Three Non-Traditional Nonprofit Annual Report Styles

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

In this digital age, the main comment I hear from donors about our book-length nonprofit annual report is that “no one actually reads them, right?” Sadly, it’s true, but like many nonprofits today, we’re adopting new conventions to more effectively communicate with our donors. Succinct annual reports are replacing the old fashion book-length version, and are designed to be a fast read (or view), and more conveniently shared. These pieces are 100% donor-centered and pack an emotional punch meant to create greater impact with less content.

Older style annual reports typically include organizational financials, multiple client stories, an introduction letter from both the board chair and the executive director, many pages of donors listed by giving levels, program details, and on and on. The new style aims to create a concise, quickly digestible report that provides only the info that donors want and need, while effectively communicating the impact of their gifts.

Here are three new annual report styles for your consideration:

1. LARGE POSTCARD: The large postcard annual report focuses on conveying your impact and results. Here’s an example from the Literacy Volunteers of Bangor, Maine.

With this style, you forego listing donor names. This may be a hard concept to get your head around, but wouldn’t you prefer the donor actually reads your content? I think it’s a fair trade-off. Notice in the example that the postcard is graphically designed for easy reading. I do wish that they had listed a contact person or said who sent the card, however, which would have made it more personal.

The postcard would be emailed, sent in the mail in hard-copy format, posted on your website, and shared on social media.

2. SELF-MAILER: A second option is 2-4 page report structured as a self-mailer and sealed with a wafer seal. This style avoids the dreaded envelope—40% of nonprofit direct mail is not opened by the receiver, but when you eliminate the envelope, the open rate soars to 98%. Your local print shop will have this style on hand. Obviously, this is designed to be mailed, but you should ask the print shop for a .pdf file of the document and email that to your donors. Be sure to use plenty of pictures, at least two per page, and keep the copy concise, avoiding verbosity. I saw one last week by an organization that was so crowded with words I felt overwhelmed just looking at it. Less is more, and vibrant pictures are a must. I also urge you to include three action steps a donor can take to be more engaged. Also, you must be sure that the size you choose complies with the US Postal Service’s regulations, which your print shop can advise you on.

3. VIDEO: I love video annual reports. Consider making a video of your staff and clients talking about the past year. You will need to hire a high-quality videographer. Be picky. Carefully examine his or her past videos. If they don’t make you laugh and cry, move on. The videographer will need to film onsite, follow a well-prepared script, and shoot enough content to make a four-minute video. The filming process takes about 90-minutes if you are prepared. Videos are engaging, and attention-grabbing.Here’s an example of one from the World Wildlife Fund that is terrific.

Odds & Ends

In closing, a few things to consider:

Keep printing costs low by emailing the document or video to your entire list. Emailing a video link has larger viewing rates. However, if you make a video, please also make a small postcard and mail that to your donors sharing the video link and asking them to watch the video online. About a week after you send the first email, segment your list based on which users did not open the first email and then resend the email to those donors. This will increase the total number of people who actually watch the video without annoying those who already watched it. Try sending the email on different days and times. I suggest Sunday at 10 am; Tuesday at 8pm and Friday at 10 am. For those donors over age 50, use 14-point font. Lastly, the pictures should be magical. It is absolutely true that a picture is worth a thousand words. The pictures you want are close-ups of donors, volunteers, and clients that draw the viewer in. One annual report I saw recently had a picture where the backs of two of the three people in it faced me! Not very moving to say the least.

Lastly, I urge you to write all content (reports, scripts, letters) as if it were a personal letter to the donor—because it is! This approach is different than promoting your organization or telling a client story. See my blog post on that subject.

I hope these tips help you plan your nonprofit annual report. Let me know if you try one of these new styles. If you find you have questions, do reach out and we can talk them through.

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

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