Repeat after me: "I am a marketer!" And consider a few donor-friendly models, for inspiration.
So many trees felled for pages. So few donors who care.
So, before you clear-cut another acre of old-growth forest, take time to sit with some annual reports that did a good job, an effective job, a persuasive job, in my opinion, of showing donors that the charity they've supported was worth the gift.
- Redwood 2010 AR. (domestic violence and recovery)
- Fairfield County (CT) Community Fndt AR
- United Way Pickens County (SC) AR 2010
- Interval House 2009 "Gratitude Report"
What I am about to tell you could scramble your self-image like breakfast. But, here it is, without a euphemistic bone in its body:
You, Mr. and Ms. Fundraiser ... you are what we call a marketer, professionally speaking. And that's when you're thinking strategically. When you're behaving tactically (making the phone call, sending the appeal), you're what we call a salesperson.
Technically. Dictionary definition.
"Me? Sales? I think not, my good man. My title is Director of Advancement." Like General George S. Patton during WWII?
Look, no matter what title drapes you, the fact of the matter is, you are engaged in marketing -- and its subset, sales.
And, frankly, lucky you! Because marketing (subset: sales) is a exhaustively-researched field and richly supports untold global industries. When you understand the principles and science of marketing, you will do very, very well in fundraising. And if you don't understand them? Good luck.
Let's get back to your annual report.
What is the function of a charity's annual report? Well, from a marketing standpoint, its chief function is this: to show (not tell; long prose mostly won't get read) your investors (i.e., your donors) how much they (not you) have accomplished during the past year, by trusting you with their support.
The Redwood annual report immediately lays the credit at the donors' feet in a brief Message from the Board President, Anthea Windsor: "We've depended on you since we first opened our doors in 1993 ... thank you for being one of our greatest friends and allies...." Then the report, using the device of diary entries, takes the reader on a quick journey through a year in the life of a mother and child recovering from domestic violence.
How do you keep your donors loyal? Dr. Adrian Sargeant researched this topic and discovered that one essential was this: "Take them on a journey." Annual reports are perfect for the task.
The Fairfield County Community Foundation's annual report celebrates donors and their special interests in a series of case studies. Notice the focus: the annual report emphasizes how wonderful the donor is, not how wonderful the foundation is.
The United Way of Pickens County's annual report builds tribe, using the "I live United" theme to stitch together a series of personal stories from beneficiaries, donors, volunteers. These stories alternate with brief summaries of the programs funded through United Way contributions.
The Interval House "gratitude" report is all of the above. It takes readers on a journey ("Come and take a walk with us..."). It's relentlessly donor-centric ("you'll see...how your support makes a difference in every room in our home."). It deals with the tricky privacy issues that surround social service by substituting charming artwork for photos. And it tells story after story, humankind's preferred form of sharing.
As fundraisers, we desperately want happy donors, for the very obvious reason: happy donors continue giving, just as happy customers continue buying. (Remember, you're a marketer.)
Your annual report offers you a chance once a year to tell a really big, juicy, donor-lovin' story. Why would you elect to bore me? Why would you want to be safe and predictable and small? It's a bad idea from every perspective: marketing, sales, neuroscience, donor retention, and customer service.
I bring that up because good customer service is another of Adrian Sargeant's prerequisites for donor loyalty. And how do donors actually experience customer service from the charities they support? Often, it's almost exclusively through the communications they receive.
Think of your annual report as a once-a-year golden opportunity to deeply connect with your customers' (i.e., donors') feelings, dreams, aspirations, hidden and sometimes even embarrassing needs -- like the need to be liked; or the need to do something good in the world, a need as common as the air in our lungs.
Boring and risk-free does not work in marketing. Ever.