In this webinar, Mary Cahalane will talk about how to make your annual report show your organization’s great work, demonstrate your effectiveness, thank and credit your donors… and raise money!

Full Transcript:

Steven:All right, Mary, my watch just struck 1:00. Is it okay if I go ahead and get us started officially?


Steven:All right. Awesome. Well, good afternoon, everyone, if you’re on the East Coast and good morning if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for joining us for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Your Annual Report: Are You Wasting a Great Fundraising Opportunity?” Hopefully not. That’s what you’re going to hear about today.

My name is Steven Shattuck and I am the chief engagement officer over here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always. And just a couple of housekeeping items before we begin. Just want to let you all know that we are recording this session and we’ll be sending out the recording as well as the slides later on today. So if you have to leave early or maybe you want to review the content later on or share with a friend or a colleague or a boss or a board member, anyone you want, you’ll be able to do that. So have no fear, I’ll get that in your hands this afternoon just a couple hours after we conclude today, I promise.

Most importantly, as you are listening to this webinar today, please feel free to participate in that chat right there on your webinar screen. We’re going to save some time at the end for Q&A, just as much time as we can. So don’t be shy about your questions and comments, don’t sit on those hands. We’d love to make this as interactive as possible towards the end. You can do the same on Twitter as well. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed there for questions and comments.

And one last bit of technical housekeeping, if you have any trouble with the audio through your computer speakers, we have found that the audio is usually a little bit better, actually a lot better, by phone. So if you don’t mind dialing in and you can do that, if you have a cellphone or a speaker phone handy and it won’t annoy your coworkers too much, try that before you totally give up on us. There is a phone number that you can dial in the email from ReadyTalk that went out about an hour or so ago and you can give that a try. It doesn’t rely on internet connections or software or anything like that. It’s just a phone. So don’t give up on us if you don’t mind doing that first.

If this is your first Bloomerang webinar I want to say an extra special welcome to you folks. We do these webinars almost every single Thursday throughout the year. I think we’re only missing maybe three or four Thursdays this year, which is really exciting. We love doing these webinars. We bring on great guests like Mary every week, totally educational. But if you have never heard of Bloomerang beyond our webinar series, I would invite you to just check out our website. Don’t do that now. Wait until 2:00 Eastern because you’re going to get a great session here from Mary.

We offer donor management software. That’s kind of our core business, so check that out if you’re interested in our offering or maybe just want to learn more. There’s even a short video demo that you can download and watch to see the software in action.

But for now, I’m super excited to welcome a first-timer to the Bloomerang webinar series, although she is someone that I have been tweeting for years, reading her blog, super smart, has just been a joy to finally talk to her on the phone over the last half-hour or so. Mary Cahalane is joining us today. Hey, Mary, how’s it going?

Mary:Hey. Happy to be here. How’s everybody?

Steven:I am good. I’m excited, as is everyone else. Yeah, this is going to be fun. We have a lot of people that’s here for this webinar and there’s already a lot of people in here.

So annual reports, Mary is an expert. If you guys don’t know Mary, I just want to brag on you really quick. She is a principal over at Hands-On Fundraising, really great blog. Every time she publishes a new blog post I stop what I’m doing and I read it. I see it in my Twitter feed. Always insightful, really great advice. She’s got over 30 years of experience. She’s done consulting, currently does consulting. She does copywriting. She has been directly employed by nonprofits, working at arts organizations, community-based organizations. So she’s worked both sides of the aisle and just has a lot of knowledge to share.

And I have already taken up way too much of her time, so, Mary, I’m going to hand things over to you to tell us all about annual reports. Take it away, my friend.

Mary:All right. Thank you, thank you so much. So here we are, annual reports. I’ll skip this page because Steven just . . . All right. Let’s start right at the beginning. An annual report, why do one to begin with? For legal reasons you probably need to do one, maybe your Secretary of State needs to see one, and you want to show your accomplishments for the year.

It also is a way to provide the general public with financial information about your organization and there’s probably some PR benefit to having them. I know some organizations end up using them as sort of a super brochure, so there’s some of that. But I would want to say to you that the most important reason is because of your donors. That’s the main audience you want for this report. Donors, donors, donors are why you do this, really.

So given that, who owns it? That’s a really important question and it’s often one that creates a little friction in an organization. So who oversees the process? Who makes sure that it gets done? Who works with writers and designers and who helps create the theme and the focus?

