Annual reports tell your story one year at a time

By Colleen Dorner

Philip Poole, APR (photo by George Conklin)

Philip Poole, APR, executive director of university communication at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, presented a workshop on producing annual reports titled “Telling Your Story, One Year at a Time” at the Religion Communicators Council’s 2018 Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Poole discussed best practices, as well as challenges, for an annual report.

Organizations have different reasons and audiences for their annual reports. Initially you need to decide if your organization needs an annual report. Providing adequate information in a clear and concise manner is key.

At Samford University, Poole explained, “Our annual report process has evolved in the years that I have been here.” When Poole began at Samford University the annual report was 86 pages and very text heavy.

“It takes a lot of effort to produce. It depends on what your needs are, not how many pages.” You want to put your organization in the best light in the annual report.

Poole feels that one of the most important areas of an annual report is using very compelling artwork. Tell the organization’s story with strong images. At Samford, Poole’s team avoids staged photography whenever possible. “People want to see real people and real images,” Poole continued. Another visual tool is using charts and color type within the chart. These charts and infographics can be used to visually break up text. If using an outside designer, make sure the designer understands and knows your organization before the design process starts.

The distribution of the annual report is another area that can vary widely between organizations. Factors to consider: will it be mailed, emailed, used for obtaining prospective donors, etc. Many organizations use all of these distribution avenues. If you want the annual report to serve as coffee-table piece, you might want to consider mailing it in an envelope so that the name/address info area is not part of the design.

Another area that Poole has seen evolve in recent years is the handling of the list of donors in the annual report. Some donors want to see their name while others don’t. “The trend is moving away from listing the donors,” Poole said. Also, depending on the organization, the list of donors could be massive. Samford has featured corporations and organizations in their annual report that have donated to Samford for a specific cause.

The success of an annual report can be hard to measure. Most of the time there is no call to action associated with the distribution of the annual report. Areas to look for measured success can be from the people that are using it in the field, a donor survey could be conducted or for an online annual report the open/click-on rate could be evaluated. “I have a sense of pride when the Samford annual report shows up in my mailbox,” Poole justifies.

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