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Is Your Annual Report 2000 and Late? A Guide to Annual Reports in the Digital Age


Creating awareness is oftentimes folded into the mission of many nonprofits. So how do you get your annual report to not only steward your supporters, but to grab attention for your mission and the impact that you are making?

We’ve put together our TOP TEN pointers:

1. Keep it Short and Sweet… Did you know that a person’s attention span is 8 seconds while the average goldfish’s is 9 seconds?

It’s time to move away from the Dinosaur Age of twenty-page reports and to include interactive elements that keep the reader engaged.

2. Pick a theme that allows the focus to be on the mission rather than the fundraising. Keep the theme flowing through the headings/subtitles.

For example, at Big Brothers Big Sisters, using the play on words of “Big” and “Little” reiterates the mission of “one-to-one mentoring relationships or ‘matches.'

3. Humanize the numbers!

Share how YOU helped someone from the individual’s perspective. What did a volunteer experience when they got involved? How does the Board Member relate to the mission? What impact does the program/operational staff see first-hand; how has their ability to deliver mission-focused services improved this year and how has that translated to impact on the recipient?

4. Please the Eye with Design by using pulled quotes, full-page images and infographics.

Infographics come in all shapes and sizes: diagrams, timelines, comparisons, charts, mixed lists, process demonstration, photographic, hierarchical and much more! Ask yourself What and Why? the reader need to know to help inform your design choices.

5. Visuals, Visuals, Visuals and Sound, Sound, Sound (It’s the Digital Age after all.)… By using 45-second video clips and audio clips the reader gets to read less. And who doesn’t love that? So don’t be afraid to take advantage of this tactic.

6. Write the Captions or Pulled Quotes so that the reader gets the gist of the whole report with a skim.

7. How can your reader help? Make sure to include a clear, concise call to action.

8. It’s time to feature the full Donor List elsewhere (we still want to read this list, just not right now).

Make sure that this is consistent with the recognition that you’ve promised donors, but moving forward, perhaps only feature donors at certain levels or for specific initiatives. Full lists can be found in newsletters and/or donor recognition boards.

9. Create transparency in your finances to keep trust.

“BUT how does a snapshot of the financial statement or a 990 tell the whole story of spending donor dollars wisely?” You’re right. It doesn’t. Be sure to highlight a few mission-oriented goals/objectives from your strategic plan and share the data in a way that demonstrates how the year’s financials support the mission-focused plan of action. Humanize the numbers or pictorialize the objectives.

10. Digitize your annual reports AND create a distribution plan. It can be as simple as making a PDF, prezi, or video available via a link on your website. Choose smaller print quantities or make a condensed print-version in as small as even a postcard-sized mailer. Create a committee to help you “share” these sources of information.

And for that in-house reality check? Even a Four-page Annual Report is a beast to produce. Digital doesn’t necessarily mean more cost-effective, just more impact-effective. So what’s the silver lining?

The Root Agency has an entire team of innovators, communicators, designers and development professionals to help you compile and produce your report. So what are you waiting for? Let us help you! We are offering $100 off your annual report when you contact us by February 15th and mention this article.

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