Annual Reports – 10 ways to mix it up and get your message out there
The annual report is a great reporting opportunity for your organisation. It’s a chance for all of your team to get together and tell the outside world about the great work you’ve been doing, the challenges you’ve overcome and the impact your work has had. If only that were the case.
The reality is that you have a limited amount of time from the end of the financial year to collect relevant information, write content, the Executive Officer has to corral the Chair and Treasurer to start writing their contribution and the auditors are trawling through all of your financial information to make sure that you’re financially viable…all fitted into a normal workload.
After 8 years of producing Annual Reports for our NFP and charity clients we’ve got some tips on what might make the process simpler and produce a fantastic report that people want to read.
1. Make it multi purpose
Think about your Annual Report as a marketing tool. Sure, you have to include some specific information but you’re preparing the report for an interested audience. Write about what they want to hear plus what you need to tell them.
The report doesn’t have to be a report in style consider making it look like a piece of marketing so that you can use it throughout the year.
2. Don’t print
If money is tight go digital. You could direct some of your former print budget towards the design and create a great looking document and still have some money in the bank. Creating a purely digital report enables you to produce content that can be used in social media or on your website which can lead to attracting a wider audience.
Including infographics is a great way to condense complex information into a simple to interpret visual for your audience. It also allows you to reduce the amount of text you need to write and potentially the number of pages you need to print. You can then use these graphics in your social media, brochures and any other marketing materials you produce. You might even like to turn them into a video like we did for Inner North West Primary Care Partnership for the 2013-2017 Strategic Plan
4. Have a theme
Having a theme that your report is created to is a fantastic way of making it engaging and memorable. A theme helps you to convey a clear message and makes planning easier. The theme will guide the writing style of your report, influence your image selection and overall design. By using a theme it will make your message consistent, easy to follow and help your audience understand your achievements!
5. Tell stories…but not tall ones
If you have a theme then you can tell a story. Humans are hard wired to engage with storytelling and when you’re sharing the story of your organisation and your successes and challenges our brains feel the emotion and respond. We do not have the same reaction to facts and figures so use emotion to bring the audience in and integrate facts and figures so they become a piece of the overall content, wherever possible. If your audience hears a story that they can share then they’ll become part of your marketing team. We love stories and the Not for Profit and charity sector has more than enough of them to share.
Stories also allow you to use images that convey emotion or quotes that reinforce the work that you do. These can be shared across all of your marketing content not just the report and not just in print.
6. Copywriter, proof reader or both
Sometimes people who work in programs aren’t the best people to tell the story of it. Using a professional writer provides you with someone who understands how to write to style of voice or in line with a theme. It also frees up your staff to continue focusing on their day to day jobs.
However, some staff like to write and are good at it. If you’re in this fortunate position maybe all you need to consider is hiring a proof reader who can review all of the content you’ve prepared and make any alterations before you send it to the designer. This will allow a designer to focus on the design and work with your actual content. They won’t have to make changes to text as your project progresses they’ll just make the report look great.
This will save you time in the design process and also give you confidence that the final content is the best it can be.
7. Use photos
Along with a theme and telling a story, photos are a powerful tool to bring your organisation to life. They can connect your audience with the story and connect emotionally. Photos can be really tricky for some organisations. You might have clients who cannot be identified for legal reasons or because they are DHHS clients that you provide services to; maybe they’re just nervous about having their photos used. Some clients however love to be photographed if they think that it will help the organisation.
It’s horses for courses for Not for Profits and charities doing complex work. If you’re in this position or if you just don’t have a good photo library then you might want to invest in having a photographer spend some time to take quality shots. Alternatively, you could purchase a good digital camera that staff can use when working in programs or with clients (wherever it’s appropriate).
Photos are invaluable in designing your annual report. They can be used to break up the text on a page and reinforce a message that you are trying to convey. Like much of our other tips you can also use photos across your other marketing materials..
8. Minimise the financials
For most organisations there isn’t a requirement to include all of your financial information in your report!! If you are reporting to parliament then this might not be the case.
Most people who look at your Annual Report won’t go line by line through your budget, they’ll scan the high level detail. For this reason you can condense your data to the minimum required and display it as infographics. This will help to reduce the length of the document for reading and also make it cheaper if you choose to print.
Put your full financials on your website if you wish or just have a note on your website that they can be provided if somebody requires them.
9. Create a plan and gather information throughout the year.
Focus on the high level information that you need to convey you can invest more time in less activities and create great content. Trying to report on everything that happened in a year is incredibly time consuming and can cause you and your team stress.
Before you start, create a content plan so you know what you have to produce. Allocate responsibility for this content to individuals who are best placed to collate and prepare it.
Create a folder on your server to store all of the information that you want to report. You might add to this continually throughout the year. A central source will be easily accessible for your team and ensure that everything can always be found.
10. Look at using a different format or stock
Do you have to have an A4 portrait Annual Report? No, you don’t. Your annual report can be in what ever format you want it to be in. By simply changing the format to A4 Landscape you’ve created a different perception. What if you changed it to A5 or made it a A3 that folded to A5 and then had to unfolded into a poster before it could be read?
By creating a different look and feel you can create a different image for your audience. Maybe you need to make the format match the content. If you have only low resolution photo’s then perhaps you need to do a smaller format so that the images don’t pixelate (a designer can only do so much to make photo’s bigger or clearer than the original)
If you have an obligation to produce an annual report each year then I believe you have an obligation to make it a good report. Your annual report is a great opportunity to tell people what your Not for Profit or charity has achieved and what challenges you’ve experienced along the way.
So, take the time to think about your target audience, what do they want to know, what do they need to know, do you need to prepare all of the content or can you get help, how can you plan for it early in the year, how can you reuse the content that you’ve created, how many do you really need to produce, do you need to produce one at all. Answering these questions will help you prepare a report that people will pick up and read before anybody else’s.