An annual report your audience wants to read
Plus, this month I want your thoughts on grants!
Something to make you think
An annual survey from CCS Fundraising came out a few weeks ago, and it offers a wealth of data on how nonprofits are feeling. You can check out the full report here.
Some of the nuggets I found most interesting?
Organizations expressed most worry about acquiring donors but expressed most confidence in securing major gifts. Seems a bit backwards, right? But to me, that shows organizations focusing on donor retention - and it seems like it’s working! Want more info on how to set a “major” gifts framework in motion, even if you are a small team? Check out this past Banyan Bulletin post.
61% of organizations plan to continue virtual events and 49% plan to continue focusing on encouraging digital and social media fundraising. Even once COVID is behind us, digital fundraising is not going away. If you need some help to enhance your digital fundraising, you can dive into two of my past case studies here (Wikipedia’s wonderfully simple giving campaign) and here (a peer-to-peer style campaign led by SharonSaysSo, an Instagram educator/influencer).
Something to make you act - the annual report edition
Build an annual report your donors actually want to read!
What sets an annual report apart? While renaming it (an impact report, gratitude report, etc) can certainly help – if the contents inside aren’t up to snuff, the name won’t really matter. But I am a firm believer that when it comes to communicating to your donors the impact they helped make possible, tiny organizations are just as equipped as teh big guys. A double-sided 8x11 printed on your office printer can be just as impactful as a glossy, 10-page professionally designed booklet. The key to success is in being intentional about what you include and how you communicate it.
So, how can you make your annual report shine?
Here are several strategies to build on – whether you have an entire team crafting your report or it's just you and your Canva account.
1. Make engaging visuals a priority.
2. Keep language short and to the point.
3. Summarize where you’ve been over the past year – and wrap up with where you’re headed.
4. Show your gratitude.
5. Map out the delivery of the report within the larger context of communications to your audience
Let’s dive into each a bit more deeply:
#1: Make engaging visuals a priority.
Imagery helps tell your organization’s story and paints a lasting picture in the minds of your readers. So it is well worth your time to plan your imagery in advance. This could mean scheduling a day to visit your programs in action yourself, or delegating the task to a member of your team. However you do it, put it on the calendar well in advance as the imagery you share is integral to creating a cohesive and impactful annual report that drive your mission home for your audience.
For some organizations, photos of your mission in action may be implausible to get on the timeline you need, or inappropriate to share with your audience. In these cases, stock photos are necessary. The great news? There are some awesome stock photo options available today, many even free. Here are a few of my favorites:
Gratisography offer funny, wacky images. If your organization’s brand is a bit playful or off-the-wall, this is a great option for you.
Death to Stock Photo is a paid option (but with a 2-week free trial!) for striking photos.
#2: Keep language short and to the point.
My advice is to always try to make your annual report as un-report-y as possible. (This is the technical term.) By this I mean, don’t overwhelm your reader with information on your organization. Cut out as much of the industry jargon you use as possible. Talk like a normal human!
Infographics are great for quickly highlighting the outputs and outcomes you made possible over the year, and your free nonprofit Canva account can help you create these quickly and easily. The balance with this is to make sure you are giving the reader enough context to your milestones and outcomes to be understandable. A great way to do this is by summarizing where you’ve been and where you’ve headed… which leads us to tip #3!
#3: Summarize where you’ve been - and where you’re going.
A common component of an annual report is a letter from the organization’s leadership. This is a great place to give your audience a big picture overview of where your organization currently stands - and where you are committed to heading with the help of your supporters. This idea of “where we’ve been/where we’re going with your help” should thread throughout the report and incorporate all aspects of your organization - cover your finances, supporters, program accomplishments, and major mission-related milestones.
An unexpected component to add that can help strengthen your relationship with your audience? Include your setbacks and failures! While most organizations only want to highlight the good stuff, sharing some of your challenges in a way that communicates your team’s commitment to continuous improvement can help your audience build trust, credibility, and respect for your team and the good work you do.
#4: Show your gratitude.
Make it clear that the person reading this report is partly responsible for what you’ve accomplished! Great donor stewardship and retention boils down to showing gratitude and respect for the time, effort, and funds your supporters offer your organization. Use the annual report as a vehicle to show that gratitude. Whether its as granular as listing every donor/funder who supported your organization, or simply highlighting the things their gifts made possible, gratitude is an integral component of a great annual report.
#5: Build your report into the bigger context of your organization
This tip may be the most important of the bunch. Your annual report takes time and effort for your team to pull together. Give it its due! This will not only make the team members responsible for developing it feel their efforts are respected, but it will maximize the impact the report can garner for your organization.
Your report should be a significant piece of your bigger picture marketing and fundraising efforts. To do this, make sure you time the delivery of the report as a component of your fundraising asks/campaign schedule for the year. The annual report is a great way to prime individuals before you ask them to support your cause. It can also be an excellent vehicle for stewardship by sending it right after you have asked your audience to donate. Whichever route you choose, just make sure it makes sense within your organization’s annual fundraising plan.
A perhaps slightly less obvious way to maximize your annual report’s impact is how you make use of it across the organization and throughout the year. Yes, it should be launched with great fanfare on its initial release! But could you condense parts of the report to create simple and cheap marketing materials to share with donors, volunteers, and partners? Turn the infographic section of the report into a rack card you can use at presentations and meetings. How about using the report in different areas of your organization? Whether it’s your program team using the report at their community events, your grant writing team using it as an attachment in all of their funding applications, or your IT team putting it on the website to build credibility with new visitors, the annual report has a purpose in practically every function area of your organization. Make sure you use it when and where you can.
Summing it all up
The annual report is a snapshot of your organization, but even further it shows your donors, volunteers, and audience that you understand the importance of reflecting on what you are doing so you can keep moving forward and growing in the years to come. This mindset of continuous improvement is a vehicle for showing that you respect your supporters and the trust they have put in you to steward their funds. And that is the mark of an organization people want to support.
And the question of the month:
What do you wish you knew about grant research and writing before you started applying? Reply directly to let me know and I’ll feature some responses (anonymously) in next month’s Bulletin!