The tradition of producing elaborate annual reports for donors has been a longstanding practice for many of us. Tons of nonprofit how-to groups, database providers, charity "watchdog" groups and consultants are telling nonprofits, how to write a really great annual report to donors and why it's a soooo important.
As someone with a natural ability to summon my inner 2-year-old, for years I've wondered "but why"?
Why do we need to do this? I've spent countess hours on annual reports that usually involve 90% of the org staff to get all the facts and figures right and makes me question my career choice. Here is a summary of the results from this esteemed publication over my 20 years and over $50 million fundraising career:
🦗Crickets.🦗 The most common response is no response at all to the annual report. I imagine a donor getting this beautiful thing in the mail or in their email and moving it from place to place around their home or desktop not knowing what to do with it.
After the hard work of creating the report, usually we're at about halfway through the next year. I feel like I better start using the report in the actual fundraising. I meet with the 5 donors in 100 that want to have a meeting to look at a piece of paper or an iPad with me about stuff that happened 16 months ago. After some sweaty-palmed pointing and lots of silence, I get desperate for real human interaction. I put the report aside and ask what I really want to know: "so, what inspired you to get involved and stick with us every year?" and we have an awesome chat. The report is long forgotten, to everyone's relief.
When I share the report with the team, a colleague helpfully tells me that the information in the report is now out of date.
One donor-- the same one every year-- tells me that I've got someone's middle initial or new last name wrong in the donor list.
Board members, helpfully, have a long list of new ideas that will make next year's report more "impactful". I'll have to start earlier next year. I mean this year. 😭 😭 😭
I hope it's plain to see that these results are not good enough to be worth your time. You are a freaking super-human connector and a warrior for love and justice after all! You are a nonprofit laborer! Nothing short of the best for you.
And if your organization's values have anything to do with centering people served or equity or justice, an annual report to donors doesn't do enough good for enough of your community to warrant this kind of time, effort, and stress.
Donor annual reports are officially on the TO DON'T list. And your values can make it happen.
It's simple: don't do things that your nonprofit's values say you shouldn't be doing. It's not easy... you'll need some support to make this or any other kind of change... but it is simple.
Here's how to ditch the annual donor report:
Review what's really necessary.
Know what you must do and use your values to choose any extras. For example, in our home state of MN, nonprofits have to file docs including an Annual Report for the state. But it's nothing like the fancy, print and digital reports we do for donors. Those donor-focused annual reports are OPTIONAL.
Replace it with something that fits your values and gets better results.
Borrow our "Look Back to Look Forward" conversation strategy with your full supporter file instead. In a nutshell, this simple strategy includes inviting all your supporters via email or postcard to join you for an informal conversation that takes a look back at what your org has accomplished and previews your vision for the future. It's less work, more engaging and helps you understand who is ready for a 1:1 relationship with your org (huge if you want to start a major giving program).
Sure, it might feel like a radical shift from producing donor-focused annual reports to offering a conversation to reclaim your time, resources, and focus. But when you center your community alongside donors, you can create more authentic connections and strengthen your fundraising. Get in here with us and challenge the norm, embrace ease, and pave the way for a new era of Values-Based Fundraising.