5 Things to Consider When Crafting This Year’s Annual Report

Annual Report

When it comes to thanking current donors and encouraging them to continue to support the mission of your university, the annual report (or president’s report) is one of your most effective and important tools. That’s why it’s important to ensure that you’re capturing and maintaining readers’ interest in a number of ways—otherwise they might not get past the second page. Yet, if done well, your annual report can serve as the single most important piece of content to help garner consistent donations every year.

Here are things to consider as you craft your next annual report:

Show—don’t merely tell. Donors want to see the effects of their donations and not just be told about them. This means it’s important to incorporate strong (and authentic) photography, graphics, illustrations, narratives, quotes, and other compelling elements in the report. A report that is too copy-heavy or features bland photography and uninspired quotes will fail to keep donors engaged (and therefore less eager to respond to your CTA to continue supporting your school). Such a report will also fail to elicit an emotional connection that reminds them why donating is so important in the first place.

Authentic photos of students on campus, a graph depicting students’ involvement in service activities in their community, quotes from recent alumni about pursuing their vocations—these can help break up the more information-heavy aspects of the report while eliciting positive feelings for donors and a sense of connection with the university.

Feature inspiring stories. A story that paints a vivid image of how donors’ generous support helped students or alumni pursue their dreams is an extremely effective strategy. But this also means finding the right one or two students or alumni to highlight, which can require a careful vetting process to make sure that the story is compelling, original, and authentic. It can also be helpful to recruit the help of other departments and offices across campus (UGA, the alumni office, career services, etc.) to connect you with students or alumni who have benefited from your school and have a great story to share. Keep in mind that any strong written narrative—just like in any editorial space—should be accompanied by strong photography and design as well.

Here’s an example from PLNU of a recent annual report featuring a single student narrative to keep donors engaged throughout the report. Storytelling can help establish an emotional connection with donors, which is important in a report that may otherwise only appeal to donors’ “left-brain thinking” with a focus on outcomes, statistics, and financials. A well-crafted student story (or more) is a great way to remind donors that their support is ultimately about changing lives and not just about reaching institutional goals.

Use graphics when possible. While graphics relate to “show—don’t merely tell” above, they are deserving of more space because of their importance in a report like this. Often, you will need to convey a lot of information and data to readers: donations accrued over the year, the graduation rate of students, the number of students receiving scholarships, and so on. It can become a chore for readers to sift through all of this information unless it’s clearly displayed in an easy-to-read and creative manner. This is why using graphical elements, pie charts, graphs, and other infographics is important.

But like any design or visual element, infographics need to be well executed. Some can actually make it more difficult for the reader to understand what is being communicated. That’s why the goal isn’t to include graphical elements for visual appeal alone but to ultimately help convey complex data to donors in simple and fun ways.

For example, Trevecca Nazarene University does a good job of using graphical elements (as well as compelling photography) to highlight various aspects of their report related to online learners, research findings, and end-of-the-report financials. Work closely with designers and other stakeholders to ensure any graphics used both look appealing and convey the information clearly and simply.

Consider a theme for your report. A theme is a great way to drive home a single idea in the minds of your readers, which can also help foster feelings of connection and pride in your school. A theme can emerge from the narratives you are highlighting (if you choose to include a student or alumni story). But the opposite is also true: you may decide on a theme and then seek stories based on what you have already decided. Either way, make sure the theme you select can be threaded throughout the report in narratives, quotes, and overall messaging.

As far as what a theme might look like, the possibilities are endless. You could draw attention to an aspect of your school’s mission of helping students pursue their calling or creating servant-minded leaders, for example. Make sure to keep the larger mission of your school in mind, though, since the theme needs to fit under your overall mission (and be consistent with your school’s brand). Also, keep in mind that you’ll need to consider how the design and photography will complement the theme.

Calvin University provides a good example of how a single theme or message can be incorporated into your report. In this example, they matched the theme of their annual report to a new initiative titled “LifeWork,” focusing on a single aspect of the university to tie their piece together.

Think beyond print. It’s certainly worth staying with print when it comes to annual reports, since receiving a well-designed report in the mail is appealing to older donors (who are often some of your largest ones). But that doesn’t mean you can’t include a digital component to your report.

What about encouraging readers to check out a microsite featuring video testimonials that match the theme and style of the printed report? How about featuring additional written narratives with strong photography online about how financial support has helped students to pursue their dreams?

Here’s a great example of an online version of an annual report from Pepperdine University, featuring a compelling video as well as easy-to-use navigation to encourage visitors to explore the many different components of the report. This is a powerful way to take advantage of the digital medium to reach donors of all ages.

The more donors you can reach with compelling content, the better chance you have of encouraging them to continue to support your school. Take every occasion you can to thank them for their generous support and show them how it’s made an impact.

branding5° Branding