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Is the Annual Report Dead?: A Marketing Perspective

The following blog was written by Emily Heck as a guest piece for Kristi Howard-Shultz Consulting and originally appeared here. Thank you to Kristi and the KHS Consulting team for allowing Evergreen Strategic Communications to be a part of their monthly blog. We are grateful to have such a collaborative partner within our industry.


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For those of us in development, it’s mid-year retreat time. For many of us, it’s the end of the fiscal year. Chances are you’ve been hard at work analyzing your program and donor data, reporting to funders, re-evaluating your revenue strategy, and much more. At KHS Consulting, we’ve been doing the same. As we conduct this analysis, we are reminded of the ever present debate–is the annual report dead? 


This month, we’ve invited Emily Heck, our trusted partner and friend, to share her valuable marketing insights on the topic. As the president of Evergreen Strategic Communications, a respected marketing agency based in central Indiana, Emily specializes in providing services to nonprofits, educational institutions, and faith-based organizations. We are proud to collaborate with partners like Emily, who are dedicated to making a significant impact in our community. 


No matter where you land in this debate, we hope we’ve offered you food for thought and that your mid-year reflection will bring you gratitude for the past, hope for the future, and a plan for today.

 

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The annual report. Some nonprofit professionals love it, and others avoid it as much as possible. The discussion inevitably comes around at the beginning of each fiscal year questioning the time and effort it takes to compile, create, and distribute an annual report.


The development department likes it for donor recognition and needs it for grant reporting. It is a pride point for leadership and the board and the marketing department uses the impact numbers and stories throughout the year for brand messaging. 


But, does it really have a return on investment? 


I vividly remember at the beginning of my career having a very healthy annual report budget separate from my actual marketing budget. My instruction was clear from my manager who had been in leadership longer than I had been alive: the traditional annual report was important and a priority.  


Within a nonprofit organization, the marketing department’s primary role is to drive brand awareness which supports the growth of every aspect of the organization whether that be to raise dollars, attract volunteers, or increase memberships. The million dollar question then becomes where does the annual report come in? 


The value in the annual report from a marketing perspective is in the impact sharing. We use the numbers in our brand messaging and equip our leadership and development department with the stories.  However, as marketing and technology evolves, we have more tools in our toolbox that are able to drive brand awareness, promote impact, and support organizational objectives beyond a printed annual report. Inevitably, the argument from the marketing side of the annual report discussion is that it needs to be unique, compelling, and rich in quick and easy story sharing.  


Here’s few examples  of nonprofits who are using unique ways to share their annual impact: 


Landmark Columbus Foundation recently hosted High Five Day, an evening of celebration of 2023 accomplishments (i.e. the 2023 annual report) and kick off to an ambitious endowment campaign. The event was free, casual and open to the public. Coupling brand engagement with donor stewardship for a campaign launch, while also delivering the annual report provided a nonprofit marketing trifecta. For Landmark, an event of this kind aligned perfectly with their brand—especially in a town that loves their nonprofit events—and didn’t feel forced. Oftentimes, the annual report feels like a tedious item on a to-do list where it should really be a celebration of who you are as an organization from format and design to delivery.  


The Center for Congregations has served congregations across Indiana for more than two decades, but still finds a need for an annual report as it continues to build its brand. Not only is it important to its largest funder, but the Center for Congregations has experienced challenges in the past with sharing impact effectively. Knowing that a printed and mailed annual report was no longer necessary, they set out to create a digital annual report for the website. This format accomplishes two objectives from a marketing perspective: 1) it keeps readers on the website to explore more about the Center for Congregations; 2) it is easily adaptable each year, meaning a new theme can be updated along with the new impact numbers. Plus, the funder loves it because it is one less piece of mail cluttering their desk. 


What happens when a traditional annual report is absolutely necessary?


Girls Inc. of Greater Indianapolis still sees value in a printed annual report that is used grant reporting, donor cultivation, and volunteer recruitment. However, they also understand the need for compact versions that are quick and easy. In addition to the printed annual report, they also produce a single page report with the most impactful facts in addition to a digital version that can be easily emailed. Finally, similar to the Center for Congregations, an annual report webpage is designed to share impact numbers. Ultimately, Girls Inc. is meeting their audience where they are and have four different channels for users to engage with the annual report content which is ideal in today’s media cluttered world.

 

Is the annual report dead? It’s tough to say. Just like anything in marketing, it is about finding what is most effective for your organization and brand—but not just doing what you’ve always done. Your most engaged audiences are yearning for more from your organization and finding creative ways for engagement can go a long way for long term investment and brand loyalty. 


What are creative ways you have found to share your annual report? 


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For additional nonprofit marketing support and resources, contact the experts at Evergreen Strategic Communications.


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