Is it time to think about your annual report? Yes. Anytime is the time to think about your annual report. Annual reports have evolved from the old black and white list of donors of years gone by. Yet before you even think about how the final product looks, you need to know why you’re putting in all the effort and how it’s going to be used. The annual reports that might go with a solicitation are starting to look like oversized brochures. Some annual reports stay in electrons forever on a web site, and don’t even make it to print. Regardless, a good annual report, like any powerful marketing and fundraising piece, must connect your donors to your mission. So while the number of people served or acres preserved is important, it’s the connection with the people you impact that brings the message home.
Your nonprofit is cat-like, at least when it comes to fundraising! Check out my most recent Eastern University blog post:
No, I’m not a shill for the paper printing industry. I really do believe that you need more than a web site to tell the story of your organization. You need a brochure.
Yes, I can hear you now – you’re so 1980’s, Matt. But let’s look at how computers can’t be used:
- You can’t put a computer in a brochure rack
- You can’t put a computer in an envelope
- You can’t put a computer on a table at a meeting as a “take away.”
- You can’t give out computers at a gathering of supporters
- Yes, you CAN put a computer in your pocket, but will you give it away for free so that someone learns about your organization?
I’m sure that there’s more.
But the point is that computers will only take us so far. At some point we need to rely on “low tech” solutions, like a brochure.
Of course, I’m biased. I write brochure copy for my clients. But whether you use my services, or do the work in-house, having materials such as brochures is an important part of getting your message out to your constituents, and getting volunteers, and money, in.
Since the 1500’s and the invention of movable print type, reading on paper has become increasingly popular. Paper was (and is) a great medium for many reasons, not the least of which was that given the right ink and size of print, it was easy for our eyes to see the words.
But like many things in our transitional age of technology, computers have changed all of that. So it should be of no surprise that we read differently “on screen” than we do “on paper.”
It makes sense when you think of it. Reading on screen is tiring. The imperceptible flicker (best seen when you see an active computer screen on television), the lighting, the distance from your eyes, the size and type of the font, and the quality of the computer screen all contribute to the problem.
There is so much of a difference that inventors of “e-reader” devices like Sony’s Reader, Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook and others are busy creating “electronic ink” to emulate the paper experience. In the meantime, millions of us print out e-mails for ease of reading and portability – making our e-mails into de facto books.
Given that both parties – the recipient and the sender – have invested in the infrastructure (computers and the technology connecting them: the internet) electronic information can unwittingly open a floodgate of information at the click of a mouse.
Printing is a much messier, time consuming process that pushes all of the costs onto the creator of the message. Therefore, postal mailing forces the creator to do some much needed editing – for the sake of costs, but also to the benefit of the reader.
What does all of this mean to your fundraising appeals?
Electronic? It’s less expensive to send once you invest in the equipment (which you use for other tasks), making it tempting to send lots of information.
On the flip side, it turns out that since reading electronically makes your reader more tired, even though someone can send a lot, the reader only wants to read a little. In fact, readers of material on non-e-reader screens tend to read 25% slower than if the same content was on paper.
What’s more, like our mother’s taught us, it’s not what you say, but how you say it. People who read on screen need simpler fonts – preferably “san-serif” fonts (like Arial) to be able to absorb information more quickly.
They also need shorter paragraphs and bolds and highlights to help discern the important text since there is so much volume hitting the e-mail (or mental) “In Box.”
All of this contrasts with paper – where you can use serif fonts (like New Times Roman). On paper you can tell longer stories that will potentially sit on their desk for more than 30 seconds.
Of course, I’m biased. I can make your case to donors either way, or better yet, both.
But wither you use me or do your writing in house, writing may always be writing, but reading isn’t what it used to be.
What’s your case? Have you reviewed your case for support lately? Your case is the reason why anyone should give to your mission. Every organization has a case for support (whether it’s written or not.) It can be in your executive director’s head, or written one page or written on several pages. This isn’t just an “academic” exercise. The most effective fundraising organizations have case for support committed to paper and apply it throughout their organization and throughout their solicitation cycle. A case can guide anything from annual fund solicitations to planned giving efforts. So get on the case – write your case.