Beyond the Traditional Annual Report: Demonstrating impact in a better way

Do the words “annual report” give you the literary equivalent of taking a sleeping pill? Is it the financials, the dry formal letters from the board, or the huge list of thank yous that go on for 10 pages? It is sad to say that the term “annual report” comes loaded with expectations – mostly ones of dread. Well it is time to change that mindset and what better way to do that then by changing things up a bit. Or maybe a lot.

Letting go of the legacy corporate-style obligatory report and creating something that will engage your audience and give them something to look forward to on an annual basis takes a lot of chutzpah. Are you ready to think outside the box and inspire your team to go beyond what they know right now and embrace ideas that will light up your stakeholder’s imagination?

Start at the very beginning

The first place to start on your journey to create a yearly report is to ask why you are creating a report. For the corporate world the annual report is a duty to shareholders to show a return on investment, but for the nonprofit world there are a whole bunch of other reasons to take into account besides regulatory obligations.

Donors want to feel like they’re part of something larger than themselves. They want to be part of a like-minded community — a group of folks united in making positive change. Your organization is how they connect with that community. Take a deep dive into your donor database before you begin the creation process because the biggest mistake not-for-profit organizations make is not knowing their audience. Who your audience is makes a big difference in what and how you talk about your impact for the year. 

It’s all about segmentation, baby

Your readers want to know how they’ve affected your community, to do that effectively you must customize the “voice” of the report by speaking directly to a segmented audience. Believe us, it will be worth the effort to create an authentic connection with your different donors. When you want to show real impact “one size does not fit all” (remember those awful pantyhose!).

Here are some examples of how to segment:

  1. Impact: Perfect filter for the large donor or corporate donor who might be primarily interested in quantifying their impact on addressing social issues that they have committed themselves to. This means there should be relevant statistics and comparative data to illustrate their impact
  2. Gratitude: A much better fit for small to mid-level donors because the content can be a sweet mix of numbers, original stories about unique donors, and sincere messages of thanks.
  3. Community: Here you are speaking directly to your brothers in arms, presenting your track record and detailing how collaboration with like-minded people along with the creation of organizational allies benefits the community. Thank people in your network for having a shared vision on a better tomorrow and add a call to action for more innovative partnerships. 

All three of the examples above have a donor-centered voice that should be constant throughout the content because they are all people who help contribute to your success as an organization. It is sometimes hard to remember that YOU are not the story – you are only the vehicle for impact, who must bring the reader on a journey that goes beyond the now. A beautiful balance between informing and inspiring readers not merely reporting on programming and financials.

“I don’t have time to create three reports!” 

And you don’t have to now, thanks to technological advances that allow us to change the format of a traditional document into a digitally interactive marvel. It is called a microsite – a lightweight and heavy hitting mini website. Welcome to the easiest way to create a digital annual report. A PDF version of the old-school document is not a true digital report because it is missing a whole lot of fun!

Because a microsite is a stand alone website whose sole purpose is to be the home of all of the interesting elements that you have collected to produce a fabulous recollection of the year, the sky’s the limit of what you can do. Imagine an annual report that includes terrific video testimonials of people whose lives have been transformed by the services that your organization has provided. Or dynamic graphics that show how your financial health was improved by the generosity of donors. Scannable text that gives your reader the ability to search for something that is dear to their heart in an instant.

We have been proposing microsites in lieu of the traditional paper version of annual reports for a while now. In a time where every penny counts, the costs associated with printing and shipping a traditional report can be hefty and the result not always a sure thing. Analytics allow for tracking metrics that will help you understand how effective your strategy is in communicating with your donors through this online vehicle. By having the data about how many times your microsite was accessed, how long people spend looking at certain types of content, and even who was interested, you can adjust your content year over year to make it better.

Making sure that information can be read in smaller chunks, on mobile devices, and on the go makes the flexibility offered by a microsite an easy decision. The whole experience for your reader becomes a rich visual experience that offers endless storytelling possibilities and increased audience engagement as a result.

Did we mention that it helps in SEO ranking? By going for a digital annual report that presents your content on HTML pages rather than inside a PDF document you are automatically improving SEO ranking by adding more varied content to your website.

Your fundraising team will thank you because now it will be easier to share the real jewels of your annual report on social media, through email campaigns, and promote it with online marketing. 

Change is hard but there is no way around it – hard things are hard!  Take the jump and go for digital this year – be bold! You don’t have to do this alone, we are here for you.

Get planning now so you’re not rushing in the spring. If you are working with an external creative team you need to plan on 6-12 weeks from start to finish. Go digital!