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The Annual Report

Many nonprofits have stopped sending out an annual report to their supporters.  The main reason given is that most recipients never read the reports.  This is symptomatic of a larger problem.

Nonprofit executives tells us their supporters are apathetic about their nonprofit.  Their giving is lackluster, they seldom read reports and appeals, and they seldom go to events.

People participate (read, give, or attend) if they think participation will provide them with something new, expose them to something important, or involve something that is interesting to them.  In other words, they are apathetic because there is nothing to engage them.

The fact that they give sometimes and attend sometimes says they care.  It also says they want to be involved and they keep trying to be involved.  However, each time they attempt to engage, it falls short of what they want and need.

In simple terms, what they are being offered lacks value.

Just creating value is insufficient.  Your nonprofit must also communicate value.  If all your nonprofit does is tell your stakeholders and community about last week, last month, or last year, you are reporting history.  The past is seldom as exciting as the future.  Most of us find very little reason for hope or optimism in the stories from history.  Besides, your supporters have already given to or paid for your history.  Most of us want evidence that what we are doing (giving, working, etc.) is creating something significant that others will want to know about.

Supporters need a reason to give or pay for your next chapter.

What is going to happen in your next chapter that will be exciting?

What can you say about your next chapter that will inspire them?

What will happen in the next chapter that will give them hope?

What will happen in the next chapter to make them feel optimistic about their future, your client’s future, and the future of your community?

What will happen in the future that they want to be part of?

When answering the preceding questions, use the data, anecdotes, words, and pictures that resonate with each of your stakeholder groups.  They also want the answers to be short and simple.  They are busy.  Until they are inspired and hungry for more information all they want are the simple facts and a clear vision of the future.  You will know you have captured their hearts and have engaged supporters when they start asking for more details.

The foundation for the preceding is having and sharing your multi-year plan.  Some of the most inspiring, interesting, and effective parts of your story will take years to fully develop.  When your stakeholders and community know about those big steps, it will intensify their hope and optimism.  That will increase their generosity and loyalty because they will want to be part of writing those chapters in your history.

Next Step:

Create and share your multi-year plan

Talk to everyone about what is next and how it is a steppingstone to the next exciting thing

Gather a cross section of supporters and community representatives to discover what they want to know, what will create value for them, how they will determine your success, and what they want you to communicate

If you listen to your cross section, your communications will be read.  In addition, people will come to your events and people will provide support (gifts, referrals, volunteer, and advocacy).  They will understand why your mission is relevant and they will care about your nonprofit.  Their interest will increase their engagement and your nonprofit’s sustainability.

When you are asking how they want you to communicate, there are two parts to that question.  One part involves the vehicle (annual report, email, postcards, etc.).  The second involves the content (pictures, statistics, anecdotes, testimonials, etc.).

When to communicate also has two parts.  One part involves the periodicity (annually, quarterly, etc.).  The other part involves the trigger (what constitutes a major event, notable news, special milestone, etc.).

Learning what creates value for your supporters is part of securing support and ensuring your nonprofit has growing sustainability.  Their definition of value is probably very similar to yours.  However, how they perceive it, express it, and measures it are probably different.  Cater to the differences and you will increase support, grow your mission’s reputation, and enhance the perception of your nonprofit’s relevance.

Take It Further:

Enhance your annual report so that everyone will know how your long-term plan is changing from one year to the next and what exciting things your mission and plan have in store for your community

Keep the mission and clients at the center of all that you do and keep your supporters at the center of everything you communicate

Keep telling your story but only that part that has yet to be written (use your history to demonstrate that the future is possible)

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