If you don’t mind, just shoot a quick little answer in the chat box on this. In your organization, who has the final say on the annual report? I’m seeing some B’s, some A’s, some B’s, some A’s, and then there’s a C. Yep, we have lots of A’s and B’s.

Well, I’m probably going to cause a little bit of trouble here. Hang on with me, though. As I said, this can cause some friction in the organization but I really feel like the right answer is the fundraising department, your development department. Why? Because the audience for your annual report, the most important audience for your annual report are your donors. They’re the ones who have invested in you. They’re the partners.

And when I say “donors,” let me say that in the most expansive sense. So volunteers are also donors. They’re just giving you time instead of money or in addition to money. Your funders, your corporate and foundation funders are also donors, obviously. So in the biggest sense, those are the people that you’re writing to. They’re the ones that matter.

And if you do something that’s full of gratitude and really focused on both partners, nobody else is going to be insulted. The press, the general public, nobody’s going to be insulted at seeing an annual report that’s full of gratitude for the people who make your work possible. The other side of it on the way inside side, also keep in mind this is not a document, this is not a publication for insiders. The point of an annual report is not to make you feel proud or your ED feel accomplished or bragging rights for your board. It’s an external facing thing. It’s not about making you feel good.

One little note and I’ll say more about this later, it’s definitely not about your designer’s portfolio. There’s no room for ego in an annual report. If you want it to be a great one, your report should be a fundraising document. It’s a great opportunity to thank donors, to report to them on the impact of their gift and even ask them to support you again.

Just tooting your own horn, you just can’t compete with an opportunity to really connect with your donors through an annual report. So let’s talk about that a little bit more.

About focusing on your donors, the best thing for communication to do is to feel one to one. Obviously this is not a personal letter. It’s not a personal publication but you want it to feel that way because you want the person reading it to feel like you’re speaking to them, you’re thanking them, you’re showing them what they did because they gave. So put all your attention on those donors and those volunteers. Make it all about gratitude.

You can celebrate your accomplishments. You should celebrate your accomplishments but credit your donors. Celebrate it with your donors. “Because of you and with you, we were all able to do this together.” There’s nothing gained by patting yourself on the back and there’s everything gained to have your donors feeling super empowered and effective because they’re going to want to do it again.

So, credit, you don’t really need credit. You’re going to be more loved if the people who are your partners, your funders, your donors, your volunteers feel like they made it happen. Let them brag about you. It’s much more effective that way anyway.

Look for things like testimonials maybe or include some donor highlights in the report. What you’ll see is them saying everything you might want to say about your organization but it’s coming from them, so now it has a much higher level of credibility. It’s a great way to make donors feel included and you can brag about your accomplishments but through them, not to them.

Most of all, gratitude. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. You have to keep that front of mind. It’s a really powerful emotion. It can move people to act again and again, which is really what you want, and we make the report about donors, not you. Pull every reader in and you involve them in your work, and that’s where you want as many people as possible to be, right?

I’m going to show you a bunch of, like, they’re just screen shots of some annual reports. A lot of them will be from Agents of Good. It’s an organization—what’s the word I want—up in Toronto and they’re absolutely incredible. If you’re looking for great ideas, go to their website. They’ve got a whole display of their work and they really, really get it.

This is for Interval House up in Canada, and notice first of all this is not an annual report. This is a gratitude report. They’re celebrating donors. They’re saying “thank you.” This is what it’s about. Definitely look them up because this stuff is what you should be looking for.

When you usually think of annual reports following a big thick handful of things that must be there, right? If you open any random annual report, you’ll see a letter from the executive director or maybe a board chair too. Let’s rethink that a little bit.

Another little quick quiz. Do you need a letter from your ED? What do you think? Yay.

So here’s what I’d say. No, it’s not a necessity at all. Think about it this way, ask yourself is your executive director a celebrity or a person that donors in your community are just itching to hear from? Does the ED have something new and interesting to share, you know, something right up to the minute, something new that donors really want and need to hear?

If you’re racking your brains out trying to come up with something for your executive director to put in this letter, or your board chair, either of them, consider just not doing it. It doesn’t really serve a purpose unless it’s something that donors will want to read. And I guarantee you most of your ED letters are not going to be so compelling that people read them. They’ll go right into the rest of it. So use the page for something more important. Thank donors again.

Let’s play a little game of smart or dull here. I’m going to show you some screen shots of annual reports and let’s see what you think along the way here. Here we go. Get that thing working.

