Transform Your Next Annual Report from Snoozer into Sizzler
By Bruce Mendelsohn
Because few hard and fast rules dictate the contents of annual reports, they offer a lot of freedom to share the stories that define your organization. The best annual reports lead readers on a multisensory, multimedia tour through an organization, favoring photos, infographics, and white space over lazy language, confounding charts, and donor lists. The six steps below suggest how you can use these storytelling platforms to inform, engage and inspire stakeholders.
1: Dump or Delay your Letter from the CEO
Imagine if the Bibles first page was a Letter from Our Creator:
This annual report covers the creation of the world. This was a very active and productive period in our organizations history. Im proud of the work of our dedicated and resilient staff, who handled many unanticipated situations...Instead, In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth promises a story. We want to know whats next. Similarly, the first line of Homers epic tale The Odyssey, piques our curiosity:
SPEAK, MEMORY Of the cunning hero, The wanderer, blown off course time and again After he plundered Troys sacred heights.Use the first sentence of your annual report to capture readers curiosity. Pledge a journey through a year in the life of your organization and deliver it in multimedia content.
While opening sentences will differ from organization to organization, all should emphasize a measurable and meaningful achievement that the readers support helped make possible:
Last year, "organization name" "action verb in past tense" "your organizations most significant achievement". Discover how your support transformed our organization.PRO TIP: If your CEO insists on a Letter from the CEO, suggest placing it later in the report, where real estate is more plentiful.
2: Use Infographics
Free programs (for basic functionality) like Infogram, Canva, and Pixlr can transform tables to tales. Substitute traditional tables and charts with infographics, pull quotes, and photos with short stories that illuminate the impact of donor dollars. Connect numbers to stories by complementing your infographics with two-three sentence story captions. See Step 5.
Mistakes were made when passive voice was used in your annual report.
Three ways to maximize the visibility and appeal of your annual report:
Girls Who Code offers a great example of an online-friendly and interactive annual report. Mouse over some of their graphics and youll journey deeper into their story.
Given the vast percentage of people who access information via smartphone, make your annual report mobile friendly. That doesnt mean our annual report is available online via PDF. At the very least, format the copy and condense the graphics so they load quickly.
PRO TIP: Use your nonprofits digital and social media to tease the contents of your annual report in the days or weeks before you publish the print version.
5: Repurpose Content
Repurpose annual report content (infographics, photos, quotes, testimonials, etc.) to fill holes in your social media and/or digital editorial calendars, making sure to link to the complete report on your website.
Assuming you follow at least some of these suggestions, the stories you share will inspire your readers. By the end of your annual report, youve set the stage for your grand finale: The Ask. Whether in print or online, your annual report must ask readers to continue investing in your organization. Dont ask and you dont get.