A while back, the Salvation Army discovered that about half of the 28,800 printed annual reports it sent to its field offices each year were going unopened.
And although the Salvation Army has since made changes and introduced an interactive digital report, it raises the question: how many other organisations’ annual reports are also going unnoticed?
Perhaps part of the problem is that putting together an annual report can often be a challenge for community-focused organisations, which are already incredibly busy delivering their core services and managing a stretched budget. As a result, there’s little consideration put into planning and producing an effective annual report.
However, an annual report can be beautiful, inspiring and energising – and have long-lasting value and uses well beyond annual-report season. Here, we share some of our top tips for getting more out of your annual report.
1. Make your annual report an all-rounder
Look at the potential beyond the obvious ‘report’ to find ways to get maximum mileage and extend its lifespan over an entire year.
Take Merrimu, an organisation that supports people with disabilities. Instead of producing something that simply ticks off reporting requirements, we’ve worked with Merrimu to create annual reports that double as marketing pieces. These multi-purpose reports have helped the organisation strengthen its brand and raise its profile in the wider community. And, instead of ploughing time and money into lots of different communication pieces, leveraging the annual report as a marketing tool means Merrimu has got the most out of every minute and dollar spent.
Read more about the Merrimu annual report 2015
2. Go digital
Many organisations, just like the Salvation Army, are now putting at least some portion of their reports online. Not only does this save on print and distribution costs, it also significantly extends the value of what you’re producing. Creating a digital annual report opens up opportunities to set up microsites or repurpose content across social media, allowing you to dramatically extend your reach and share your story with a wider audience.
There are some beautiful digital annual reports out there, ranging from single pages with simple embedded video and graphics to fully interactive sites with high-end animation and effects. Check out the Bureau for Good’s round-up of inspiring nonprofit online annual reports to see some of the best examples of what a digital annual report could do for you.
3. Find a theme
Giving your annual report a theme is a great way to make it more memorable. The theme will guide the style of writing you choose, your photo selection, and the overall design. Using a theme keeps your message consistent throughout and binds the report together in a cohesive way.
And not only does a theme make it easier for audiences to grasp your achievements, it also makes for much more interesting reading.
4. Create a story, not a report
People love stories. There’s something incredibly powerful and engaging about hearing a personal account that just can’t be matched by cold facts and figures.
So even though you’ll obviously need to cover off on the formalities, look for ways to thread stories throughout your report. Call-out quotes, interviews and small story snapshots are great ways to showcase your accomplishments and how you’ve made a difference. Remember too that stories don’t have to just be confined to print – online videos are a perfect platform for creating compelling, highly sharable content.
The annual reports produced by Anchor are terrific examples of the impact of stories. As a community-focused organisation, incorporating stories and interviews throughout their reports lets the voices of the people they work with really shine through.
Read more about the Anchor annual report 2015
5. Use lots of photos
Just as we can’t resist a good yarn, so too do photos have spectacular pulling power. Well-placed photos help to break up large chunks of text and can breathe life into seemingly dull reports, enticing people to stop and take a closer look. Photos also offer the added bonus of connecting with people on an emotional level, which can help them better relate to what your organisation is all about.
The visual story of your annual report is just as important as the words, so it’s worth investing in getting together a good library of quality photos throughout the year. And of course, great photos don’t just have to be limited to your annual report but can get extra mileage in your other communications too.
Have a look at branded4good for some more tips on effective ways to use photos in annual reports.
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Let us know of any examples of effective annual reports from community-focused organisations.