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Top 3 Annual Report Mistakes To Avoid

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Are you in the process of working on your next annual report to your donors? I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit lately as annual reports come in the mail to me from organizations I support and samples are provided to me by my clients.

In this age of fast-moving technology, we have to admit that most of us have developed short attention spans. I am no different. We are information junkies looking for it in small, bite-sized chunks – scrolling through our mobile phones and tablets for the latest news.

Even the way we treat our snail mail in our home or office mailboxes or our email inboxes has changed. We make piles of “mail to keep and read later” and “mail to toss in the recycle bin.”  Our email inboxes are flooded with all kinds of information. Let’s admit it – we even look at subject lines and sender names in emails and decide instantly whether to open the email, or just delete it without reading, especially if it is from an unknown sender and the subject line isn’t relevant to us.

Unfortunately, many nonprofits haven’t truly grasped this when they send out 24 page annual reports in the mail. SIGH!

In an effort to squeeze every accomplishment or program description into an annual report, some nonprofits spend way too much precious time in creating something that a donor might just skim through, at best, then toss aside.  What we want to create is something that isn’t going to end up in the “junk mail pile” but in the “oooh, this looks interesting, I want to read it” pile.  With this in mind, here’s my top three annual report mistakes and their remedies:

  1. Too long, too much text – The savvy nonprofit marketer knows that “less is more.”  Donors want to know what you did with their money, the impact you made in the community, and how your organization made a difference in the past year. Operational and administrative changes to your programs will leave your readers bored and uninterested. Instead, you want to inspire the reader to feel good about their gifts to your organization and be moved to give again and again.
  2. Not telling stories – Rather than lengthy descriptions of program changes you made in the last year, include short stories of examples of your accomplishments on a personal level, ending with “thanks to the generosity of our donors, Susie now has stable housing.” Make the donor the hero of the story, not your organization.
  3. Not including images or infographics – Use eye-catching, editorial images of your work, and include captions. You want donors to be moved by the visual images of the impact of your work, and they are more likely read the caption below any image rather than other lengthy content. To demonstrate that your organization is fiscally responsible in spending donor funds, consider condensing your financials to a few lines, a pie chart, and include an infographic that demonstrates the need for your work and the impact you make. You don’t have to be a graphic designer to create eye-catching infographics. Free tools such as Canva.com and Adobe Spark are easy to learn and use.

In conclusion, I would recommend sharing a near-final draft of your annual report with someone outside your organization who isn’t very familiar with your work. Ask them the following questions –

  • Did the cover entice you to open and read it? (The example image in this blog post doesn’t do that, does it?)
  • Where does your eye go first on each page? Why there?
  • Is there enough white space to emphasize the text?
  • Are there enough compelling images that capture your attention?
  • Did you read it cover to cover, or just skim it, and why?

Answers to these questions can help you modify your annual report to become a stellar communication piece that your donors will be excited to read. After all, keeping donors excited about your work is part of good donor communications! Use this opportunity to capture your donor’s heart!