Bringing history to life to inspire future generations

It’s fair to say that I found history lessons at school a bit dull. Learning the dates of wars in far flung places just didn’t resonate with me in the same way the works of Shakespeare did, or indeed, excited me in the way that taking part in a protest march against the Poll Tax did (my Sociology teacher’s hands-on approach to teaching ‘collective action’).

Skip forward 25 years and I’ve been getting lost in history books, poring over old parchments in Nottingham Archives and getting excited over old maps. The reason for this new-found interest has been a wonderful opportunity to work on the King and Miller to Kingfisher project led by Ashfield District Council in north Nottinghamshire and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

Pending second stage HLF funding the project, (which focuses on King’s Mill Reservoir, Hermitage Ponds and Sutton Pleasure Lawns), will attract visitors to a new heritage centre that will principally tell the story of the mills that once stood around the Reservoir and along the River Maun towards Mansfield.

The brief was to produce the content for a compelling and interactive visitor experience, as well as to create two initial education packs – working with Red Stone design agency – to help local teachers engage pupils with the industrial heritage of the site.

As an experienced communicator I knew that simply churning out facts and figures, would be a sure-fire way of turning people off – as it had me, many years before. What I needed to do was to bring to life the people at the centre of the historical narrative; provide visitors with an opportunity to reflect on the pivotal moments in history that have changed industry and society forever and above all make it fun!

Desk research into what makes a good visitor experience revealed a common thread: creating an emotional experience and allowing people to draw personal connections with what they see increased their satisfaction.¹ Increasingly, people also expect to be able to personalise their visit using APPs, audio guides, multi-media kiosks and podcasts².

The boundless enthusiasm of local heritage groups was infectious and invaluable in terms of mining for historical records, as well as learning about local folklore and traditions. A medieval play, The King and Miller of Mansfield; the gruesome beheading of local Luddite leader, Jeremiah Brandreth; and speculation about whether Hamilton Hill, an escarpment overlooking the site, was once a burial ground or a place for delivering speeches were all absolute gifts.

So, what is the vision for the heritage centre in Sutton-in-Ashfield? Well it’s certainly more than simply describing the historic mills. It’s about how the pioneers of the past heralded the beginning of the factory system and effectively, the introduction of a new working class; the importance of social justice and last, but not least, an insight into the Sutton spirit – combining a work ethic, integrity, a passion for sport and humour. We hope a visit to the site will get people thinking, make them feel good and hopefully, they’ll come back again.

With the architectural plans and interpretation for the site all prepared, we’re now waiting with bated breath for news that the project can be taken through to fruition.
To find out more about our research and interpretation services click Heritage research and interpretation or get in touch via email: or call 07866 762401


  1. SLAudienceResearch
  2. maa journal

Image courtesy of Wikipedia circa 1817. Jeremiah Brandreth (1790 – 7 November 1817) was an out-of-work stocking maker who lived in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire who was hanged for treason. He was known as “The Nottingham Captain”. He and two of his conspirators were the last people to be beheaded with an axe in Britain.


Long live the PR poppet

Over the years I’ve been referred to as somebody who can make documents ‘look pretty’; somebody who can ‘chat up’ journalists; and my all-time favourite: a ‘PR poppet’.

There’s a fraction of truth in all of these statements of course, although at 43, juggling my consultancy work with family responsibilities, it’s fair to say I’m probably more ‘PR haggard’ than ‘poppet’ (see footnote).  I never enjoyed any boozy lunches with journalists in my 20s and 30s… although I frequently worked late to meet deadlines and ensure all ‘i’s were dotted and ‘t’s crossed.

The sad fact is that misconceptions about PR – the poor cousin of marketing – remain, with some still believing that it is little more than faffing around with press releases and keeping bad news from the door with our witchlike charms.

More frustrating still is that some managers think it’s a skills which anyone can just pick up and so cost cutting exercises often see the PR resource reduced or amalgamated into another role, with the end result that great PR opportunities are missed or copy for websites and newsletters etc. lack consistent messaging or relevancy to readers.

Perhaps PR itself could do with… well, some good PR?

As PR practitioners it’s essential we bang the drum for our profession.

