The end of the year is a natural time of reflection for us, both personally and professionally. Your business or organization may not be required by law to produce an annual report or impact report, but there are strategic reasons you might want to. They’re the same good reasons behind every effective piece of brand collateral.
You should publish an annual report if you want to:
- establish and maintain a strong emotional connection with your audience.
- offer social proof/credibility: show how you deliver on your promise(s).
- persuade your audience to evangelize for your brand (hint: make sure you include easily shareable content).
Once you decide to produce a report, you’ll want to get as much out of your investment as possible. Let’s explore a few ways to make your content do more than satisfy a legal requirement or check a box on your organization’s to-do list.
Tell Great Stories
What are the best kinds of stories?
Humans like stories about people.
Try stories that focus on a specific client, an employee, a donor or a volunteer. Focusing on a specific person gives your readers a chance to identify and empathize with your story’s heroine.
We also love stories about problems.
Urgent problems create drama.
You could tell a story about an internal problem you solved or an external need your organization fulfills.
One client, The Wisconsin Credit Union League, has consistently focused their report on the ways Wisconsin credit unions “improve the financial and economic well-being of Wisconsin communities.” Each year they tell stories about real consumers and small business owners who benefited from a specific Credit Union’s services.
Our brains spend more time in the past or the future than the present.
Most reports focus on what they’ve accomplished in the past year. Don’t neglect to include a story or two about your goals and vision for the future in your report.
For extra credit, you could make your entire report one big story that features a compelling character. See the Oregon Zoo’s 2017 Gratitude Report as an example.
Try a New Format
Beware of falling into the “we’ve always done it this way” trap. You could be missing out on saving money or getting better results from the dollars you spend in the form of improved engagement with your audience.
Critical factors in your formatting decision should be your strategy and goals for the annual report, your audience’s preferences, your communication skills, and your budget.
Here are several different formats you could try:
- A digital PDF with no printed element
A PDF is probably the most common format these days. It’s also the least exciting. Ask yourself: if you were the recipient, what would motivate you to open the link?
- A digital PDF with a printed Executive Summary
Save money on printing costs by publishing the full report in digital format with a smaller 4 page folded folio executive summary that can be mailed or distributed at an annual meeting. Make sure you have a compelling reason for stakeholders to link to the PDF. Use infographics, professional photography or pull quotes from those great stories you wrote to engage your readers.
- A modular printed piece
Distribute individual pieces to select audiences and offer the full version online. One of our clients, a technical communications firm in the transportation sector, produces a modular annual report for the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Research Services in three sections that can stand alone or be combined as needed for different audiences.
- A micro-site with interactive elements
See this example we designed with development partner two six code. This type of impact report can require a more substantial investment for custom design and coding. Make sure you have a plan to drive traffic to it, so your investment will pay off in page views and audience delight.
- An oversized postcard
Maybe you don’t need a multi-page report. You might be able to communicate everything your stakeholders need to know in a compact space. The uniqueness and scannability of this format could give you the opportunity to convey key points to a broader audience. A postcard can also be an excellent option when you have a smaller budget but still want to distribute a printed piece.
Share an annual or impact report video on your website, use a special link through a paid service like CloudApp or Vimeo, or produce a printed piece with a playable video built right in! We recently designed a printed video folder for a return client who wanted a handout piece that would stand out.
- Keepsake poster
Check with your printer to find out what your size options are for the unfolded piece. Make sure you use paper stock that will fold multiple times into something small enough to insert in an envelope or as a direct mail piece. You can use one side for a branded, wall-worthy poster and the other for six, nine or even twelve panels of bite-sized stories and infographics. These panels can then be repurposed for website features or social media sharing. If you boost your posts, check whether you need to reformat graphics to adhere to social media advertising standards. Facebook is no longer rejecting ads for too many words, but they will limit your ad reach if more than 20% of your image contains text.
Promote Your Report’s Content Throughout the Year
If you’re putting a lot of resources into your annual report, don’t let them go to waste! This piece is a natural source of content you can repurpose and reuse to share throughout the year.
Use portions of your report to:
- update your website (homepage feature, your impact page, blog posts, etc.).
- create social media posts. Share bite size stats with on-brand graphics or photography, record short videos featuring stories about real people, difficult problems you’ve solved or your goals for the future.
- reinforce your message with quarterly updates. Regular updates throughout the year can work particularly well for nonprofits who have donor relationships to maintain.
To sum it all up, you should produce an annual report of some kind if you want to bolster your credibility, maintain a connection with your stakeholders or persuade them to evangelize for you. Generate more interest in your report by telling great stories and using the right format for both your audience’s preferences and your available communication skills and budget. Follow a plan to promote and share the content throughout the year, and your ROI will improve.