TSB 003: 7 Strategies for Creating a Donor-Attracting Annual Report

fundraising growth leadership nonprofit the saturday boardroom Aug 27, 2022
TSB 003: 7 Strategies for Creating a Donor-Attracting Annual Report

Read Time: 4 minutes

This week's tip: Don't think of your Annual Impact Report as a burden, but as an opportunity to strengthen your relationship with donors by telling compelling stories and showing the impact of their donations. 

Here's how it's done: 

  1. Think Executive Summary

    Gone are the days of trying to impress donors with pages of accomplishments, photographs with celebrities, and fancy infographics that justify the amount of money you’ve spent. You're better served by being brief and creating links to those things in your blog posts and pages on your website.

    In this world of information overload, brevity is best. According to Blue Avocado, the magazine of the Nonprofits Insurance Alliance, there are only a few key items that donors read :
    - The Letter from the executive director and the board chair
    - The donor list (to find their name)
    - The captions on photos
    - The financials

  2. Make the report about the difference the funding made and thank donors

    Potential donors want to know what to expect from your organization, and the best way to learn that is to see how you treat your current donors. If you make your Annual Report an extended thank you note about the difference they’ve made in the lives of real individuals, you have a winning formula.

    For example, Donate Life America used most of its 36-page annual report for 2019 to thank various segments of its community. It starts with the President and CEO ending his letter with a big “Thank You”, then they spend the rest of the report highlighting, acknowledging, and thanking organ donors, organizational partners, financial supporters, and staff by sharing thank you messages from organ recipients.

    It's difficult to scan this report and not want to be a part of an organization that does such a great job rewarding the contributions of its donors and supporters.

  3. Use images of smiling participants and volunteers engaged in activities

    Too often we see annual reports that are filled with pictures of the Executive Director, the Board, and the staff at events, excepting awards, and meeting with government officials. These images are nice, in moderation, but you don’t want to give donors the impression that their money is being used to advance the careers and celebrity status of your leadership team.

    Show images of program participants in action, making good use of donations. A beautiful example is in the DREAM Annual Report from 2018. The images of youth across New York City wearing organizational colors and engaged in a variety of activities is very compelling. You get the sense that they are learning, growing, and making a difference in their communities.

    Your annual report can have the same impact with professional photography that shows rather than tells. 
  4. Write about the impact of your organization on the communities you serve

    This is the data portion of the report where you share the number of people you’ve reached, the meals you delivered, the scholarships you awarded, the eyeglasses you provided, etc.
    Using charts, infographics, and other forms of data visualization can be very impactful. Look at the 2018 Annual Report by Girls Who Code. Their “Sisterhood by the numbers” set of infographics is interactive and includes data points that are consistent with their mission and goals. Best of all, it shows growth year-over-year from 2012 to 2018.

    Many Executive Directors neglect this portion of the report, but it can mean the difference between motivating a potential donor to act and leaving questions in their minds about what's being accomplished.

  5. Be transparent about your financial position

    Let’s face it: supporters want to know how their money is being used. Being open about your organization’s expenses helps to establish trust among your supporters. Plus, it shows potential donors that your nonprofit can manage funds responsibly and effectively.

    For example, if we look at the financials on page 21 of the Annual Report for Keshet, we see very simple yet effective visuals of how the money is spent and the kinds of investments this charity makes. The level of transparency is commendable and will give donors comfort that the stewardship over donations is intentional and thorough.

    Your accountant who works on your annual 990 should be able to generate an Annual Income Statement and a Statement of Financial Position. Your graphic designer can create charts and visuals to complement the data. 
  6. Use a professional graphic designer

    You have an image to maintain and in the same way that you wouldn’t hire an amateur to manage your finances, write your grants, or produce your marketing materials, don’t skimp on graphic design for your annual report.

    Your annual report is often the first document potential donors will see, and you want to be sure it creates the right impression of your organization. We have all seen websites and reports that feel cluttered, have colors that don’t quite go together or give us a sense that something isn’t quite right.

    When graphic design is done well, it gives us a sense of cohesion, an element of beauty, and feels like a work of art.

  7. Add alt-text to your images to make the document ADA-Compliant

    Alternative (Alt) Text communicates the “why” of an image. It allows screen reader software to share the intent of the image to visually impaired readers and is indexed by search engines (meaning it boosts your SEO). Another benefit is if an image fails to load, this text will display on the page. 
    Tips for proper usage of alt text are as follows:
    -  Add it to all non-decorative images
    -  Keep it short and descriptive, like a tweet
    -  Don’t include “image of” or “photo of”
    -  Leave alt text blank if the image is just a colored shape or other decoration

    That's all for now, and I'll see you again next Saturday, in the Boardroom. 


See you again next Saturday.

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