PR should not be an afterthought or a ‘nice to have’, but should be embedded in strategy, policies and staff training. It’s about listening and responding to stakeholders and ensuring that the values we espouse in our communications are embedded in the organisation’s actions and behaviours.

Skilled story-telling continues to be at the heart of the service we offer, but today the proliferation of the media means it’s all about creating great content which can be re-nosed for a variety of channels – be that a company blog, stakeholder newsletter or indeed, a press release.

Great newspaper coverage still goes a long way in helping to build the trust and consent which Henry Ford, one of the first exponents of PR, set out to achieve back in early 1900s America; but opinions about organisations are now formed 24/7 in the vast open talking shop we call ‘social media’.

Social Media campaigns can gather momentum like wildfire and communities are formed to champion a cause, challenge authority, as well as inciting fear and prejudice.

Having a two-way dialogue continues to be the basic premise of PR, but today it’s important we utilise all the communications channels available to truly protect and shape the brand of an organisation.

I now describe myself as being in the business of ‘reputation management’.  I help organisations to create compelling copy that resonates with or motivates their target audiences.

So, call me a ‘PR poppet’ if you will, but I can help you engage new audiences, gain credibility amongst your professional peers, start new conversations with thought-leaders and demonstrate your impact more effectively. Please do get in touch:


Footnote: Poppet: ˈpɒpɪt’ , noun

British, informal, an endearingly sweet or pretty child (often used as an affectionate form of address). “‘Here you are, poppet,’ the nurse said”

historical, a small figure of a human being used in sorcery and witchcraft.


Image courtesy:


Where are the marketing skills gaps in the charity and voluntary sector in Derbyshire?

Are you working in the third sector in Derbyshire?

Do you need to impress grant-making bodies, or evidence the difference you make to commissioners? Are you struggling to build a community using social media? Do you need a better profile to support fundraising or to engage people with your cause?

We want to find out which communications skills the charity and voluntary sector in Derbyshire need most help with.

We want to hear your views so we can tailor a programme of FREE workshops and resources that will enable charities and other not-for-profits  improve their reach and impact through improved communications.

Our survey takes just 5-10 minutes and by completing the survey and entering your contact details you could be the winner of a free communications audit by Well Read that will help you understand where you could improve the way you talk to key audiences.

Complete the survey here

Many thanks, Kate Dawson

Top ten tips for writing a press release that cuts the mustard

Getting coverage in print and online helps to raise the profile of your organisation and builds trust in your brand and if you’re a charity, having an awareness of your cause can really boost your fundraising efforts.

The challenge is getting the attention of journalists who are looking for something that’s fresh and relevant to their readers.

So, to give you a head start, here are my top 10 tips for producing press releases that will get followed up:

  1. Journalists should be able to get the gist of the story in the opening paragraph – the ‘who, what, where, why, and when’. Critically, don’t forget to include key dates, such as the announcement of a research finding or an event, so the news outlet can publish the story before it becomes old news.
  2. Write in Plain English and avoid technical or scientific jargon, except when this is intrinsic to the story, in which case explain in layman’s terms. Ditto use of acronyms: don’t assume journalists will know what they stand for, so write in full the first time around.
  3. Try and link your story topical issue or event; for example how your organisation is responding to the impact of austerity measures, or a guide to successful project management inspired by the TV show, The Apprentice.
  4. Include a supporting quote from an independent authority, be that a service-user or expert in your field of business, in addition to your own spokesperson’s quote. This will add credibility and avoid it reading as PR ‘puffery’.
  5. Send your release to a named contact rather than you firing it off to everyone at the publication or website. Get to know your target publications and journalists, follow them on Twitter and find out which topics they’re interested in.
  6. A great picture tells a thousand words and can often make or break a PR pitch. If your promoting a prestigious event or if there are particular conditions on photo usage, (for example the photographer needs a fee for any front cover usage) it’s a good idea to set up an online photo gallery and ask journalists to request the large files.
  7. Ensure that your company/charity spokesperson is available for interview 24 hours following distribution of the release and that a back-up is available. Nothing annoys journalists more than a story which they can’t get their own unique angle on, or fresh quotes for.
  8. Keep it succinct. Use Notes to Editors to provide essential information about your mission, turnover etc and attach case studies separately if necessary – this is especially useful if you’re pitching to broadsheets and consumer press.
  9. Find out when the publications goes to print and avoid issuing releases at their busiest time. Keep follow up calls for those journalists you know are happy to chat. If you are given short shrift by a journalist or editor – keep a note and don’t do it again.
  10. Remember to thank journalists if they do run with your press release / story. A little thank-you email, tweet or even a hand written card for something really special will go a long way to nurturing you future relationship. Journalists are only human after-all!