Your fundraising success, this is just a shot from a page of Rotary International. The message is all about, “Hooray for us. We raised a lot of money this year.” Smart or dull?

Yes, dull, dull, dull. I love it. Yes, of course it’s dull. Nobody cares. Your fundraising accomplishments are really important inside your organization but it’s just not very interesting to people from the outside. As long as you’re doing well enough that your work will still be getting done, that’s all they really need to know.

Your aim in an annual report isn’t to justify your existence. Your aim is to make your readers feel something—pride or concern or satisfaction. It’s all about the emotions.

So here’s another one. This really surprised me. This is from the Met, the opera company. Dull, right? Nobody is going to read that. Nobody is going to read this. This goes on, believe it or not, just like this for four and a half pages. I mean, they didn’t end but other than that there’s not a darn thing in here to make it easy for people to read, to make it something that people will want to read. It’s just garbage. I didn’t even bother reading this whole page because nobody’s going to read it. It’s just wrong.

This is a great story and it starts right [inaudible 00:15:17]. So what do you think? Love it. They start right on the front page with a story. So what are you going to do? You’re going to open that booklet and you’re going to want to know where that story goes and what happens. It’s brilliant. This is what you want to look for.

Notice also even though it’s type over a photo, which can be very hard to see, the type is really big, it’s strong enough to be seen above that red background and there’s not that much of it. Just enough to pique your interest and get you to keep going.

This is what happens. A great story starts on that front page and then it continues. This is the closest thing that you’ll get in this annual report, this gratitude report to a letter at the beginning. It’s not a letter. It’s the rest of the story opening up. It tells you what to expect as you look through the annual report. It’s setting the stage. It’s so much more interesting than a letter.

So this is another one that really kind of surprised me. If you read the text here, it’s all about this organization celebrating their new brand awareness campaign. Raise your hand if you think anybody who’s reading this gives a hoot about their brand awareness campaign. It’s lovely, it looks pretty, but what are they writing about? They’re talking about how hard they work. Nobody cares how hard you work. They care about what you accomplish.

And also, branding, you think about your logo, it’s not about your colors, it’s not about even your tag line. It’s about how you make people feel. So this makes people feel probably at least confused, if not totally bored. Hooray for the great staff who put it together and worked on the new awareness campaign. I know it’s a ton of work and it really can take a whole year to get something fabulous done, so you feel like you’ve really accomplished something, and you have, but not something to celebrate outside your organization.

This annual report has a really terrific sort of theme here—everyday heroes. And I’m really excited to kind of stumble upon it and take a look through it. But it comes out dull because it promises you stories of everyday heroes and then once you get in, you get a lot of facts and stories about the staff. Yes, I’m sure the staff are heroes but this isn’t the way to celebrate your staff.

This is to celebrate your donors, to celebrate the people who are externally going to your partners and bringing them closer. Celebrate your staff by giving them an extra day off. Praise them at a board meeting. Throw them a party or, here’s a really radical idea, pay them more. The annual report isn’t the place for you to brag.

Yes, I apologize but another Agents of Good creation. This one is full of stories from people outside the walls. Remember I mentioned doing a donor highlight. This report is full of stories about donors and about others who have been touched by the work of the organization. It’s a great way to brag on yourself without needing to do it yourself.

This is from the American Cancer Society and they focused on volunteers. It’s another great thing to focus on. Again, these are the people who are making your work possible. So put the spotlight on them.

Short way to say all of this is look for those smart things. Look for the ones that are not dull, that really communicate on a conversational person-to-person level. You don’t have to be official and you definitely don’t have to be official. Think about is it about donors and their impact? Does it celebrate your volunteers? Is it fascinating, a story people just have to read? Is it new and is it full of feeling? Because emotions rule.

Don’t bother if you’re going to create a very business-like corporate communications kind of document. Think about start with emotion and end, go with that. What do you want your readers to feel? Before you even start creating this report, what emotions do you want to summon with it? Think of emotions as sort of you’re holding up a painter’s palette, right, and you’ve got a little blue or you’ve got a little red. You’ve got a little sad, you’ve got a little happy, all kinds of emotions there and use them like an artist does, use the emotions to trigger the kinds of feelings that you want your readers to have.

If you want someone to feel like they’re concerned about a problem that everyone’s working hard to solve but isn’t quite there yet, do you want them to be proud of what’s possible? These don’t have to be exclusive either. You can pair emotions. They can be both. Happy that they helped, sad because there’s still a big problem. Go with emotions. Let that lead you.

