2 min Read
January 19, 2010

The Annual Report is Dead: Long live the Annual Report!

If your fiscal year is the calendar year, chances are, someone in your office is thinking about your annual report right around now. Or are they?

The February 2010 issue of Print Magazine features an article called “The Incredible Shrinking Annual Report” by Liza Featherstone. (I’d link to it here, but the good people at Print don’t offer their content online. Maybe that’s why the magazine is still called Print??)

In the piece, Ms. Featherstone talks about how the business of producing corporate annual reports has essentially withered and died- leaving a wake of writers, designers and printers looking for work. Before 2007, explains Ms. Featherstone, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) required shareholders to be mailed an annual report- but after 2007, the could be posted online. Trees were saved (yay!), jobs were lost (boo!).

For Big Duck’s first decade or so (I founded the Duck in 1994), we produced a lot of nonprofit annual reports too. The bigger the nonprofit, the more the donors wanted to see their name(s) listed, and the longer the list. But in the past few years, perhaps because those same donors no longer live in a world where they expect to see shiny printed reports, the number of traditional reports we produce is on the decline. Sure, a handful of the biggest organizations we work with still produce them, but less often.

In their wake, are some really interesting new solutions have emerged. Here are three of my favorite new alternatives to the traditional annual report.

  • A good looking brochure with a pocket folder you can insert financials, donors, and other dated/report-like information into
  • Videos from staff and clients
  • Interactive online reports that use Flash, video , and other animated features

Memorial Sloan Kettering has been an innovator in the online reports world. This year, their report features a two minute video (a personal story), and downloadable PDFs. In other years, they’ve integrated Flash, sexy photography, and other devices that leverage the dynamic bells and whistles of the web.

Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Annual Report

The Wise Giving Alliance is the Better Business Bureau’s charity watchdog, and they publish a set of standards any nonprofit who wants their seal of approval must meet. With regard to annual reports, the Wise Giving Alliance’s Charity Standards state:

16. Have an annual report available to all, on request, that includes:

  1. the organization’s mission statement,
  2. a summary of the past year’s program service accomplishments,
  3. a roster of the officers and members of the board of directors,
  4. financial information that includes (i) total income in the past fiscal year, (ii) expenses in the same program, fund raising and administrative categories as in the financial statements, and (iii) ending net assets.”

Interesting to note that a) they feel you still need to produce an annual report, but b) they don’t tell you how to publish it. In fact, their own annual report is posted online as text-only- and is decidedly low-tech.

What I love about this shift in how annual reports are published is that it emphasizes what’s right: sharing your organization’s mission, work, financials and leadership – not the medium. The doors are now wide open to publish the information donors and watchdogs want about your organization via the channel that best reflects your organization’s personality and positioning. So go for it: Tweet your financials! Facebook your accomplishments! Just do it in a way that’s authentic to your organization and transparent, please.