Nonprofit Annual Reports

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Disclaimer: I’m no fan of annual reports. I’ve eliminated them or slashed them to less than 10 pages at every nonprofit institution I’ve worked in—freeing up hard-to-find funds for more cost effective marketing tactics.

Why?

  • Despite sometimes stunning photography and good writing—they are predictable, superficial, and dull. They try to cover too much ground, and rarely clarify ROI for potential donors.
  • Research has long shown that they are the about the least read publication you can produce…and usually the most expensive in printing, design, and staff time. Face it—no one has this kind of reading time anymore.
  • They preach to the converted, seldom reaching new audiences of potential supporters (and if they did, few would read them anyway).
  • They’re viewed—rightly so—as blatant self-promotional selling tools, just as their corporate antecedents are selling tools.  

But once in a while an annual report comes along that makes me realize that any communications tactic—even a lifeless one—has potential if the strategy is brilliant. Take, for instance, the new one from Friends of the Children featured in Andy Goodman’s latest Free Range Thinking newsletter.

The report is not inexpensive, with great color photography and fun illustrations. But the authentic, simple, non-institutional approach pulls you right in. From the title “Jeff Williams,” it’s clear this story is about a boy, not an organization. The report doesn’t offer a smorgasbord of client or grantee profiles, or endless lists of donors or grants. Instead, it goes deep into one human being’s changed life. Talk about demonstrating ROI. As Goodman says, who would NOT read this report? And, more important, after reading it, who would not want to support this organization?

See for yourself!

Also, here’s a very interesting Chronicle of Philanthropy conversation about the latest best practices for foundation annual reports. And some good advice to nonprofits from Kivi LeRoux on creating a 4-page annual report.

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