Nonprofit Annual Reports: Three ways to save time and money

This article was originally posted on Stone Soup Creative’s blog on July 11, 2014. It is republished here with permission from the author.

Creating an annual report is never an easy endeavor. Here are three tips to make the process a little easier, a little faster, and a little more budget-friendly.

1. Make it Shorter
Direct mail isn’t dead yet. For many groups, printing and mailing an annual report is still relevant. It makes donors feel good to see their names in ink.

However, whether the publication needs to be 20 pages long is debatable, as the costs can be prohibitive. Since a shorter report is cheaper and faster to produce, consider instead a small publication presenting a summary of your organization’s work – which may be as simple as a postcard, poster, or booklet. Use a link to direct constituents to more detailed resources — a page on your website that lists donors, grants, and gifts.

Alternatively, keep the long report but print fewer of them (digital printing is highly cost-effective when the print run is less than 500 copies) and make a companion shortie piece to go with it. Print the short version on less expensive paper, and size the piece so that it will fit easily in a standard No. 10 business envelope (which is less expensive to mail). Insert it into a piece you already produce, such as a newsletter or event program. Or put it on a webpage.

Not only will you save money and time, this option will drive friends and fans to your website. Plus, it will be easier to instantly update those lists whenever necessary.

2. Don’t Mail it (or Mail Fewer Copies)
The postage for most annual reports makes it prohibitively expensive to mail to large groups of donors.

The answer? Mail fewer copies! Try this:

  • Send a target mailing to constituents who are (perhaps) older and more responsive to paper mail
  • Make the annual report available online
  • Send an email blast that announces the report and links to the online version. Let readers know you’re happy to send a hard copy to anyone who requests one

While our primary report is web-based – basically a micro website that will give viewers options to select content based on their interests – and distributed by an email blast, we still print small quantities of the annual for use at meetings, to have in our lobby, and for other specific uses. A few years ago, we would print some 20k; now we print only about 3k.

– Tom Austin, Director, Public Relations Operations, NeighborWorks America, Washington DC

3. Don’t Print it
Many organizations find it unnecessary to print and mail an annual report. Instead, the report can live on your organization’s website as:

Can you see your group joining the growing ranks of the print-less? It depends on two important factors:

How do your audiences prefer to receive and respond to communications from your organization? If they rely on e-mail, visit your website, live on Facebook, and tweet constantly…then by all means consider an innovative way to inform and engage them online.

On the other hand, if they expect a linear, direct-to-mailbox, hold-in-hand, place-it-in-the-bathroom-for-later-leisurely-perusing, traditional print publication — this is probably not the best solution.

What staff resources are available to produce content? Do you have a board member with a specialty expertise – like videography? Or do they have contacts that do?

However you do it, an annual report is one of your nonprofit’s best promotional and development tools.


The Right Annual Report for Your Audience – Part One
The Right Annual Report for Your Audience – Part Two
Appealing for Gifts with Your Annual Report: Is it a good idea?
Rethinking the Annual Report

Julia Reich
Stone Soup Creative
Julia Reich is a branding consultant for nonprofits, strategist, speaker, designer and writer. She helps nonprofit organizations gain visibility and support by developing an authentic brand. And she's going to talk about branding, marketing and design for nonprofits every chance she gets because she loves it!