your report, think of what your donors will want to read.

It’s possible to create an annual report that will dazzle your donors and not put them to sleep.  Here’s how.

Create a gratitude report

You may want to stop using the term annual report and start calling it a gratitude report instead.  Donors want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference.   Here’s an example.  It’s on the longer side, but it will show you how you can stay donor-centered. Interval House – Gratitude Report

How are you making a difference?

Donors want to see results. They don’t want a bragfest.   Share specific accomplishments that show how you are making difference.   Phrase it like – Thanks to you, 85% of the students in our tutoring program are reading at their grade level or above.

Tell a story

Donors love to hear about the people they’re helping.  You can tell a story with words, a photo, or video. Share a success story. For example, Lisa, a third grader at Northwoods Elementary School, used to get butterflies in her stomach if she had to read out loud in class.  The words didn’t come easy.  Now after weekly tutoring sessions with Jen, one of our volunteer tutors, her reading is much better and she doesn’t dread reading time.

Make it visual

Your donors are busy and don’t have a lot time to read your report.  Engage them with some great photos. Photos can tell a story in an instant. Choose photos of people participating in an activity, such as Jen helping Lisa with her reading.

Use colorful charts or graphs to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand.  Sprinkle in quotes and short testimonials to help break up any text.

Be sure your report is readable.  Use at least a 12-point font and black type on a white background.

Write as if you’re having conversation with friend

Most of your donors don’t use words like underserved or at-risk, and neither should you.  Use everyday language such as – With your help, we found affordable housing for over 100 homeless families. Now they no longer have to live in a shelter, motel, or their cars, and have a place to call home.

Write in the second person and use a warm, friendly tone.  Of course, use you much more than we.

Can you leave it out?

Annual reports often include an introduction from the executive director or board chair. I find these can drone on and don’t entice you to read more. If you do include an introduction, make it brief, friendly, jargon-free, and filled with gratitude towards your donors for their support in helping you reach your goals.

Many annual reports also contain a donor list, which have pros and cons. Some donors want public recognition, but these lists take up space and most people aren’t going to read them.

You’ll have to decide if it makes sense to include one in print. You could include a list of donors at a certain level in your annual report and all your donors on your website. Whatever you decide, be sure to thank all your donors in this section and double and triple check that their names are spelled correctly.

Your donors are not the same

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 two-page report to most of your donors.

Your grant and corporate funders might want more detail, but not 20 pages. Aim for no more than four pages.

This Annual Reports Wiki includes some great examples including postcards and videos.

Annual reports can be time consuming to produce.  Create one your donors will take time to read.