And to get there, you’ve got to let it all hang out. You can’t write emotionally if you’re not willing to feel the emotion. It’s so much safer to write very matter-of-factly. It’s like creating a book report when you were back in school. It feels a little more dangerous to let yourself feel all those feels. But you do. You need to do it if you want to communicate those.

Don’t hide in statistics or business-like explanations. Feel it and share it. Statistics, business [inaudible 00:22:23]. It’s so comfortable for a lot of people to live there but don’t. Take a dare. Take a leap and talk in emotions because your readers don’t want to just read about statistics. They also need to see feelings. They want to feel feelings.

Nancy there, I just glanced over and, yes, there should be financials but let the emotions lead you. We’ll look at financials in a little bit.

Tell stories. Since the beginning of our species, stories have been how we communicate. Think of parables, think of early humans sitting around a fire outside a cave or painting pictures on the walls of that cave that tell a story for the next person who enters. It’s how we’re wired to communicate. It’s how we communicate best and most fully.

So when you’re beginning to put your report together, collect stories, collect a ton of stories. Go to your program staff and ask if you can shadow them for a day or ask them to bring you great stories. Talk to your donors, talk to your volunteers. Talk to the people who you serve. Get really good stories because that’s what’s going to make your annual report really stand out.

You have to get in close to do this. Again, you need to be willing to share people’s pain or their happiness in order to communicate this. It’s a great idea to give the whole report just sort of an overall framing of the story. So once you look through all the stories you have to tell they may start pointing you towards that overarching theme. It’s also a cool way to see your organization’s work from the outside in, which is always a good thing to do.

This is an example of an annual report from an organization up here in Connecticut where I am. Actually I worked on this with them. Unfortunately, design choices smushed all the copy into a tiny little corner of the page. I was pressing for much larger type and more space for that so people could actually read it. But at least they were good with the stories being about the young people they serve.

While interviewing these people, oh my gosh, I wanted to adopt every one of these kids and bring them home. They’re so amazing and their stories are so sad and then happy and it’s a wonderful thing and you really want to bring your reader along for that. They won’t necessarily get that experience so you have to communicate to them so that they can sort of share that experience through your annual report.

This is not a narrative, obviously. But they’re using stories by using text here. Yes, they’ve got numbers and too many numbers, our minds just glaze over. If you want the giving part of your brain to be lit up, you’ve got to do stories, you’ve got to do emotions. But this gives just a little taste of it all and of course their very well-known tag line. But just with that little bit of text they underlined what they’re all about.

This one is gorgeous. Yes, Lori, this is good. It’s one they did for an agency in Canada. It’s a literacy and learning organization, so they did it like a children’s book. The illustrations are gorgeous. It’s totally aligned with this organization’s mission because they tell a little story about this child, them reading, and what it really means to them. It’s really effective and it’s seriously a joy to read.

Who is this? This is Oregon Food Bank. And notice how well they use that image. It’s not a group shot. It’s a close up and the little girl is looking right at you, right into the camera. We are wired back in our lizard brain when eyes are on us, even in a photo, even on a screen, when eyes are looking right at us, we’re drawn to that. It’s probably a matter of that very basic sense of, “Is this something that’s going to eat me or is this something I could eat?” You know, that fight or flight kind of gut level stuff.

So if you’re getting the photos, try to get photos that are really focused on one person looking right at you into the camera. That’s another kind of connection and communion that will go on with your readers.

There’s a caption up here. I’m not crazy about the white and some small letters against the background but the caption is real short. It’s just enough to tell you what’s going on here and put you right in the picture so you’re right in that kitchen.

The Red Cross obviously has such a wide net that all they really need to do to tell a story is their logo and a terrible accident, right? Okay. Red Cross is there when awful things happen to people. But that one picture tells you everything you really needed to know.

I mentioned numbers. And, yes, you absolutely want financials in there because being transparent about that builds trust with your donors and you never want them not to trust. This, however, is a bit much. This is usually what you’ll see, though, a sort of just a balance sheet with a little bit of design thrown in to make it prettier. You don’t have to include every single number and people probably aren’t going to pay attention to it.

This is the American Heart Association. They do a pretty nice job with this, of laying it out pretty simply. So you could read through this and get a good idea . . . really, all the donor is looking at it is, “How did they spend my money?” That’s what they’re looking to see. The only thing I’d say about this, I don’t know if you can see it. I’m using a small screen right here now but, yeah, here we are.

