Why Digitizing Annual Reports Is the Future
Apple released a video, which garnered more than 4.1 million views on YouTube, in September. It’s essentially an entertaining way to deliver a report that shows Apple’s progress toward its commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030.
The video created a lot of discussion on social platforms, like LinkedIn, about how brands and organizations can and should think about annual reports (and program reports). It’s heralded as a great creative example of more than just a PDF report with charts, big numbers and a lot of text. Yes, there is a PDF of Apple’s report, but it’s fair to say that it’s neither as memorable nor as digestible as the video version.
Recently, the nonprofit trend of digitizing annual reports has been on the rise — creating more than just a static PDF that lives in the about section of the website alongside the 990 filing and other annual financial information. While this trend is often associated with cost savings, I find it encouraging and hope to see it continue to move annual reports forward, increasing their value, consumption and discoverability.
The Value of Annual Reports
Many nonprofits think about annual reports as something that they have to do. Something that’s driven by the numbers. Something that’s for the board, major donors and corporate sponsors — not for everyday donors. This lens immediately removes the excitement that can come from an annual report.
I hope that you’re up for a challenge.
The challenge I have for you is to shift the lens of your annual report from something that you have to do to something that you want to do. Something that’s valuable to more than just your board, major donors and corporate supporters. Something that all teams within your nonprofit can leverage and use as a memorable, rallying cry to support your mission.
Donors are people. They’re curious. They want to be entertained, excited and inspired. Your annual report can and should do this. Yes, this needs to include the numbers, but it should tell a story with those numbers. Annual reports are a place to celebrate your impact and to tell your nonprofit’s story in a memorable way every year.
How to Make Annual Reports Memorable
Stories are more impactful than just reciting statistics. That’s why it’s important to ensure that your annual report cohesively tells your story.
People consume content in a variety of ways. Some people prefer to print and read, some prefer to interact, some prefer to passively consume while someone narrates. This is a core reason to digitize your annual report. It allows you to use multimedia to connect with audiences and allow them to consume content in the ways that are most impactful to them.
Every day nonprofits and brands ask people for something — money, time, brainpower, etc. Annual reports are a great way to add a touch point to your supporters that’s little more than a “thank you.” A celebration of the year’s work and a moment of gratitude can show supporters what they helped achieve by supporting your mission.
5 Benefits of Digitizing Annual Reports
Living in a digital world comes with benefits and hurdles. It means all organizations have access to a broad audience. It means every person has many causes and brands vying for their attention. It means people discover organizations and content in new ways.
This can be challenging, but, at its core, the goal is still to engage people. The delivery vehicle may change, but the underlying elements are the same as they’ve always been.
Every day nonprofit’s have a chance to engage with their communities, to inspire change and embrace generosity. And every year, nonprofit’s have a chance to celebrate their impact and thank their supporters with their annual report.
Here are five benefits of digitizing your annual report.
1. Organic Discoverability
Earlier this year, RKD Group found nonprofits are harder to organically find online because of the challenges many organizations have when it comes to meeting Google’s new website standards (Core Web Vitals). While length is not a ranking factor, longer content tends to rank higher. Annual reports are not short pieces of content. Therefore, digitizing your annual report in a way that search engines can index it can help with search engine optimization (SEO).
2. A Public Culture of Gratuity
This is a simple way to show donors that they are contributing to your mission. It allows them to publicly see what they helped you achieve and be thanked in a thoughtful, authentic way. Lutheran Services in America does this by carving out a place toward the end of its annual report to thank donors and supporters by name. The nonprofit’s report made me think of film credits. When I’ve watched the credits on films on which I’ve worked, it has evoked a feeling of pride.
3. Content Integration
People give for a variety of reasons. If you’re telling a story through your annual report you can provide a friction-free way for readers to engage with your content by adding links. This is helpful to audiences because it removes the need to search for something in which they’re interested by allowing them to access it through a single click. Save the Children accomplishes this by incorporating links that drive readers throughout the nonprofit’s ecosystem via its annual report. This can also help with SEO.
4. A Comprehensive Showcase
Don’t assume that everyone has seen or remembers the stories you’ve shared. Yes, update your story library as much as you can, but don’t be afraid to include the impact stories that have received strong engagement previously in your annual report. TechnoServe’s annual report includes impact stories found throughout the organization’s digital ecosystem. This can be a great way to inspire your audience with stories they may have missed.
5. Mixed Media
Everyone has content preferences. Your donors and supporters are people who like to consume various types of content. Digitizing your annual report means providing a single place for audiences to consume different types of media. No Kid Hungry’s annual report showcases various types of media improving the connection to its readers.
Entertain and Inspire With Annual Reports
When I first saw Apple’s 2030 status video, I was excited to see something that’s both entertaining and enlightening. It made me think not about Apple, but about nonprofits and the missions I support. I skim the PDF version of their annual reports. I open the emails that are designed around big stats and ask me to click a link to access the full report. And I attend webinars where staff walk through the report.
I consume these reports not because I view my support as investments, but because the work genuinely inspires me. This is true of most donors and volunteers.
However, annual reports usually are uninspiring. Yes, the numbers are typically good — if not great — but the way they’re delivered requires me to create my own hype around them. Every once in a while one stands out. One captures my attention and inspires me to ask, “What if?” When that happens I’m energized. I’m excited to support the cause. I’m encouraged to get more involved.
Annual reports should be a rallying cry for those interested in your cause. A tool for inspiration. A vessel to deliver excitement and energy to people who care. From board members to donors to volunteers to anyone who’s interested in your mission, annual reports can be a powerful opportunity to engage with your audiences.
The preceding blog was provided by an individual unaffiliated with NonProfit PRO. The views expressed within do not directly reflect the thoughts or opinions of NonProfit PRO.
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Joe Frye is the account group director for nonprofit and cause at Town Hall Agency. He has spent more than a decade helping organizations make an impact and connect their missions with individuals. He has led award-winning projects and campaigns for organizations including PBS, Partners of the Americas, the Identity Theft Resource Center, Showtime Networks, Duke University, UNESCO and many others.
Joe's experience at the intersection of technology, data and creativity provide a unique perspective that allows organizations to create impactful digital ecosystems, increase donations, grow membership, improve member retention and increase overall revenue.