It’s an exciting time for annual reports! They remain a vital way of sharing the impact your organization is having in the world.
Emerging trends such as digital annual reports, use of video and growth in various hybrid approaches provides organizations new ways to tell their stories. No matter what medium you choose to communicate in, there are several fundamental elements that every annual report should contain:
Each annual report presents a snapshot of what your organization has accomplished. Vision is what drives your organization and is what inspires people to support you. The story of your people, initiatives and results should demonstrate on multiple levels how you’re fulfilling that vision. Make those connections crystal clear for people to see.
What did you accomplish last year? Who and how many lives did you touch? If you’re a socially focused business, what benchmarks did you set and were you able to meet them? Do you have data that can validate the effectiveness of your efforts? Are there third parties who can vouch for your success? Your annual report should be about impact and results. Let your audience know how you moved the needle.
At the end of the day, whether you’re trying to provide educational opportunities for children with special needs or responsibly sourcing the raw materials for your product, the lives of individuals are affected. Share their stories. Use their voice. Be human in your voice and avoid the industry-organization speak that infects so many communications. People want to help people and by tapping into the personal aspect of your stories, you can show the difference you’re making.
Information graphics have emerged as a powerful storytelling tool. They often are used to demonstrate progress or point to future goals. What are the key metrics that highlight your success? Where do you believe you’ve had the most impact? Identify those statistics and develop information graphics for them. Make sure your information graphics are clear and well-executed. For financial information, focus on key data. Avoid esoteric or highly symbolic visuals that may be hard for folks to quickly understand.
People want to help people and by tapping into the personal aspect of your stories, you can show the tangible difference you are making.
According to the Social Science Research Network, 65% of people are visual learners. Social media has increased the opportunity for people to share visuals of what they learn and discover. An annual report should strike a harmonious balance between written text and visual elements. You’ll want to provide good pacing for your annual report by utilizing photography, information graphics, pull quotes, icons and other elements with the copy. Most organizations have more to say than room to say it with. Try to streamline your copy as much as possible and think about what you can say with visuals, not just words.
In our experience, we’ve found that there are two types of readers – skimmers and deep-sea divers. Format your content to appeal to both. Utilize titles, paragraph sub-titles, pull quotes and visuals for those who prefer to skim. For example, for a skimmer who is reading this article, they can read the title and paragraph sub-titles to quickly get a sense of what this article’s content is about. They can choose to just read that now or come back for a deep dive later. For those deep sea divers, you’ll want to have a certain amount of content that provides detail and depth. Here again, based on who your audience is, balance your content.
Recognize the people, inside and outside of your organization, who’ve contributed to your success. Your annual report should encourage and inspire your audience to help move you forward to higher heights.
After someone has read your annual report, what do you want them to do? Would you like them to donate to your cause, buy stock in your company, connect with you on social media or tell a friend about the great work you’re doing? Whatever key actions you’d like folks to take, make it clear to them. You can not only do this on the rear pages of your report, but you can weave specific calls to action throughout your report. For example, if you have video versions of your stories online, let your readers know at the end of that story.
Annual reports offer a wonderful opportunity to show your results. Be bold and let everyone know about the life-changing work you’re doing!