For help telling your story in the media why not drop me a line to arrange a chat?

Tone of voice – and how to avoid sounding like an embarrassing Mum

As marketeers and PR professionals, understanding how our words make people feel and their likely response is at the crux of what we do. Indeed, any organisation wanting to up their game in their particular marketplace needs to spend time establishing their tone of voice before embarking on developing their marketing content.

Combined with your visual identity, actions and behaviour, tone of voice is an essential, but often overlooked element, of brand identity. So where to start? Well it’s worth considering your brand personality and how you want to be perceived by your target audiences – if you’re selling urban clothing to the under 25s it’s worth involving young people in defining your brand and gaining some real intelligence into youth trends and parlance, to avoid sounding like an embarrassing Mum trying to ‘get down with the kids’.

Clarity about whether your target audience sits within your business or professional field; is an expert consumer (with good knowledge of your industry); or a general member of the public with little knowledge of your product or services is important before you get started. If you’re an online education business for example, you may need to adopt a different tone of voice for teachers and education partner, to parents and individuals purchasing your products directly. Educators will want to know about your pedagogical credentials, whereas parents may be turned off by technical language and simply want to know in Plain English how purchasing your resources will help their child do better at school.

Once you’ve established your tone of voice you need to ensure that there’s some consistency across all of your communications channels. Nothing will turn a potential customer off more than seeing an enticing advert in the press, or a great product description on an affiliate website, if your own website doesn’t cut the mustard –  it’s too turgid, technical or simply doesn’t reflect the brand promise. (Of course, tone of voice is only one aspect of having a great website: it also needs to be user-friendly, provide your consumer /service user with the information they are looking for and make it as easy as possible for people to make a purchase or contact you. Once for another blog-post.)

I have helped a charity establish more consistent messaging and tone of voice in order to build their brand and ultimately, to help them attract more funding and donations.  A survey of their supporters and members, combined with a review of their competition, revealed that although they came across as being compassionate and well-established, they weren’t perceived as being particularly professional and people weren’t aware of their incredible expertise and the impact they were making. The creation of key messages and a more authoritative tone of voice has enabled them to present themselves not only as an organisation dedicated to their cause, but also with much greater conviction about the difference their work makes – essential, to build credibility and motivate potential supporters to give.

Ensuring your tone of voice sits comfortably and authentically with front-line staff is another common pitfall. I recently advised a very wealthy family run-business operating in the country leisure and sustainable fuels industry. An honest discussion about their brand messaging and tone of voice resulted in them agreeing to tone down some of their flamboyant language and to instead focus on the trace-ability of their products and pride in the region. We also discussed involving staff in drilling down on the values of the organisations and how that translates to their particular enterprises.

Their values and tone of voice are now actually being spoken, rather than sitting within a written document, which means they are much more authentic and believeable to target customers.

If you’d like a chat about how I can help you create a brand that really resonates with your customers or target audiences, why not drop me a line? Email me at

Photo credit: CREATISTA

New Year’s Resolution – don’t work all the time…

A New Year, a fresh start and a list of resolutions …but go on, admit it, have you already succumbed to the biscuit tin (don’t worry your dentist isn’t actually watching you!)?

We all start the New Year pledging to shave an inch off our midriff, start reading some improving books, or perhaps be more mindful. The problem with New Year resolutions is that if we don’t see or feel the benefits quickly, we give up and quickly return to our former bad habits.

And so it is with our work-based aspirations. For me, having some strong resolutions and sticking to them throughout 2017, is essential if I’m really going to gain some momentum with my business growth.