I don’t know that anybody outside our sector really understands what the heck that means, so I would have looked for much more simple language there to explain that. You know how you want to say “gifts” in your will and not “bequests” or “planned gifts.” Keep it simple.

This is an even more simple way of answering the question, “What did you do with my money?” Who is this? Hands-On Atlanta. It’s a simple, easy to read infographic and it answers the questions.

This is back to Oregon Food Bank. They do have a whole statement of activities, financial review, it’s all there. But they also have a quick and easy to read page here that just breaks things down simply for people to read. Pie charts are great. They’re easy to understand just at a glance and they get extra points for the fruits and vegetables being part of their chart. I think that’s uninviting.

Do you remember back when I mentioned something about designers? We need designers. Designers are wonderful, creative, fabulous digitally-thinking and working people. However, you’ve got to be in charge of your annual report. Even if your designer’s working for free, you’re still the boss, you still determine how this works. I’ve seen too many organizations get kind of brow beat into letting the designer do what they want. Their portfolio is not your concern. Don’t let that get in your way. They work for you, you be the boss.

There’s so many ways that design that looks pretty can make something not easy for people to read. And if it’s not easy for people to read, they won’t read it.

So there’s a great picture, right? You’ve got Clifford over there, you’ve got happy people looking right at you and we’ve gotten the first type over an image in teeny tiny letters. Again, I don’t know if people are reading that. The picture makes you feel happy but this part of it, it’s lost. It’s just lost.

Reverse type again here. It’s a pretty picture. You know, colleges, universities always use those great fall pictures of brick buildings, a beautiful tree. All that’s beautiful and if you went to this university, just that picture would summon feelings and emotions about your time there. But the reverse type again. And even worse, this white over gold, there’s hardly any contrast. It’s really, really tough to read. But it looks pretty, right? So that’s where you have to say to a designer, “It needs to function first and then we can worry about form.”

Here’s another one. Okay, these have great photos, right? You’ve got people smiling and looking right at you. They tell the positive impact story right there and then you’re left with that big block of type in an awful font and it’s just all squished together. I’m betting nobody bothers to read that. It could have been a two-page spread and left enough room and had some fabulous text in there that would really enhance the pictures and tell a great story.

But sometime designers just see text as a visual element and so they like to squish it down, put it in a block, and shove it somewhere as just another shape on their page. That’s how they think and work, and that’s fine but you’ve got to have the last say. Don’t let them get away with stuff like that if it’s something worth reading. If it’s not worth reading, don’t put it in the annual report to begin with.

More dense blocks of type. This is the everyday heroes thing. They left a lot of white space on this page, which is great. Your eye really needs that but they would have done better to indent a little, to break this up instead of one big long block of type. That’s intimidating for a reader and it makes your brain just say, “Why bother?”

Okay, do I really need to tell you anything about this? All the pictures, all the writing, everything smashed into one page. Yuck. If you have all that and it’s really important to do, this could six or seven pages of an annual report. Nobody’s going to bother with this. Oh my gosh.

Images, telling stories. These are two that are really powerful. Again, you want Tom Ahern’s eyes and teeth, you know, somebody really looking right into the camera. Now, the Red Cross one, that guy’s not looking right into the camera but you see every emotion right up close on his face. That embrace and their body language and his face just tell you everything. That’s so powerful. That’s such an impactful kind of page, kind of image.

The other photo from Ulman Cancer, you have a cancer patient obviously looking right at you, looking right to you and saying, “Because of you, I’m not fighting alone.” If that doesn’t give you goosebumps, nothing will. “Because you’re wonderful, because you gave, I’m not fighting this awful thing all by myself.” You want to feel like a hero when you’re reading one of these things?

Don’t do this. Who the heck knows what this is about? It looks like the staff and they won some sort of award. Again, nobody else cares and what’s the point of this? Post it inside your office.

So the big question I often get asked about annual reports is print or online? There are pros and cons for both. Let’s take a little look through them.

Benefits of print are people like to have something they can hang on to. For most people, reading something physical is still easier than reading on a screen. It can be left in waiting rooms and other public places where people who you haven’t introduced yourself to might run across it. Have you heard stories about something like this sitting in a waiting room and someone picking it up and deciding that they needed to become a donor or even needed to . . . I think I heard a story about a guy in his lawyer’s waiting room saw an annual report, went in and decided to leave some money to this organization in his will. Boom.

