You don’t have to produce an annual report

Whenever an organization asks me to help them produce their annual report, it’s all I can do to stop myself from a long, expletive-filled tirade about how I’d rather chew my arms off.

I usually manage to quietly mutter that I’m just a bit too busy for that right now. Which is what I’d say if I’d been doing absolutely nothing for months.

Annual reports are a nightmare. Way too many cooks in the kitchen. Too many people who don’t know anything about connecting with donors think it’s the flagship publication of the year, and it needs to be truly awesome.

Which means you’re going to be doing a lot of pointless rewrites for different people who are waiting to “know it when I see it.”

That’s why I stay away from annual reports.

But there’s another reason: You probably don’t have to do an annual report at all, according to this post at the Bloomerang Blog: 2 Truths and a Lie About Annual Reports:

Almost all tax-exempt organizations are required to submit a Form 990 to the IRS. And most states require some kind of filing as well. Audited financials are a must for many organizations, too. These documents check the box on accounting procedure and, for sophisticated donors, also provide proof that you’re above board and transparent about your financials.

That’s not saying doing an annual report is automatically a bad thing to do. But you need to treat it like anything else you do — using fundraising best practices and keep the donor front an center.

Which leads to Bloomerang’s two truths about annual reports:

  1. Your annual report should support a larger strategy. If you think of your annual report as one of your stewardship touch-points that’s meant to make donors feel good about by donors, you’ll have a useful annual report. (It will be a lot more like a newsletter, with stories and tons of donor affirmation than like the traditional corporate annual report full of numbers and charts.)
  2. The annual report isn’t about your organization. Like everything we do in fundraising, your annual report should be a report on how awesome the donor is, not on how great you are.

If your annual report is like that, I might even be able to say yes!


Comments

2 responses to “You don’t have to produce an annual report”

  1. Jonathan Krause Avatar
    Jonathan Krause

    I have just finished creating our Annual Report.
    It’s everything you say – hard work, rewrites, large investment etc.
    (The investment bit’s OK for FR because cost comes out of ‘Admin & Accountability’ – but still an organisation cost)
    I see AR as critical part of bequest strategy.
    We personalise the Front Cover, so <>, this is what you did last year through ALWS.
    We are story and image led (so 90% emotional), using an ‘Impact Case Study’ to illustrate each country, while providing the numbers to show effectiveness and efficiency – the rational tick for lifetime-big giving decisions.
    By giving the AR a bequest context, we can specifically target those in that part of their giving history, and affirm those who have already made that decision.
    I know this is a different approach for an AR, and may only apply to my specific audience (seniors, Christian, parochial about our church organisation) … but something to consider before completely abandoning an AR.
    For reference, we have 12,000 on database, about 6,000 of whom are Active. they donate $4 million each year. our total investment (including salaries) is $400k.
    Cheers!

  2. Jonathan Krause Avatar
    Jonathan Krause

    I have just finished creating our Annual Report.
    It’s everything you say – hard work, rewrites, large investment etc.
    (The investment bit’s OK for FR because cost comes out of ‘Admin & Accountability’ – but still an organisation cost)
    I see AR as critical part of bequest strategy.
    We personalise the Front Cover, so <>, this is what you did last year through ALWS.
    We are story and image led (so 90% emotional), using an ‘Impact Case Study’ to illustrate each country, while providing the numbers to show effectiveness and efficiency – the rational tick for lifetime-big giving decisions.
    By giving the AR a bequest context, we can specifically target those in that part of their giving history, and affirm those who have already made that decision.
    I know this is a different approach for an AR, and may only apply to my specific audience (seniors, Christian, parochial about our church organisation) … but something to consider before completely abandoning an AR.
    For reference, we have 12,000 on database, about 6,000 of whom are Active. they donate $4 million each year. our total investment (including salaries) is $400k.
    Cheers!

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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