So armed with self-knowledge and a determination to gain some traction with Well Read in 2017, here are my work-based resolutions for 2017…they might just work for you too:

  1. Write a weekly blog – on anything. Being in the social-media sphere without anything original to say is a bit like going to a party and having nothing interesting to talk about. Be inspired by current affairs, reputation management issues and digital media. Don’t worry so much about it being too heavily referenced, clever or witty, but draw upon experience and insight gained over the years – don’t hide your light under a bushel.
  2. Do more face-to-face networking. With the world at your fingertips it’s easy to fall into the trap of scouring the internet for opportunities and treating social media marketing as the ‘be all and end all’. Events and local business fora not only provide great opportunities to dish out the business cards, but also helps you to keep abreast of funding opportunities and local issues.
  3. Ensure you capture great feedback and testimonials. There’s nothing like a strong independent endorsement to give your business credibility. There’s a window of opportunity for asking clients to write nice things about you, while the benefits of what you have done for them is fresh in their minds. Giving people an idea of what you’re looking for can really help, as can giving them a deadline, offering to include a link from your website to theirs, and offering to write a testimonial for them, perhaps on Linked in, by return.
  4. Have a positive attitude and plan for success. Imagine everything that is possible for your business and have the focus and discipline to put in place short, medium and long-terms goals, rather than simply drift along. With a strong brand and website, a growing network of contacts and some of the practical processes in place (I weirdly enjoy the HMRC self-assessment webinars), the world really is my oyster in 2017.
  5. Last but not least – don’t work all the time. The advantage of an overactive brain is that meditative activities like sewing, walking the dog or even, tackling a messy child’s bedroom, enable creative ideas to flow and solutions to problems rise to the surface much more readily than when staring at a blank screen. In any case, remember that you’re freelance for a reason, so you’re not going to get sacked if you take a couple of hours out to do something else and come back to your desk feeling refreshed and enthusiastic.

Okay, so I might not get thinner thighs as a result of doing all the above, but hopefully, I might just reap the business dividends in 2017.

I’d love to hear your work-based resolutions. Please write in the comments box below. Oh, and invite me to any events you think I might be interested in – I really need to get out more! You can contact me via email:

Do you know which media your target audience consumes?

Whether it’s reading the BBC news headline through blurry eyes on waking, listening to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme during the drive into the office, or checking Twitter at lunchtime, there are a myriad of ways we keep up to speed with what’s going on in the world and how our consumer choices are influenced.

We simply can’t ignore the fact that adults spend an average of 21.6 hours online each week.

Check out Ofcom’s latest report on media usage for some more eye-watering stats.

In today’s world of 24 hour online news and the advent of social media, we might hear about a breaking news story via social media well before it’s published in the traditional media. And in any case newspaper journalism has evolved, with their online version invariably going live before any print copy hits the news-stands.

That’s why understanding how our customers and service users consume media is vital to ensure that your communications resources are being used effectively. There’s little point getting coverage in your local newspaper each week if you’re allowing your competitors to steal a march on you by securing product reviews and promoting their discounts online – although a combination of press coverage and digital marketing is highly effective.

Lifestyle data, such as Acorn, can provide you with invaluable information about your target audiences, if you have a defined geographical area for your business. If you can’t afford this level of market intelligence, you can find out more about your customers’ / service users’ media usage by asking them to complete a short form in order to receive a discount offer, sign up for your newsletter / blog, or register for an event.

You could also invite some of your stakeholders (I hate this term, but you might equally be trying to reach new members, or get people to give their views on a new development, not just sell a product) to attend a focus group or complete a telephone survey, to find out more about their media behaviour and habits.

But it’s not rocket science – you’ve probably got a good sense of the types of media that influence your target audience without going to great expense. Have a brain storm, ask colleagues – you’ll be surprised how productive an hour with a white board can be. Take a look at the following for inspiration:

Bob, 55 years, listens to his local commercial radio station at work as a builder. He casts his eye over the local rag during his tea-break. He owns a smartphone but only uses a few Apps – mainly to keep abreast of the football results and have an occasional bet. He recently joined Facebook mainly to share pictures of his fishing ‘catches’. Other than booking flights and holidays, he makes very few online purchases.