So, yes, make it beautiful, make it wonderful and spread some around. It can be a useful archive item. Yes, you can have a PDF on digital but sometimes having a few of the real thing is a really good idea.

Obviously online can be much less expensive. It also can be interactive. You can have video, you can put links in it for people to get more information. You can really make people . . . keep them busy interacting with your annual report through their screen.

But I think the best answer is why not have all the doughnuts? Why not do it all? Way back in the old days when printing meant, you know, setting it up and . . . way before digital. I’m that old, folks. It was expensive to print even if you were just printing 50. It was almost as expensive to do 50 as it would be to do 5,000. It’s not the same anymore. Printers don’t have to do anything but take the PDF from you and it’s the same process pretty much, just a little fancier than what you do in the office, right?

So you could print a small run for the people who want it and you could have a digital version available for people who prefer that. And the way you find out who prefers what is ask. Send a letter or a postcard to your donors and tell them that for lots of reasons, including environmental ones, you’re going to be posting the annual report on your site but if they prefer a hard copy version, you’d be happy to send it and ask them to return the postcard to you and you’ll know who wants what and you can make them all happy.

One caution, as I was putting this together and just sort of hunting down annual reports online, so many of them were really hard to find. They’re buried in menus that I would never have thought would be where you’d find them. If you’re going to do an online version, give it its own homepage menu tab or make it really clear where it’s living, some kind of easy to grab link right there. Don’t make people hunt around for it. Nobody’s going to be happy about doing that.

Here we go. Questions? I see there are a bunch of them in here and I’ll try to do my best to do that. I want to say a quick thank you and point you guys to a great resource. Ryan McGuire at Gratisography has some really great images and they’re free to use so go check it out. I thank you and, Steven, I will hand it over to you now and we’ll see if we’ve got some questions.

Steven:I’m here. That was great, Mary. [Inaudible 00:39:06] presentations with so many examples, so thanks for that. We have a lot of questions. You answered a couple of them but I wrote down a few here that people are asking about. What do you think about length, the total length of the report? Is it just however much space you need to tell all those stories or is there a hard and fast rule? Does it just depend? What do you think?

Mary:I’m sorry, a link? Like if it’s online?

Steven:No, what do you think?

Mary:Oh, what do I think about that? I think focus is always important. So you can’t tell a big long story or too many of them. I think if it’s a digital version that is sending them for more stories to your website, it makes a ton of sense because you want to get them there anyhow. Am I answering your question right? I’m sorry. I’m not sure I totally got it.

Steven:Yeah, the overall length of the report.

Mary:Yeah. You can have an overall link to the report. Just make it easy to find. Make it obvious to somebody who’s not inside. Go home and ask your older neighbor if they can find it for you.

Steven:I’m sorry, Mary. I don’t think I’m coming in clearly. I was asking about how long the report should be.

Mary:Oh, I’m sorry. Okay. Now I’m with you. I’m sorry. Length. I’m hearing “link,” I’m sorry. Okay.

Length. Focus is important there too. It can be as long as you need it to be, obviously, but a big huge bound report going out to people is likely to make your donors think you spent an awful lot of money on something that maybe would be better going toward mission. So you risk that.

Curate. Curate madly. Find the most effective story or two and the most effective image. Keep the financials down. I see a few people were asking about donor lists. There isn’t a good answer for donor lists and I know they do take up a lot of space. Some donors absolutely love them and get really upset if their name’s not there. Some donors hate that their names are in this publication and all over the place.

It might be another one to ask your donors about, especially if it’s digital, because any of you who are fundraising staff have probably done exactly what I used to always do too and go look through everybody’s annual reports to see who’s giving what and why they’re giving so much more. Why is my board member giving twice what she gives to us to this other place? It’s tricky. There’s not a right or wrong answer. My sense is that that’s moving more toward not having donors’ names in it. But that’s just my experience, the people I talk to.

Steven:Along the same lines, do you think people should have the names of employees and board members and maybe bios for those people? Do you think that’s necessary in an annual report?

Mary:I think a list of board members is a good thing because they’re sort of the link between the organization and the community. Especially if they’re people who are known in the community who have some clout, it’s not a bad idea to include them. And then also, or they should be anyway, super volunteers, so it’s a nice way to be able to acknowledge their input.

It’s not about making the staff feel good in this list. And as I said, there are other better ways to make them feel good. Staff, if there are a couple really externally-facing staff who readers might want to get in touch with. So if it’s an invitation to . . . “Claire is our whatever and she’d love to hear from you or talk with you. Call her at this number,” kind of thing. If it’s an invitation for more connection, then that might work. But if it’s just a list because, I wouldn’t.


