The perfect annual report

Your annual report is more about your donor and your cause than about your organisation.

Written by
Giles Pegram CBE
Added
January 18, 2017

All charities produce an annual report.

They are sent out to donors and are often thick and glossy. A charity turning over large sums should have an annual report that reflects this. Many charities produce an annual review as well, which also tends to be glossy.

The content is intended to impress: how much the charity has achieved, how many beneficiaries have been helped in so many diverse and innovative ways. How the finances have been managed. Growth on last year. The status of the reserves. The reduction of ‘overheads’. How impressive the charity is.

The reports are impressive, but will they garner support? No.

I have seen one annual review that is seriously different and has seriously impressed me. It is the work of a young, donor-focused fundraiser called Robin Peake.   

Please take a couple of minutes to read it here.

It is not the formal ‘annual report’ and does not contain page after page of incomprehensible figures. (That is produced for the Charity Commission and the small number of trusts that require it: only 15 external copies) The sole public-facing document is the annual review.

Let’s analyse it.

The front cover says: ‘Stories of hope. Written by you’. Other than the logo and name of the organisation, that’s it.  

The first page is the director’s report. There's nothing unusual in that, but this one starts with two paragraphs on the work, focusing on the individual beneficiary and then:  ‘And because of you…’   In the third paragraph it positions donors at the heart, not the charity.

In a short director’s report, he mentions the donor, ‘you’, ‘your’, ‘you generous supporters’, nine times.

There is nothing about the charity. Nothing.

At the risk of overstating this, it’s profound, as it sets the tone for the whole review.

In the middle are stories of the beneficiaries and of individual donors and why they support, all intermingled.   

Every story of a beneficiary has, on the left-hand side, a little story of a donor. ‘This story is made possible by Jim and Sandra from Northern Ireland, who give monthly to support young leaders in Central Asia.’  Donors don’t just feel connected to the cause, they feel part of the cause. I don’t think I have ever seen this before.

The introduction to the one side on finances starts: ’Thank you.Your generosity last year enabled...’ Even in the techy part.


Finally, on the back page: ‘In 2014, your support equipped…The last word is a tribute to donors.

This review is 45 per cent beneficiaries, 45 per cent donor and 10 per cent charity. I may have over-estimated that last figure, at the expense of the other two. 

Nothing on the importance of the charity and no list of statistics, in fact, next to nothing on the charity apart from simple information on the income and expenditure.

No organisational structure, nothing on the stature of the trustees, no mention of what the charity has achieved. Just stories of what ‘you’ have achieved.

No balancing between the views of the chair of trustees, the CEO, the finance director, the appeals director, the policy director, the services director, the communications director, the head of brand, the company secretary: only one voice.

Inexpensive, just 10 pages, but well produced with lots of pictures and colour, which means it’s accessible and easy to read from cover to cover.

It is about connecting the donor with the beneficiary, about bringing the cause and the donor together. It isn’t just about getting the charity out of the way, it’s about making the charity invisible. The charity is the conduit and totally donor-focused. Sheer brilliance.

Am I over-egging the pudding? It might appear so, if you are used to conventional annual reports. This is not conventional, though it should be. No, I think this is an inevitable consequence of being donor- focused, and should change the way we see annual reports.

In short, it is a report about what individual donors have achieved for individual beneficiaries.

Why do we find this difficult? It’s not rocket science.

It is totally different from every annual review I have seen. (Of course there are many I haven’t seen.)  Large charities could learn a lot from this approach. If we preach relationship fundraising, let’s live it.

Yet, though many of us profess to being relationship fundraisers, we collude with a belief that the annual report should be about the charity and its achievements. And we thank the donors that have supported the charity. The charity is at the centre, not the donor. Why do we (I include myself) go along with that? Is the annual report immune from donor-led thinking?

We’ve profiled 12 donors in our last  three annual reports. Seven of them have increased on their ‘usual’ financial commitment within nine months of the annual report being published, including one who increased their regular giving by 50 per cent and one major donor gave their biggest gift to date.
One donor requested an extra copy because he’d given his away.
On our personal approach more generally, I’ve received the following: ‘No one thanks their supporters like Innovista do.’

Robin Peake, development manager, Innovista

I’m sure Robin Peake will be embarrassed I wrote this. The review wasn’t forced. Let’s hope Robin is one of a new generation of fundraisers who do things differently and give donors a better donor experience.

 ©Giles Pegram 2016

Giles presented Innovista's 2014 Annual Report at I Wish I'd Thought Of That London (IWITOT) London 2016.

About the author: Giles Pegram CBE

Giles Pegram CBE

Giles Pegram CBE started his professional career as a fundraising manager with Help the Aged in 1973. In 1979 he joined the NSPCC where, as director of appeals and deputy chief executive, he created and ran two hugely successful transformational appeals, the NSPCC Centenary Appeal and the NSPCC Full Stop campaign. He first volunteered as a fundraiser with Oxfam in the 1960s and can claim to be one of the few and the earliest ‘career fundraisers’ of his generation.

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