Cathy, 25 years, picks up a Metro newspaper at the train station. She scans Twitter on the journey to work – she follows thought-leaders in the fashion and retail industry. She has the latest iphone and takes advantage of offers and discount by her favourite brands. She uses WhatsApp and Snapchat to keep in touch with friends.  She enjoys podcasts and media streaming websites.

Brian, 45 years, is a professional who uses Twitter to network professionally and keep up with news and commentary in his sector. He uses consumer websites such as He tends to watch the news at 10pm.

So, by painting a picture of who you’re targeting you can see how your PR strategy might begin to take shape; and getting to know your target audience’s media consumption and behaviour can really help you to up your game.

Here at Well Read PR we don’t churn out a one-sized all approach for our clients, instead we get to know you and your audiences to create a bespoke PR strategy that will ensure press releases convert to pounds.

You can follow us on twitter (@katewellreadpr) or facebook. We also like to meet people face to face – and the first coffee is always on us!

pic: istock, javi_indy

Let us help you tell your story

Whether it’s recruiting volunteers, selling tickets for a fundraising event, or simply getting people to engage with your cause, we can help you give your story legs.

We’re offering up to ten charities or not-for profits in Derbyshire or South Yorkshire the chance to tap into our PR skills at a discounted rate.

For just £25 you can commission a press release or blog that will help you reach donors, connect with new partners or simply start a conversation that needs to happen. We will work with you to deliver the press release or blog by the end of January 2017

Simply email us at with an outline of the story you want telling and we will discuss with you how we would go about tailoring your story to gain media coverage, or how we would go about creating a compelling blog post.

This offer closes on midnight 1st December 2016. Up to ten charities will be selected on a first come, first served basis. Price excludes cost of press release distribution.

Emmaus – a charity providing a life-line to homeless people

Pic: John Jarrett, Emmaus companion

Making a difference to people’s wellbeing and life chances is a key aim for many charities, but in order to be truly effective charities need to ask themselves whether or not their activities make a sustainable difference. Put simply, it’s the difference between giving somebody water, or giving them the tools to build their own well.

One charity that does this really well is Emmaus (pronounced ‘Em-may-us’). The charity owes its existence to a French priest called Abbe Pierre who set up the first Emmaus community in Paris. His first beneficiary was a former prisoner called Georges, who had lost all hope and tried to commit suicide. In Abbe Pierre’s own words: “That is how Emmaus was born. Because, without giving it a second thought, I spontaneously decided to go against the very notion of charity. Instead of saying, ‘you are unhappy, I will give you a home, a job and some money’, the circumstances made me say quite the opposite. I could only tell him the truth, ‘you are dreadfully unhappy, and I have nothing to give you (…). But you, seeing as you want to die, you’ve got nothing to lose. So why don’t you come and help me help others?’ (…) ”.

Emmaus now operates worldwide and was introduced to the UK in the early 1990s. There are currently 25 Emmaus communities across the country, providing a home for those who have, for a variety of reasons found themselves homeless, together with the opportunity to work and gain new skills and confidence. Each regional Emmaus operates as a social enterprise selling second hand goods and providing other services.

Beneficiaries, known as ‘companions’, get involved in all aspects of running each Emmaus community and can gain qualifications which act as a stepping stone to independent living. There are over 600 companions in the UK and the charity plans to grow this by offering at least 750 companion places by 2017.

At Emmaus Sheffield, 17 companions currently live onsite in the stunning converted Sipilia building, a former cutlery factory, bordering the canal. Their shop is a veritable Aladdin’s cave full of furniture, clothes, household goods and books. Companions participate in all aspects of running the store, collecting donated furniture and goods, serving customers, as well as helping to run the café and take care of the charity’s two pigmy goats and rabbits. Other commercial activities include undertaking repairs on furniture and carrying out electrical safety tests for retail outlets. In addition, the charity provides qualifications ranging from manual handling, to a diploma in social care. A particularly uplifting sight on my recent visit, was seeing a door marked ‘Boat House’ which transpired to be a workshop set aside for one resourceful companion who has embarked on building his dream boat.

Companions stop receiving benefits when they move into Emmaus, except their housing benefit which goes to the charity to help fund their accommodation. All other funds are raised by their social enterprise activities and fundraising. In addition to their accommodation and food, each companion receives £35 a week in payment plus £10 worth of savings (which they can begin to draw upon once they have saved £100).

