Looking at best practices for annual reports in action

Annual reports are a lot of work. Whether you do them entirely in-house or you bring in external resources to assist, there’s no getting around the fact that an annual report takes time and effort by all the key players. And they should if you are to have a quality report that captures the essence of your organization while being forward looking. Annual reports remain a crown jewel in your communications strategy because they have the potential to market your organization to so many key audiences.

When I wrote about the best practices for annual reports, I didn’t expect to learn that one of my followers on Twitter is a two-time Voluntary Sector Reporting Awards (VSRA) winner. But then I was blown away to learn that an old friend from the days before there was a World Wide Web would be the person responsible. Naturally, I was excited to learn that Gillian Lynne-Davies produced award-winning reports and congratulated her. I then quickly asked if I could share the reports she brought to life with the help of an external graphic designer for the Canadian Parapalegic Association of Ontario with folks here. I am pleased to report she agreed.

“When Lightning Strikes, We’ve got your back! You’ve got your future” won a VRSA in 2011. They also won in 2010 for their report titled “Victory.” I understand that the CPA (Ontario) learned a lot from participating in this contest about how to create a great report. I’m sure they did because you can definitely see the recommended best practices in these reports. The best awards programs are learning experiences for the participants.

Overall, I agree that the reports are great! They are a nice mixture of the more marketing- oriented annual reports that I prefer and the more functional annual general meeting reports that used to be the most common format.

The reports are attractively designed. I like that there are plenty of great pictures and that large spaces–even full pages–have been used for photos. I also really love that stories are used so effectively in these reports. I particularly love the look, feel and content of the 2010-11 report because of how it blends those three elements together on the story pages.

But as I described in my last post on annual reports, what I’m looking for as a communications professional differs from what accountants and governance experts seek. I think the best annual reports should be able to combine the different criteria and so I’ll make a few suggestions on how I might do that in this case:

  • The reports are long. I’d normally recommend a shorter report that is easier to quickly skim and scan but that also is inviting for a reader to dive in and get an understanding of the organization and how it is living it’s mission. I also find that approach helps to reduce the resources in time and money required for a report.
  • Some sections are content heavy. I’d suggest orienting the report more to external audiences (including volunteers) than internal audiences so any content. Doing so could help take out some of the content from this publication.  I suspect there’s plenty of content that has always been in the organization’s report but that would be better shared in newsletters, internal communications or online.
  • As much as possible, I’d also try to be more subtle about working in some of the VSRA criteria such as addressing the risks that lie ahead for the organization.
  • When I worked for our local YMCAs, I made the donor report into a distinctly different looking insert that could be removed from the annual report when it was being used with audiences that didn’t require that information. If you are sharing a printed donor list, I’d still take that approach.

I hope I have been gentle enough for my old friend Gill! The reports are obviously award-winning for good reason and they are good examples for you to look at in making decisions about your own reports. At the same time, I’m always looking for ways to make something better–even my own work–so naturally I can find something that I’d do differently!

What do you think?