Your annual review/annual report/impact report may well be your charity’s flagship publication. For many organisations, it has the biggest budget, takes the most time and involves the most people.

It’s important to get it right – but it’s easy to fall into the trap of churning out the same old format each year.

Below are some ideas to shake things up, with great examples from charities doing innovative and interesting work in the last year or two. 

Go small, go short

The best annual reviews are short and snappy. After all, bear in mind that your reader will probably only scan the publication. There’s no point having loads of text-packed pages. I like CoppaFeel’s short and snappy impact report, with lots of images and white space. 

Could you cut your usual 48-page publication in half? Or go for an A5 or A6 format? How about putting it on postcards? An unusual format will help your publication stand out. Blue Cross’s small format annual review is a good example. Or you could go really short like Welsh homelessness charity The Wallich, who produced a one-page infographic annual report.

Start by thinking about what you really want to say, and to whom. From there, you can pick out the best achievements, statistics and case studies to illustrate your impact to your chosen audience.

And remember: from getting funding and donations to selling your services, your annual review could have several purposes. But none of them should be “to boost egos and keep everyone happy by mentioning every single project and achievement this year”.

If you don’t want to go too short, could you produce a smaller summary publication alongside your main annual review, to give to readers not likely to read it cover to cover? WWF do this very well, as do Macmillan

Go useful

You may have slaved over it for months, but your impact report could well end up in a dusty pile with 20 others in a potential funder’s office. Stop this by making it useful for your audience.

Quarriers and The Brain Tumour Charity have published their annual reviews as calendars, which stayed on potential donors’ and funders’ walls all year, showing the charities’ impact and attracting support.

In 2018, The Brain Tumour Charity again went innovative, sending bags of coffee out with its annual review for people to enjoy while reading it.

Go digital

A beautifully presented print publication is difficult to ignore. But more and more, charities are focusing their efforts on online annual reviews – with fantastic results. Would that work for your audience?

At the simpler end of the scale, Diabetes UK has a series of webpages within its main site showing its impact, complemented by a PDF annual report. The MS Society, Catch 22 and Battersea have taken a similar approach.

However, the digital world really is your oyster, and many charities go for a full microsite. Some good examples are Barnardo’s, Crohn’s & Colitis UK and the Newcastle United Foundation.

Let the stories lead

Nothing illustrates your organisation’s work better than stories of people who are affected by your issues, who benefit from your work, or who are involved in actually doing the work. Case studies should have the most prominence possible in your annual review.

Could someone you’ve helped write the foreword, like in Mind’s annual review, which I worked on in 2018? I also wrote impact reports for Dementia UK and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust last year that feature stories at their heart. 

I like Sense’s annual report too – it’s short, simple and heavily focuses on four stories to show the charity’s impact over the year. 

Have a strong theme

Could you tie your year’s story together with a unifying theme that makes your annual review engaging to read and easy to follow?

I like the National Deaf Children Society’s ‘Every step of the way’ impact report, which shows how the charity supports children from birth to changing the world as teenagers.

I also like Great Ormond Street’s ‘Then, now, always’ impact report, which not only makes the impact the charity has had over the past year clear, but the past 100 years.

Make a video

How about ditching the written word altogether and telling the story of your year in the form of a video? Scouts Scotland did just that, and other charities including Dementia UK have created short infographic videos to complement their main publications.

Narrow your audience

“Our annual review is for everyone – funders, volunteers, staff, individual donors…” Sound familiar? Lots of charities produce an annual review for a very wide audience. And that makes it tricky to get the content spot on for the reader.

I like annual reviews aimed at just one or two key audiences, and that speak to them directly with strong calls to action. North Devon Hospice’s impact report is a good example, with six key calls to action for individual supporters. I like the way Marie Curie also speaks directly to this audience.

Be transparent

If there’s one element I would really encourage you to consider introducing into your annual review, it’s true transparency. Alongside all your great achievements, what hasn’t worked so well this year? What have you learned from it? And what are you going to do differently next time?

Charities, understandably, are often reluctant to focus too much on failure in a communication which is supposed to shout about your successes. But I think being truly open and honest breeds more trust, more engagement, more support, instead of less. And in this age of attacks every week on charities in the media, trust couldn’t be more vital.

Not many charities are doing this well yet, but the tide is turning. Clic Sargent did a great impact report in 2018, with a page showing what went wrong and what the charity is doing to improve.

Another example is Street League, who have an online impact dashboard updated every month showing their progress against targets, whether that’s negative or positive.

What if your organisation was brave, and followed their example?

Don’t produce an annual review

Of course, you don’t have to publish an annual review, just your formal annual report. Would your effort, time and budget be better spent creating a few more targeted and specific marketing materials than one big, all-singing, all-dancing annual review?

Annual reviews often try to do and be everything and can sometimes end up doing and being nothing. Don’t just publish an annual review just because that’s what charities do.

Need some help with your annual review/impact report/annual report? Drop me a line today.