Graham Bostock, Community Manager of Emmaus Sheffield, whose role is supported by the Big Lottery Fund, explained: “It’s about supporting the whole person, giving them the skills and confidence to have a meaningful and ultimately, independent life. For people who have been living on the streets or serving time, it might be getting used to everyday tasks which may seem daunting at first, such as going to the supermarket. We also broker relationships with families, as many of the people who come to us have lost touch.”

John Jarrett, 47, has been living at Emmaus Sheffield for six months. Prior to that he was a companion at Emmaus Bedford, where he worked as a Community Assistant, supporting people moving into Emmaus. John has a long history of homelessness and drug use, combined with anxiety and depression. Since moving to Emmaus Sheffield he’s undertaken a digital business course and is responsible for managing the charity’s Facebook page and has started a blog.

“Being at Emmaus has been the best rehabilitation for me – I’ve been clean from day one and I’ve been given a lot of responsibility which has improved my self-worth. Living as part of a community helps keep me well and for the first time in my life I wake up feeling content,” said John.

Kris Becker, Emmaus companion

Kris Becker, Emmaus companion

Kris Becker, 34, was first in prison at the age of 19 due to criminal offences to fund his heroin habit. A key worker put him in touch with Emmaus when he left prison as he was no longer in touch with his family and had nowhere to go. Being at Emmaus Sheffield has given him a new lease of life: he’s passed his driving test and undertaken an NVQ in Health and Social Care level 2 and is working towards level 3. He’s also now working as a community support worker at Emmaus, helping others to overcome their issues. He explained: “I’ve been on the other side, so I can relate to people who feel like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.” Kris is also back in touch with his family and also sees his two year old daughter.

“Without Emmaus I’d be back on the streets, inside or dead,” said Kris “it’s not that I didn’t want to change before, I did, but here you get the practical support you need to make it happen”, said Kris.

Graham has a background in the probation service and running hostels, but he says the reason he is so committed to working at Emmaus is that it really does have an incredible impact on people’s lives. He says the reason for this is that companions have a focus and structure to their day, rather than being in a system which focuses on people’s issues. He explained: “We do have quite strict rules – no drugs or alcohol, and everyone has to be up and ready for work at 8.45am, but giving people a meaningful role and restoring their self-belief is extremely empowering,” he enthused.

“The proof really is in the pudding: one of our success stories is a former alcoholic who was involved in gang fighting and street crime who ended up living on the streets in Sheffield … following a three year period as a companion at Emmaus, he is now working full time in the health and social care sector,” said Graham.

Emmaus can’t eradicate the problem of homelessness in the UK, but it does provide an innovative solution to hostels for getting people off the streets, whilst also improving their overall health and employment prospects – saving the governments over £6 million in the process. In human terms, the impact of Emmaus may be immeasurable and without doubt, it helps people build their own well.


Related links:
Emmaus impact report

Top 10 tips for producing your Annual Report without losing sleep

Top 10 Tips for producing a great charity Annual Report

Top 10 Tips for producing a great charity Annual Report

It’s this time of year when many charities are preparing to publish their Annual Report and Accounts. In addition to being a statutory requirement for registered charities, your Report is also a great opportunity to demonstrate to your stakeholders (be that donors, fundraisers, volunteers, or allied organisations and policy makers) that you’ve managed your funds effectively and made a difference in line with your charitable aims during the past financial year.

Those of you working in charity communications may have been slaving over your Annual Report for several months now: co-ordinating content, working with the finance department to streamline in the audited accounts and agreeing that all important ‘Welcome’ message. Believe me, I feel your pain…over the years I’ve learnt a great deal, in some cases through trial and error, about producing an Annual Report which complies with Charity Commission requirements, as well as packing a punch with your supporters.

