Guides & Resources

Swipe Right: Your Annual Report Can Attract Better Donors

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A well-produced annual report has the power to define your purpose and engage your constituents.

After two years of living through a pandemic your supporters want — more than ever — to know how you are doing. Nonprofits can learn from the business world that annual reports have the power to go beyond lists and numbers and really define the purpose and relevance of the organization.

We are living in a time where uncertainty is the norm. Why is your organization vital in today’s world? Who is running the show? Your supporters want to know who you are, what you are doing, and how you think about the future. You must tell them and provide solid reasons why they should continue to support you.

It’s about looking forward

Every annual report should have a unique theme that captures the essence of the organization’s mission and presents that value in visual designs that relate to your key constituents of new and existing investors, donors, and beneficiaries. Your annual report is an opportunity to tell your supporters how you have been doing, and more importantly, share your vision for the future. When you can use the report to gain supporters and bring in more funding, it makes the investment worthwhile.

Short and sweet

Can you tell your story in 24 pages? That’s the ideal length. People don’t read phone books. (Do you even have one anymore?)

The report should contain the content that people want to read: An introductory theme that drives the report, a message from leadership that defines the state of the organization; highlights of success stories with real people — not stock images, and financial highlights.

Readers look at these sections and especially pay attention to photos, charts, and graphics. What are the photos saying about you? You want the messaging from the images to look inviting, engaging, and inspiring. Most people glimpse and skim the content, so effective headlines, introductory sentences, callouts, and (especially!) captions are the keys to delivering the right content. Read through your report without reading the text and see what it says.

A bottom-line checklist

Be sure to address these core issues when producing your next annual report:

  1. Community: Does your annual report increase your standing in the community or marketplace? What does it say about your role in the world that you operate in? Do people know who your leaders are? Do you feature their photos and quotes so we know who they are and what they stand for?
  2. Progress: Does your annual report just talk about the PAST, or does it position your organization for the FUTURE? Where do you expect to be next year? What is the post-pandemic world like for your organization and the people you serve?
  3. Financial Support: Does your annual report help investors and donors understand why you exist and why they should support you? What initiatives are you undertaking to increase your support? How can supporters help you, and how can you attract new supporters?
  4. Quality: What impression are you making with your core audience? Do you use high-quality design, photography, and writing to tell your story in a professional manner? Being cost-effective does not mean you need to look cheap. Many people who see sloppy or poorly presented content will think you are a sloppy and unprepared organization. Be sure to invest in well-thought-out communications that are delivered efficiently and thoughtfully so that you are always putting your best foot forward.
  5. Technology: How are you using online communication, video, and social media to promote and deliver your messaging? Have you connected your online activity with a printed report—or a web-based PDF? Successful organizations create a united communications strategy that works consistently online and in print covering all of the likely touchpoints where your supporters are.
  6. Outreach: Does your annual report attract the talent you need and serve as an effective recruitment tool? Employee candidates and new supporters will seek out the annual report to learn more about your organization. What are you saying to them? Are you positioning yourself to attract the best candidates?

DLAbout David Langton: I’m a designer (president of Langton Creative Group in NY), educator (adjunct at Hostos College/CUNY), writer, and cartoonist (IG: Davidlangton1961) who believes in using the power of design as a transformative tool in promoting change in our world. My book, Visual Marketing, (Wiley) is available at Amazon. I’ve worked with numerous organizations including Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation, Children's Aid, The International Rescue Committee, and The Legal Aid Society. I’m a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design.

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