Mary:You can put that all on your website.

Steven:Right. Mary, we’ve had a lot of people ask about a replied invite in the annual report, so a BRE, maybe even a very specific ask, not just the BRE, what do you think of that? Do you think that’s a good idea or could it work in some cases? Any experience with that?

Mary:I think it’s a good idea. It doesn’t have to be a hit you over the head ask but it’s there and if people are moved by your annual report, you want them to be able to respond immediately, right? So have it handy.

Steven:Okay. Thanks. We’ve got some people chatting in just for the benefit of everybody else, a couple folks are using that. So just the BREs and not necessarily an ask?

Mary:I’ve done it both ways. I’ve actually done a little list letter or even a Post-It on top of the annual report, which looked like it was really handled by a real person and could just be a few lines about how important their support has been and then, you know, include a little response form and return envelope and . . . As long as it’s not a guilt-inducing, you know, “Help us now or we’re going to die,” kind of thing. As long as it’s coming from that place of gratitude and knowing that donors like to donate so we’ll make it easy for you.

Steven:Yeah. And if you do everything else in the report that you’ve suggested today, that will probably help too.

Mary:Yeah, yeah. So don’t make them have to go scrounging around to find a way to give. I wouldn’t ask for a specific amount in that. I’d make it a little more general. But I bet you do find people sending gifts in. Most places do, so make it easy.

Steven:Okay. Mary, you’ve got some people thinking about the perceived cost of the report. Do you recommend people do anything specifically to maybe reduce the feeling that the report costs a lot, anything to maybe mitigate those feelings or kind of head them off at the pass before they actually happen?

Mary:Well, we all know that probably these days the expense of the report is creating it, not as much at all any more in printing it. And donors won’t perceive something beautiful you’ve created that’s on your website as being any more or less expensive than anything else that’s on your website, most of them.

What made me say that was if you have something that’s an inch thick and heavy glossy paper, people are going to start wondering why you did all that. But if you have your basic annual report is not a huge document, and if it’s well done and not over the top I don’t think your donors are going to complain about it. And you know what, if they do and they call you and tell you about it, then that gives you a great chance to get to know them better and to talk about it with them.

Make it nicely done. It doesn’t have to be on the world’s heaviest paper. But it shouldn’t look like you did it on the office copy machine either, you know?

Steven:Yeah. All right. Well, what about time of year to send it? I know people are on different fiscal years and calendar years maybe. Do you think that it should be in the year that you’re reporting on? Should it be maybe in the first month or two of the new year? Any experience there?

Mary:I think most find it useful to do it early in the next fiscal year because then they can report on the most recently past fiscal year, once you’ve got all the info you need to report on that year, because it’s an annual report so you’re reporting on the last year. Most of the time I would aim for, you know, a month or two after you close out the last fiscal year, sometime in that first quarter maybe.

I think consistency might be as important too there. If they know to look for it always in April, you know.

Steven:Sure. What about if your organization wants to tell stories so they trust in the advice that you’ve given today but maybe they’re dealing with healthcare type things like HIPAA rules, maybe things like domestic violence or minors, any advice there? I know this transcends annual reports. I mean, that’s everything you want to tell stories in but any advice for those people?

Mary:Well, you could tell stories in that case from a program person’s point of view and hide details. I’ve worked with some organizations like that and we kind of talk about taking all the story elements and kind of putting it into a blender so you could never recognize it as the original person’s story. So it’s true but not factual. Does that make sense? The gist of it, what happened honestly illustrates what you do and why you do it, but it’s not something that would embarrass or even endanger, in some cases, a real person.

You could also do donor profiles and why they give. It could be something that other donors would understand and want to read about or volunteers. So there are other ways to get at what you do. You certainly never want to endanger anybody or embarrass anybody. There are ways to get to the gist of it without having to put anybody in a bad spot.

Steven:Yeah, and donor and volunteer stories are a great fall back. I love that.

And, Mary, anything that you maybe like to use personally or maybe that you know are somehow more effective than other fonts? I think you got people’s wheels turning when you were talking about fonts.

Mary:Oh, with the Comic Sans one? That just cracked me up. It’s like, “Comic Sans, really?” Although I’ve been reading that that might be a better font for people with some learning or visibility issues somewhere.

Steven:Yeah, it’s good for them.