So here, for the uninitiated, is my top 10 list of do’s and don’ts for producing an Annual Report without the headache:

  1. Do get to grips with Charity Commission SORP (Statement of Recommended Practice). Charities with an annual turnover over £6.5 million are required to give much more detail than smaller charities. It can be tricky trying to shoe-horn in your induction process for new Trustees, or how you manage risk at the eleventh hour.
  2. Do ensure colleagues, principally fellow Directors / Heads of Departments (and your Chief Executive!) are involved at an early stage in planning, agreeing the format, purpose, and the overarching focus of the report, as well as taking on board what information their teams need to supply and by when.
  3. Do establish at the outset if your Annual Report has a broader purpose, other than fulfilling your statutory reporting requirements. Do you want to use it to help launch a new strategy or brand; celebrate the success of a particular fundraising campaign (thanking key donors – and keeping them warm for the next time); or perhaps using it to influence key policy-makers or service commissioners, by demonstrating the impact you’ve made? If so, think about how to make the content compelling and ensure that it’s clear how people can get in touch. You may decide it’s necessary to produce a separate impact report and to keep your Annual Report fairly perfunctory, whilst standing up to Charity Commission scrutiny.
  4. Do be crystal clear in your brief to your design agency (or in-house designer) about the purpose of the Report and your organisation’s brand personality. (Look no further than Red Stone if you’re looking for an agency that combines creative flair with a knack of getting under the skin of your organisation’s brand.) Similarly, ensure that you have guidelines on tone of voice and language use, if you’re using a freelance writer.
  5. Do consider which format will be most attractive to your intended audience(s). Back in the day a printed A4 landscape ‘book’ was standard, but now charities are more confident trying out different formats which are lighter and which stand out from the crowd (and therefore won’t be immediately filed under ‘recycling’). You could consider publishing your Report online and making it interactive, perhaps linking it with video testimonials. If you decide to go down the digital route, make sure it’s optimised for tablet and mobile. It should also be printer-friendly, perhaps with a separate summary document, or ‘year at a glance’ section, allowing people to zone in on the key facts and figures.
  6. Don’t scrimp on photography. They say a great pictures paints a thousand words and it follows that a great photographer is worth their weight in gold, helping to visually convey the human impact of your work. (Without hesitation I would recommend Richard Bailey, Nick David, Rebecca Marshall and Elisabeth Blanchet). It’s essential you get consent forms signed at the time (for use across all your communications channels), as trying to get consent retrospectively can be a nightmare.
  7. Don’t have a once a year Annual Report mentality. Instead, have a radar in place for gathering case studies and testimonials that relate to your charity’s impact all year round, providing you with a bank of great content to draw upon when it comes to producing your Report.
  8. Don’t leave proof-reading ‘til the eleventh hour. Allow adequate time to proof-read copy and check all the financials add up (and that figures in copy tally with the accounts) before sending it off to the designers, and ask colleagues to physically sign-off any copy which they need to ‘own’. Making extensive corrections at design stage is a hassle and may require fundamental changes to layout or pagination to accommodate additional text.
  9. Don’t assume that your stakeholders will be frothing at the bit to read your report – they won’t. Give some thought to how it will be launched as an integral part of your communications strategy. If the Report includes great quotes, case studies, or data which could be made into an infographic, think about how these might be integrated into your social media content plan, or could the publication of the Report be timed to coincide with an awareness day and media push?
  10. Don’t forget to ask stakeholders what they think of your Annual Report. What did they learn from it and importantly, were they motivated to do anything after reading – share, sign up to your blog, make a donation? Would they have preferred a digital / paper format? What would they have liked to have known more about? Build on what you’ve learnt next year.

Please post a comment if you have any more do’s or don’ts you think should be added to this list.

In the meantime, here are three charity Annual Reports which I think have nailed it:

British Heart Foundation

Great use of imagery and graphics throughout. The branding really packs a punch. Looks expensively produced, but succeeds in tugging on those supporter heartstrings – so presumably well worth the investment, as it’s clearly been used for more than just a statutory reporting exercise. Top marks!

Esmée Fairbairn Foundation

Visually exciting and really connects the reader with the difference their funding makes to beneficiaries. Love the ‘Esmée in Numbers’ spread on pages 12-13.

Mental Health Foundation

This report is beautifully structured in line with SORP and the simple design reflects the authoritative tone of voice of the organisation. Good use of supporting quotes.

Related reading:

Third Sector article on charities whose Annual Reports are failing to cut the mustard 

The Guardian Voluntary Sector Network – tips on submitting charity annual accounts