Make the most of your Annual Report

A lot of time and effort goes into annual reports. They have become key documents that showcase how your charity or non-profit is fulfilling its mission. They can be helpful for example in attracting gifts from donors and funders. They can also increase awareness of your work or help spread your educational messages.

The audience of annual reports though tends to be limited to a small group of key stakeholders such as leadership donors. That’s too bad because a great annual report has content that deserves a wider audience and can help your organization tell its story. When I worked for the YMCAs of Cambridge & Kitchener-Waterloo, I figured out how to make the most out of your annual report.

Here are some tips for getting the biggest bang for your buck:

1. Turn your annual report into an e-magazine

I like turning multi-page documents into e-magazines. In my opinion, they provide a much better user experience than reading a normal PDF. They are easy to search, download, share and print while feeling like the original print version. Creating them is also a quick, painless experience that anyone can do. Taking this step helps to increase the life of your annual report so that it does not disappear shortly after your Annual General Meeting. Check out this example.

I recommend using in part because it is cost-effective.

2. Expand your audience online

A benefit of the e-magazine is that it is easy to share a quality version of your annual report online. For example, it can be embedded into your website so that people can read it without ever leaving your website. I should note though that a downside of the e-magazine is that they use Flash which is not supported on iPads and iPhones. So you may also want to include a link on your website to a traditional PDF.

Being an e-magazine makes it easy to share your report online through your e-newsletter and on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter without requiring people to download a potentially large PDF.

3. Expand your audience with a newsletter version

I used to go straight from working on an annual report to working on a newsletter. At first, I wanted to eliminate the newsletter and expand the distribution of the annual report but for a variety of reasons that did not happen. I then realized that the newsletter had a larger distribution than the annual report and that the vast majority would never see the stories in the Annual Report that demonstrated the great work we were doing. So we took out the highlights from the annual report including the stories that demonstrated the impact of our work and created a newsletter version. Voila! Suddenly the annual report content was reaching three or four times as many people while expanding people’s awareness of the breadth of YMCA programming and its work as a charity.

Here’s the newsletter version of the annual report linked to above.

4. Use digital media to bring you annual report alive

There are limits to what a print annual report can communicate. Space and budget constraints limit what can be included. While brevity can be an asset and make it more likely that people will read the report, it also means that leaving out some wonderful material.

I like the idea of using digital media such as video or audio to give an annual report an added dimension and help it better tell stories of the impact being made by your organization. While I haven’t created a multimedia annual report yet, I did use my Flip camera to video some interviews of annual report subjects and got very excited about how they could provide digital content that could be used on a website and tell a story in a way that could not be captured in print.

5. Make the donor list removable

Some charities have moved away from printing donor lists in their annual reports to sharing them online. But if your organization still prefers to print its donor list, including them in your annual report can instantly make it look dated and restrict its versatility to be used for audiences that are not interested in seeing lists of donors. My solution is to include the donor list in the centre as an insert–printed on a different type of paper and stapled in but easily removed without anyone ever knowing it was included. It also allows you to do print only enough annual reports that are needed to recognize donors and print a larger quantity (or create an e-magazine version as above) without the donor list so that it can be used for broader marketing purposes.