Tested and true annual report tips for wondrous results

Nonprofit organizations and some companies create annual reports to showcase their work with key stakeholders every year. And many come off sounding like a, well, report. Something nobody really wants to read. They’re just something to check a required box. But why waste an opportunity? When annual reports are well executed, people actually read them and act.

An effective annual report may inspire stakeholders of different backgrounds to take action. A reporter might pick up something from the report for a story. A donor might make another donation or buy tickets for an upcoming event. A customer may book a different service or try a different product than the one they’re familiar with. What do you want your audience to do when they read yours?

Influential annual reports

The topic of annual reports is on the brain here because ClearWing recently worked with the Cobb/Marietta Exhibit Hall Authority to create an inspiring 2018 Annual Report. The theme was “Influence” and included stories about how three organizations – The Cobb Galleria, the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre and ArtsBridge – make a significant impact on people and organizations across the community, the state and the southeast.

We considered all stakeholders and readers when planning and hunting for stories.  In all, we featured 7 short stories to show how companies benefited from sponsorships; how organizations and people benefited from events there; and how students benefited from arts education. One story was about a volunteer who overcame her grief at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center, and formed a close relationship with a patron. Another story featured a school principal who shared how children’s eyes are opened to the possibilities when they are exposed to the arts. The report was picked up by local media and gave the organization another opportunity to tell their story to audiences beyond their own stakeholders.

This elementary school principal helped tell the story of the important work of ArtsBridge, an arts education foundation.

Another stunning annual report I had the privilege to help conceptualize and produce was the 2017 WellStar Annual Report. Authentic patient stories, stunning photography, custom paper artwork and infographics came together to create a story of how the health system was “Building momentum in pursuit of world-class healthcare.” It was inspiring to tell the story of the 72-year-old man who won a gold medal in shot-put halfway through his cancer treatment. The 16-year-old girl who survived a tragic bus crash taking a church group to the airport for a mission trip. And the woman who survived breast cancer so she could keep teaching elementary music students and living life to the fullest.  Several of these stories came to life in print and broadcast media.

This man helped illustrate the winning cancer care by WellStar radiologists.

9 Tips for tremendous annual reports

  1. CONSIDER YOUR READER: As always, consider who will be reading the annual report. What do you want them to know? What do they want to know? And how can you put the two together?
  2. KEEP IT SIMPLE: Additionally, remember who you’re writing for and in most cases, keep jargon out of it. Most annual reports cater to a variety of audiences.  
  3. TELL YOUR STORY: Tell authentic brand stories that take both your mission and your reader into consideration. Who does your organization serve? Who in your organization serves them? There are interesting stories. You just have to dig a little. Read how to tell your brand story to engage your audience here.
  4. CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: If your company isn’t a nonprofit but you do things to make the world a better place, talk about it! Corporate social responsibility (or CSR) is becoming increasingly important, especially for younger consumers. According to a 2017 study by Cone Communications, 87 percent of people will purchase a product because a company got behind an important issue.
  5. SHOWCASE: Use high-quality photography to accompany your stories. The photos don’t have to be of people using your product or service (but it’s a win if they do). They can reflect the life that’s possible because of your organization.
  6. VISUALIZE YOUR DATA: Annual reports usually divulge a lot of data in the spirit of openness. Unfortunately, they can be complete eye charts and cause people to close the report. Include only what’s really necessary. Use infographics, pull-quotes or other graphics to visualize the data and take people on a journey through information that might otherwise go unnoticed.
  7. APPRECIATE: It’s always good to appreciate people in an annual report. Gratitude can incentivize those who’ve given to or purchased from your organization a reason to stay engaged.
  8. ASK: Most people don’t usually act unless they’re invited. If there’s something you want from your readers, ask. Looking for funds? Have a new service? Give them a way to go after it. If you’ve told your story well, they will be more inspired than ever to take action.
  9. MAKE IT DIGITAL: Annual reports are changing to keep up with the digital age. Consider how to make your annual report interactive online with video, animation, extended stories and more. While this is the last item on this list, it shouldn’t be an afterthought.  Here’s an example of an amazing animated 2017 Annual Report by Girls Who Code.

If you’re ready to ace your next annual report with great storytelling, let’s talk.

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