Maximising the return on investment from your charity’s annual report

With increasing pressure on charities to be more open, more transparent, and more accountable, your charity’s annual report is the perfect opportunity to showcase who you are and what you do. And yes – putting together a stand out annual report does take time and money. But with careful planning you can maximise your return on investment from the time and money spent.

Five opportunities your charity’s annual report creates

  1. Your charity’s annual report provides your charity with the opportunity for an extended marketing focused narrative (alongside the financial reporting requirements that your charity must publish in compliance with regulatory requirements).
  2. Your charity’s annual report can provide readers with context, a succinct overview of the various inter-related elements that make up the complex and dynamic environments in which your charity operates.
  3. Your charity’s annual report can be a myth buster – an opportunity to explain the challenges your charity faces and how your charity is rising to those challenges; to explain how the charity is resourced, how money is being spent, and how your charity is generating a social return from the donations and funding it receives.
  4. Your charity’s annual report is an opportunity to say thank you to all those who have made the achievements of the year under review possible. It is also an opportunity to invite others to become involved with your charity in achieving the vision and mission of the charity – a call to action.
  5. Your charity’s annual report is an opportunity to build credibility and trust.

So there are some of the opportunities created by your charity’s annual report. Now let’s take a look at how you can get the most out of your charity’s investment of time and money in the annual report.

 Seven ways to maximise the return on investment from your charity’s annual report:

  1. Be prepared: To avoid having to retrospectively gather impact data at the end of the year, have systems in place to capture the impact your charity is making over the course of the year. Link your data capture systems to your vision, mission, goals and objectives. Determine what data you need to capture and how you will capture it, who will be responsible for capturing and recording the data, what format the data will be captured and stored in and how frequently it will be captured.
  2. Engage, inspire & motivate: Infuse your statistics with life – use short, relevant case studies and quotes from beneficiaries, volunteers, staff and partners; use visuals – pictures, images, charts and graphs – to make the information in the report accessible and easy to digest. It’s your chance to tell your story – be clear on the key points you want to get across. Create great copy that engages, inspires confidence and trust and motivates your readers to take action.
  3. Know your audience: Who will be reading your annual report – members, service users (existing and potential future users), funders (existing and potential future funders), donors (existing and potential future donors), the general public, other agencies and organisations? Tailoring your communication to such a wide and varied audience creates a major challenge in ensuring the efficacy of your annual report. In shaping the language and design of the report you may want to focus on your key stakeholders, tailoring detail and targeted information to these audiences. An alternative is to create individual reports tailored to specific audiences.
  4. Know your purpose: Your charity’s annual report has a lot of work to do – in addition to documenting the financial position of the charity, the annual report is a marketing tool. It is an opportunity to thank everyone who has supported the charity over the course of the year and it serves as a call to action. The data collected for your annual report and subsequent evaluation activities based around that data can also provide useful insights that can be used in the development of your charity’s strategy for the coming year(s).
  5. Design essentials: While the need for printed versions of annual reports is still a must-have for many, some charities are now limiting their print runs of paper based annual reports and investing in online options. By having your annual report available online you are potentially increasing your readership, and creating the opportunity to prompt instant donations or membership. There are a number of different online options to choose from e.g. a static pdf; an interactive pdf with embedded links and videos; a flip book; a microsite with videos, interviews with beneficiaries and links; or an annual report video or animation. Your choice will be influenced by your resources (time and money), your audience and how you use your annual report.
  6. Create a theme: Creating a title and a creative theme for your annual report will help to provide you with a rationale for selecting the most pertinent case studies, quotes, pictures, images and graphics for your report. A strong theme will help you to build a structured and compelling report. Innovative creative can help your charity stand out and be remembered.
  7. Get noticed: Plan the launch of your annual report to ensure you maximise the opportunity created by the launch. Prepare your press release. Decide who your media spokesperson will be. What training will they need to maximise the opportunity? Is there a central theme that makes the content of your report topical/newsworthy? Identify your media hook. What is it about your story that will grab the interest of readers, listeners or viewers? Create sound bites that can be used in your media messaging. Be clear on what your call to action is.

John Sutton is Managing Director at Persuasion Republic.

Persuasion Republic provides a full range of services in brand and design (print & digital); research and training; PR and media relations; advocacy and awareness and fundraising.