Mary:Yeah. So maybe laugh and make peace with Comic Sans. I don’t know. I mean, the general advice is for a print document you’re better off with a serif font, even though designers, again, hate that. They like that modern look. If it’s going to be all online then I guess you could go either way. I don’t know. Maybe I’ve just got older eyes now but I find a serif font to be easier to take in.

Whatever you do, though, make it big enough. Rather than which font you pick, choose one that you can make big enough to make easy to read. Big enough and dark enough, so enough contrast and enough size.

Steven:Well, I think you brought up a good point. It seems like a majority of the people who donate and have the greatest capacity are older so I think we should keep them in mind in terms of readability, so I think it’s good advice.

Mary:I’d rather look hokey or old-fashioned and have people actually reading than look slick and gorgeous and fancy design and not have people be able to read it.

Steven:Yeah. Here’s a question from my buddy Kathy. The staff and the figures and the financials, should those be the sort of fully audited and closed kind of numbers or can they just be kind of the numbers that the bookkeeper has? Should you go through the full audit for publishing those things?

Mary:I think because it is one of those documents that might stay around, I would prefer to have your final numbers because trust is really important and numbers are where people are really looking for transparency. And so if you send an annual report out for last year and you’ve got these numbers and then two months later they go to your website and it doesn’t quite match, then it just gives a little tiny glimmer of, “Hmm, what’s up with this? Can I trust them still?” So I think I might go with the numbers that you’re going to settle on as your final numbers.

Steven:That’s probably prudent. I like it. Well, Mary, we’re coming up on the hour and I want to give you time for maybe some last bits of advice and how people can get ahold of you and how they can check you out. What’s your last piece of advice maybe for people putting together their first annual report? What’s the one thing they should do?

Mary:Don’t get too tied up in all of my dos and don’ts here that it makes you feel like you can’t do it or like you’re doing something wrong. Just keep your heart in it and you will create something that donors will feel and that’s what you want. Don’t get too tied up in is this the most beautiful, most perfect annual report ever. Just make it the most donor-focused and sincere and genuine annual report ever and they will absolutely respond to that.

Steven:I love it. How can people get ahold of you? Are you willing to take some more questions? Email, Twitter, what’s the best way?

Mary:Yeah. I thought I had my email up on that but I don’t. It’s just You can see my website URL there but just put a mary@ in front of it and feel free to email with questions. I don’t mind that at all and I’m @mcahalane on Twitter and Hands-On Fundraising on Facebook. Happy to answer any of your questions. I know there’s a ton that we needed to get through in this hour but shoot them at me. I don’t mind.

Steven:Cool. And definitely follow her on Twitter. That is a good Twitter follow. That is one I can personally endorse. So check her out there as well. Mary, this was awesome. I’m glad we finally [inaudible 00:54:28]. It was fun.

Mary:I know, it’s great. Thank you all for coming. I really appreciate it.

Steven:Yes, thank you all, I should say. I know it’s probably getting to be a busy time of year. The fiscal year’s ending for some folks in June but thank you for taking time out of your day to be here. It was a lot of fun. I am going to get you guys the slides and the recording later on this afternoon. I promise I’ll get that to your inbox today. And we’ve got some great resources on our website as well.

By the way, do check out Mary’s blog because there’s great advice there as well. We’ve got some freebies on our site as well. We’ve got free templates, free guides, case studies. We’ve even got a few annual report case studies on our website as well, so you may see some additional inspiration there.

We’ve got lots of great webinars coming up in the second half of the year. I want to get one on your radar before we jump into the July 4th holiday. We are back on the 12th of July and our good friend from Portland, Mazarine Treyz, is going to join us and she’s going to talk about what’s holding you back in your nonprofit career?

So maybe if you’re struggling with maybe advancing in your organization or advancing in kind of your job title, maybe your salary, we’re going to touch on those things. She’s an expert in salary negotiations, by the way. So those of you listening who maybe are not the boss might want to register for that one in secret because it’ll help you out. So check it out as well.

It should be a good one. Mazarine’s super smart, great presenter, and it is totally free. So you can register for that one now. We’ve got other great webinars coming up. We’ve got lots of different topics and other ones you can register for on our website. So check that out and hopefully we will see you again some other Thursday. I think we might have a webinar one week from today as well. We’re going to try to sneak one in, and if we do, we’ll definitely invite you to that. So hopefully we’ll see you again sometime soon.

So have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a safe weekend. Stay cool out there and we will talk to you again soon. Bye now.


Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.