Thinking Out Loud

Annual Reports That People Will Actually Read

By Keryn Nicolson

Seeing as the brilliant folks over at Industry Standard Inc. work a lot with you wonderful folks in the nonprofit sector and since it's rapidly approaching the first of the year, I thought it prudent to address; dum dum dummmmm.....annual reports.

Unless you have Morgan Freeman on standby to do a live reading of your annual report, chances are most people including your donors, may not take the time to read them.

I remember when I was in grad school and was asked to assist in designing and drafting the first annual report for a very small NGO that I was interning for. Now I had NEVER attempted anything like that, so naturally I began by googling "how to write an annual report" as we all would, right?

After asking a few colleagues and report stalking several similar NGO's, I quickly found my favorites. The biggest thing I took away from my search was how important it is make your annual report the shining beacon of what your NGO represents. It's an excellent opportunity to communicate directly with your stakeholders and you want to be sure it tells the story of hard work. Here are a few tips from my (all be it limited) experience writing and reading annual reports:

1) Get Personal:

The causes we work for are complex. We work with complex problems. When reporting your data, it's important to include some technical data but it also helps if you include personal stories or testimonies from the people you're helping and form your volunteers.

2) Get Visual:

If your finite financial data is important to include in your report try utilizing graphs, pie charts or mapping. Use visuals to demonstrate your progress.

3) Tell A Story:

Your annual report should read like a story (at least I think that's the most effective way to engage your audience). One of the best reports I have seen took that concept to the next level and made a digital interactive booklet. I read the entire report but best of all...I enjoyed it and it kept me wanting more.

4) Get Interactive:

We live in a digital age, so make your reporting reflect that. If you're not super techy try either hiring someone to design your report or try asking volunteers that are tech savvy. Some programs like Adobe offer SO many options but it can be quite overwhelming if you're not familiar with their platforms. I experienced this myself when designing my interactive resume. It was worth it in the end but I went through stages of wanting to smash my laptop across the damn room. I spent a lot of time youtube-ing how to do everything (shhhhh, keep that to yourself).

5) Call To Act:

Be sure you end your report with a call to action. Make it clear how they can donate, stay connected and invite them to visit all your social media platforms. An easy to read and engaging annual report will hopefully keep your donors donating and attract new donors to support your cause and all your hard work.

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