Six ways to add donor delight to your Annual Report

Annual Reports can take up a lot of your time. And, they can be costly to produce. So how can you make sure that you’re getting an adequate return on your investment of time and money?

You could skimp on the cost side – put in less time, make the report smaller, dump print for digital. You wouldn’t be alone in taking that route. But your potential savings are limited to whatever you spent last year. And decreasing the value of the report to donors guarantees you’ll get less from donors in return.

Or you could work smarter to increase the report’s value and delight for donors and to boost valuable reader response – donations, memberships, volunteering, bequests, engagement with your online media.

There is no fixed upper limit on what a wise investment in your Annual Report might add to your income. One client gets unsolicited five-figure donations from Annual Report readers. Now the Development Director takes an Annual Report with her on major donor visits.

Here are six no-cost and low-cost ways to add donor delight to your Annual Report – and increase your return on investment.

1. Speak to your donors. If you really want to make the Annual Report repay your effort, make it first and foremost a report to donors. Use the word “you,” as in “with your support…,” and “thanks to generous contributions from people like you….” Make sure your opening message (often the Director’s Message – see below) speaks directly to donors. I like to bookend that direct address with a shorter direct message “how you can help” (also see below) near the end of the report.

2. Make it visually appealing. A great Annual Report begins with a strong graphic theme and great photos. Be bold with color. (Skip the wimpy pastels!) Make your Annual Report a beautiful object, something your donor or prospect will want to keep in view on their coffee table for a while.

3. Tell stories, skip sermons. People respond emotionally to stories and remember them. Stories change our internal reality by admitting new people and perspectives. Exhortations, statistics and arguments work when they confirm and deepen the reader’s existing opinions, but they rarely change a mind.

Insist that your Director gives you a story instead of deep thoughts this year. Include photos and quotes from  front-lines staff to show that your organization is a group of great people, not a remote institution. Of course, tell stories about the people you help, but give plenty of space to the people who helped you – your donors. Call or visit donors to get stories, quotes and photos. What made them give more this year? What made them care? How does their giving connect to their life experience?

4. Tell a story about the compelling future. Your material is from last year, but the Annual Report is really about the future. Select stories and images from the year that create emotions and show why your work will be essential and exciting in the year ahead. A well-told story shows the donor what was done with their money last year and shows what will be done with it this year at the same time.

5. Show the need ahead. Explain the scope and cost of what you need to do. Pick up on your stories about clients to show how the needs you met for them will grow. “We expect requests for service from families like Marie’s to grow by 30% in the next year.”

6. Invite readers into your work. Your stories have sparked emotions, they’ve shown the need and potential benefits of giving and they’ve provided models of donor behavior. Now it’s time to help them act. Invite your readers to choose their own response to these stories: volunteer, donate, make a bequest. Don’t just lay out the options. Provide everything they need to follow through: an envelope, staff names, phones and emails, a QR code if you think that works for your audience. Use “you” language to make them feel truly invited and welcomed.

These value-adding approaches apply to nearly any donor communication. But the Annual Report  gives you an opportunity to put them all together. Instead of cutting corners, focus on making your Annual Report work better for you.

2 responses to Six ways to add donor delight to your Annual Report

  1. Abby

    Jon, Gayle,
    nice blog 🙂 I particularly like this: Your material is from 2013, but the Annual Report is really about the future.
    Also like #6; wonder about asking (existing) donors “how has our work affected/impacted you this year”, or “what impact would you like your donation to have in the coming year”? Yes?

    • Jon Howard Post Author

      Thanks, Abby. Those are great questions to ask donors. I love the idea of adding “talk to us” in this way as another invitation to readers of the Annual Report. I’ll use it!

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