In the e-newsletter I sent out last week to our Learning Center members and others, I said that printed annual reports that are more than four pages long are a waste of time and money. I also said that you might not need to print one at all. I could hear the cries of Hallelujah! and Yippee! come in from nonprofits across the land.
For more than 10 years I’ve been giving nonprofits advice on writing traditional annual reports — you know, those tomes of somewhere between 8 and 40 pages that are incredibly expensive to produce and considered a nonprofit management “best practice” by all the charity watchdog groups. Nonprofits were practically begging for advice on how to do one, so I delivered an e-book and some e-courses, and they’ve been some of our most popular products.
But I simply don’t believe that producing a report like that is the right decision any longer for most nonprofits, and especially for small ones. That’s why I took my “How to Write a Nonprofit Annual Report” e-book off the market last week.
I’m rewriting the e-book this week, leading up to our December 8 webinar on the New and Improved Nonprofit Annual Report. It’s going to show you how to create an annual report that works for you and your donors today, rather than just rehashing the same old thing for yet another year. Join us for the webinar and I’ll throw in a free copy of the new e-book too. The e-book might not be ready by Wednesday, but I’ll share whatever I have by Friday with everyone who registers for the webinar.
In the meantime, here are three guiding principles that should drive your annual report decisionmaking:
1) Keep It SHORT
While I know some people will argue with me (especially those in the printing business), I really don’t think the majority of your donors want to read a 20-page annual report. I’m not sure how many even want to read a four-page report. This is the year to think really creatively about how you can condense your annual report into something that will actually get looked at. Think videos, or over-sized postcards, or a two-pager, or a nice interactive page on your website.
2) Make It PERSONAL
Try hard — very, very hard — to stay away from the objective (read: boring) programmatic descriptions and reporting that are so often found in grant and board reports, for example. Make your annual report to your individual supporters a much more human affair. Describe your outcomes, but in language you’d use in a dining room, not a board room.
3) Be TIMELY
You are supposed to talk about the past, not the future, in an annual report. This report isn’t a preview of things to come. At the same time, you can do what’s called “advancing the story.” That means talking about the organization’s work over the past year in a way that illuminates what will happen in the coming year. Give us some new information or a new perspective that will inform the way we look at your work next year, while still focusing on the more recent results.
Rewriting this e-book is long overdue and I’m excited to work on it this week and preview the results during the webinar on Wednesday. I hope you can join us.