Annual reports are most common in the nonprofit space, but did you know that they can bring benefits for all kinds of businesses and organizations? As customers raise the bar on what they expect from the businesses they support – prioritizing those that align with their values and drive positive impacts for our collective society – brands can use creative reporting to capture the story of their work and its meaningful outcomes in a persuasive visual format.
1. Plan ahead.
The sooner you can start organizing, the better! While the best time to start planning your annual report may have already passed, the second best time is today. Collecting details of outcomes and impacts takes time, so working ahead throughout the year tends to be easier than working backwards in Q4. At a minimum, give yourself two to three months of lead time for a digital annual report, and three to four months for anything printed and distributed. You’ll want to wrap up the project like a gift with a bow before the winter holidays.
2. Start with a meaningful story.
Without thinking too hard about it, free write the story of your organization’s accomplishments this year. What did you set out to achieve? What progress was made? What obstacles persist, and how will you overcome them? Focus on tangible impacts in the lives of real people to create the most engaging stories. If you’re not sure, ask teammates who work closest with your clients or customers to share their biggest wins.
3. Choose illustrations wisely.
Readers will often skim the report for pertinent information, interesting anecdotes and positive outcomes, so your visual aids need to draw attention to the most important pieces of your brand story. Round up the strongest photos, client/partner/staff testimonials, graphics, charts and stats you can find, or make a point to save them throughout the year in a dedicated folder. Work with a graphic designer to curate and refine your visual aids into a unified brand style.
4. Package creatively.
Annual reports can take many forms – printed mailers of various sizes, webpages or microsites, PDF books in portrait or slideshow presentations in landscape, live or animated video recaps, and even brand kits or gift boxes. Packaging your annual report in a memorable way can inspire action and leave a lasting impression, but make sure whichever method you choose makes sense for your intended audience. For example, don’t ship packages to an organization that’s working remotely through the holidays.
5. Distribute thoughtfully.
Some say print is dead, but mailed annual reports can create tactile connections with prospective stakeholders or donors that can be hard to replicate online. That said, digital publications come with other unique advantages, like the potential for video or animation, and the flexibility to share access online with broader audiences. We say, why not both? Make sure to choose how you’ll distribute the publication before you start the design process to ensure appropriate dimensions and formatting.
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