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2 min Read
January 27, 2015

Tell donors the right story with your annual report

Rachel Hope Allison

When it comes to nonprofit annual reports these days, we seem to hear about two extremes: They are either wildly creative and visual (no pressure!), or boring beyond belief (god forbid). Treacherous waters indeed.

But in our experience, the challenge isn’t in whether your report looks fancy enough, or whether it’s printed or online—the real danger is losing sight of what your supporter needs from the report.

To keep yourself grounded (and inspired!) by your supporters’ needs, take a cue from author Chip Conley and his reimagining of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for your organization’s audience.

In brief, Conley sees three levels of audience needs: Survival, Success, and Transformation. Here are some questions you might ask at each level in order to stay focused on what matters most to your donor.

Level 1, Survival. Ask: What does my donor expect?

This may not sound glamorous, but it’s critical to start by asking: Why does my donor actually need an annual report? At the most basic level, it’s an accountability tool, a way for you to report back on how you used their donation, and the difference it made. If you focus on flash but miss out on this critical level of donor stewardship, even the most creative storytelling won’t make up for this lapse.

At this level, double check: Does your report address the supporter directly? Thank them? Acknowledge that donations made the work you describe possible?

Level 2, Success. Ask: What does my donor want?

This is where it gets more interesting. Because hey, a receipt is an accountability tool, but not many people get excited by it. So what would take your report past accountability, to success? At this level, your donors most likely want to feel inspired, appreciated, and like they have a smart perspective on your work. How can you use the story of this year to give that to them?

At this level, double check: Does your report go beyond listing accomplishments to offer a big picture of what this year meant for your mission? Will your donor prefer seeing the report online (because it’s cheaper, more interactive) or in print (more emotional, more tangible)? Do you speak to the importance of the donors’ values and thoughts in addition to their dollars?

Level 3, Transformation. Ask: What needs does my donor not even realize they have?

This is where you can really have fun. Can you surprise your donor by anticipating a need or desire they wouldn’t have expected you to fill? Perhaps you offer a visual perspective on your work that the donor would never expect to see. Or you make sharing the report into an action that actually forwards your organization’s mission. The sky’s the limit—and that’s the point!

At this level, double check: Do you report on the past but also point toward the future? Can you make your report either interactive or personal in a way that adds meaning to the story of this year? Do you have imagery or infographics that would bring your donor along on the journey of this year instead of simply telling it?

How about you? Are there annual report examples that have you inspired to take yours to the next level this year? Ways your team is pushing to make your next annual report really sing for donors? (Not literally, but hey, that might be cool, too!) Share your thoughts in the comments…