“Dogdays” are Annual Report Days

August…that blissful time of year when the days are hot and hazy and you have nothing to do…except get your annual report out the door.  SAY WHAT?  The majority of non-profit and ministries professionals consider fall that magical time of year to get the behemoth of an undertaking, The Annual Report, out of the door.  Year End giving is right around the corner (alongside holiday generosity) so it makes sense right?  Actually with some interesting analytics that came from a philanthropic study done by Google, maybe not.  So here are some tips to get your annual report out-of-the-gate and making an impression on your supporters.

Start Now:

It really isn’t that novel.  When I was a fundraising professional I subscribed to some of my industry peers mailing lists.  You know what I noticed?  I started getting annual reports earlier and earlier.  Why?  There are a couple of reasons:

Google reports that the highest activity of donation related searches happens in August and September; that jump in activity is significant, 30% to be exact.  That means your donors are researching and making critical decisions about where their philanthropic efforts will go at the end of summer.  Shouldn’t you be in their line-of-sight?

The other reason is 4th quarter is when nearly all philanthropic organization put on the heavy gloves.  Mailboxes are lined with appeals, cards, annual reports a buffet of “invitations to give”.  This flood of asks means that competition for the charitable dollar is fierce, at some point your donors eyes are going to glaze over.  Getting started earlier means you get to stand out on the dance floor and engage your donor when their inclination to give is naturally occurring.

Know Your Angle

Before you even start your outline of content you should pick a theme.  A concept or overarching theme will keep your message easy to digest. It organizes your key message to your supporter.  Ask yourself if they take one or two things away from your annual report what should those two things be?  Is it the power of the individual?  Make sure your annual report is filled with success stories from those you serve.  Is it the capital campaign you have embarked on? Maybe your theme is “growth” or “future” and you translate that into your personal brand and mission.  Not only does this organize the information for your donor, it helps you self-edit to the theme.  Philanthropic organizations are notorious for filling their publications to the seams.  This over-communication actually dilutes your message. Think more strategically about what you want to stay with your donor long after they flip through the pages of your annual report.

Shocker! Your Donors Don’t Read Your Annual Report

Well not the whole thing at least.  We scan nowadays.  I am not saying that those very dear ROI, left brain, lovable donors don’t read every painstaking detail of your report (and notice any grammar missteps).  But a good majority of us peruse lengthy material by scanning headlines and pull-quotes.  Think about those headlines and call-outs.  Would they deliver the same overarching message or “take-away” if your donor were to just scan?  Also think of headlines and call-outs as your shop window.  Would what you feature to catch your donors’ eye and make them open the door and peruse your racks?  The surest way to encourage engagement with the centerpiece of your annual report is smart use of headlines and call-outs.

The Things You Don’t Say

Aesthetics matter.  I might venture to say that design is your key communication tool.  We feast with our eyes first right?  Your design elements create the setting for your story.  When they are done well, they can quickly acclimatize your supporter to an emotional interaction with your information.  Awesome right?  Well on the flip side so can poor design, but in a not so good way.  It is crazy what kind of feedback surveyed donors give on aesthetics.  Sometimes even equating the capacity and ability of your organization by how clean, organized or smart your design elements are.  The stakes are high here. Living in the Information and Consumer Age our brains are conditioned to filter with “brand speak”. Make sure you are telling your donors something powerful and emotional with your design.

Do you have an incredible annual report?  Share it here.  We would love our visitors to see examples of great work.  Likewise if you are struggling with your annual report feel free to ask questions.