The new year means finding a creative way to report on the previous year. Selecting client features takes time, and walking the document through design and print is painstaking. But, when all is said and done, you have a colorful, creative way to show your constituency all you've accomplished. Because annual reports are an organization-wide document, you can quickly get too many cooks in the pot.In today's information era, you have a lot of competition for attention, so less is more and brand consistency is more important than ever before. Here are my best tricks for a showstopper annual report.
Don't Betray Your Brand
I often see annual reports that are flashy, professionally designed, but don’t resemble any other marketing collateral the org uses. If I didn’t READ the annual report, I wouldn’t even know what organization it was promoting. If it isn’t immediately obvious, then you’ve betrayed your brand. Be consistent with colors, aesthetics, and design to ensure that people are interested in learning about YOUR org. Stick to what works for you, and get a graphic designer who is familiar with your prior materials.
Don't Be Complicated
This is my #1 complaint. I hate origami-style annual reports that are complicated to unfold, tear while opening, or are so obscure they don’t mail. I also can’t stand when I open a report and inserts fall onto the floor. This isn’t a fancy Christmas card, this is a portrait of what your organization accomplished. Strange layouts disrupt flow, and can detract from the goal of your report. Standard layouts are easier to ship, open, read, and display. You’ll get an increased focus on content vs. design if you stick to the tried and true. I remember the last organization I worked for had this fold-out poster report that you literally had to rotate in a circle to read. If people wanted a board game, they'd hit the toy store, not pick up your annual report.
Get the "OK"
I volunteered at an organization who had to pull their annual report after a client complaint. The document painted her as impoverished and beyond assistance before the XYZ program came to save her, and the reality wasn’t quite as distraught. She was upset, particularly after a distant family member saw her feature. This could have been prevented if the organization had sent a photo/video/likeness release and sent the content to the client for approval. Many are grateful for the assistance and don’t mind the publicity, but others wish to remain private. Even if they sign documents during assistance with your org, it is always a good gesture to get prior consent. An unhappy client can do more harm than the annual report could do good. Get client sign-off and save yourself the heartache.
I need to take my own advice here, but proofread your annual report to death. This year, one of my pie charts only totaled to 90%. Bring together members of the management team, staff, volunteers, and significant others. When you’re looking at the content and layout consistently, it can be hard to see glaring errors. Fresh eyes are the best medicine for this problem. Be humble, and pass off a draft to someone else, you’ll be grateful you did.
This may be my best suggestion. In this digital age, nonprofits are blogging and posting photos to social media quite often. Combined with the fact that the average photo in an annual report is the size of a piece of candy, your org could save money by not using a professional photographer. With clients across the state of Texas, we would have footed a bill for thousands in travel and photography fees. I did it myself in a weekend, and combined with our event photos (also taken by me) we saved a lot of money. Armed with several hours of photo editing video tutorials and a decent SLR camera, I don’t think anyone will notice the difference between pro and amateur (hobbiest) photography.
Make it about Impact and Visual Impact
It is wonderful to live in a world of delusion and believe that everyone will actually READ your annual report. Reality isn't quite as kind. Remember to include compelling infographics, boldface text highlighting areas of importance and make sure you're featuring your outputs, outcomes, and impact. At the end of the day financials are great, but an annual report with great impact metrics can be your marketing team's best friend. Also remember that the entire report should have a donor-centric approach - avoid saying "our org did X" and sway for "together, we did X."