The Dreaded Annual ReportAugust 15th, 2012
Admit it – if you’ve been tasked with working on your organization’s Annual Report, “excited” is the opposite of how you feel about this duty. It’s a chore – and a bore – and the sooner it’s done with, all the better, right?
The only thing worse than putting weeks (months?) into such a project is realizing that when all is said and done – and you’ve shipped it off to hundreds (thousands? tens of thousands?) of your supporters – is that it’s so dry and boring that pretty much nobody will give it more than a passing glance, if that.
Think of it: You spent all of that time, and it ends up in the trash? Why bother? Are the only people who are really looking at it your potential grantors, when you send the report with a proposal? If that’s so, you could publish far fewer and be done with it (and it could be much shorter, too). It may as well look like an accounting report then, right? Wrong.
There are actually many ways that annual reports can be creative and grab donors’ attention these days. Also, it isn’t essential to mail a copy to absolutely everyone. Many reports are becoming much more interactive and web friendly.
Of course, it is still necessary to have printed reports to submit with your grant proposals – and many major donors do still like to receive documentation of how the organization is doing, but it doesn’t mean you need to publish a dry representation of your work that looks like everything and everyone else that has been published for the last couple of decades.
Consider the feedback you get (if any?) after your annual report is sent. Is it positive or negative? Should your report be longer or shorter? Is it missing a component that people wanted to see, or could you really afford to leave several parts out . . . and nobody would even notice?
Irving* worked for a nonprofit that had quite a few wealthy donors, and considered the period after the annual report was published to be “hell month” because it was the time that his phone never stopped ringing.
Try as they might, his development staff never managed to get every donor listed exactly correct in their annual report, and it seemed that everybody paid attention to this section – to the exclusion of all else.
“We might list someone as giving at the $5,000 level,” Irving explained, “But we inadvertently neglected to count their additional $5,000 United Way donation, which would actually place them in the $10,000 recognition level. This would really offend some people.”
“Of course, we would apologize for all errors,” Irving continued, “But after a while, I begin to wonder if these donors were giving for the cause, or merely so they could be on display for their other country club friends. It just seemed so important to them! And god forbid if someone’s name or title wasn’t exactly correct, or even missing a middle initial!”
Irving would be happy if there was something in his annual report of interest to his constituents besides the donor listing; however, the rest of it reads like a balance sheet, and hasn’t changed from that style since the founding of the organization.
Justine* worked at a nonprofit with supporters who were quite different. They care deeply about the mission.
“I’m not certain that our supporters would notice or care if their names were listed at all in the annual report,” Justine remarked. “We’ve been considering removing the levels of support section, and just making one single alphabetical list – which would certainly make my life simpler.”
Justine explained that, more important than the donor’s recognition section, they’ve been considering telling more “How your gifts impact the recipients” stories, but are looking to make an online – or possibly video – version, so that it doesn’t become too long, cumbersome (or costly) to mail an expanded version, with additional stories. (Their mailed version will remain shorter and be sent to fewer people, as well as kept in reserve for grant submissions.)
Several innovative nonprofits and corporations have already stepped outside of the typical constraints and opted for new ways of producing their annual reports – and gotten attention and publicity for doing so.
How could you apply these tactics to draw attention to the unique qualities of your organization and its mission?
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