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

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Before you start writing, know your Pooker

Do you know your Pooker? It’s who I have in mind every time I sit down to write. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Pooker is some kind of imaginary friend, a kind of “binker” *or “Pig that never was”*, providing inspiration and perhaps companionship during those lonely hours at my desk. But no, Pooker is not a friend in the usual sense; if that were the case it wouldn’t be such a challenge getting him to read every word I write. I know I’ve only got a paragraph, maybe only a few words to get his attention.
It helps if I’ve met one or two of Pooker’s latest circle of friends and can tap them up for what’s getting Pooker fired up at the moment. Pooker’s acquaintances can be found in all sorts of places: in hospital wards, visiting an art gallery, in the student bar – it really depends what’s flavour of the month for Pooker.
Thankfully, I can now stalk him on Twitter and suss out who his current media bedfellows are – although being the fickle fellow he is, these can change on a whim.
What I’ve learnt over the years is that if I really want to get Pooker’s ear, I’ve got to talk his language. He can’t bear it when I try to baffle him with science, or simply don’t get to the point quick enough.

Above all, Pooker likes it best when I give him some nugget which he can share with those he likes to chew the proverbial fat over with; something to help keep him ahead of the pack.

He also likes it when I grasp the challenges he’s facing, and best of all, when I help get the ‘movers and shakers’ on board with his latest passion.
Pooker comes in many guises; he’s often illusive and he’s undoubtedly my harshest critic; but despite all the effort required, it’s never too long before I’m tapping away again at my keyboard trying to get Pooker’s attention.
Pooker’s name has been imprinted on my brain since attending a National Union of Students feature writing course, many moons ago. And in case you haven’t guessed it by now, ‘Pooker’, dear reader, is you (and yes, ‘he’ can be a ‘she’, too! ).

** A A Milne, ‘Binker’
Nanette Newman, ‘The pig that never was’.

image credit: http://www.canstockphoto.com/dagadu/

A noble concept, but what will charities gain from Giving Tuesday?

So it’s begun, the interminable hours surfing the net for the latest gizmos and tramping up and down the high street to find something… anything… other than the fall-back novelty socks for the impossible-to-buy-for relations. It’s a bit of a cliché, but haven’t we all rather lost the point?

The same notion must have crossed the minds of partners of 92nd Street Y, a Jewish led but multi-faith community centre in New York, who in 2012, together with the United Nations Foundation, created a national day of giving on 2nd December. Giving Tuesday aims to channel the generosity of the festive season to inspire action around charitable giving. The date follows Black Friday (regarded as the start of the Christmas shopping period) and Cyber Monday (one of the biggest online shopping days in the year).

As an antidote to the epic levels of consumerism as Christmas approaches it’s a noble concept, but what will charities actually gain from being part of Giving Tuesday, when surely they will just be shouting to be heard above all the other causes vying for attention? Emotionally bruised and a little lighter of pocket following Children in Need, and having dutifully purchased Band Aid 30, is it possible that the population may be suffering a little from ‘giving fatigue’?

In addition, the prospect of a national day of giving just two days before the Big Give, which enables charities to obtain match funding for their appeals, might also present a timing issue for charities who have chosen to participate in this established fundraising platform – which raised a combined        £11 million for over 380 charities last year.

The bottom line, according to a survey by The Non Profit Times, is that US charities received donations totalling at least 32 million dollars on 3 December 2013. Its success lies in harnessing the power of social media, to spread the message of giving. Last year the launch of the hashtag #Giving Tuesday was endorsed by Bill Gates and Barack Obama, no less.

Given the different culture of giving in America, one might also be forgiven for wondering whether something conceived in America will work so well this side of the Big Pond.

Step forward the Charities Aid Foundation who have taken up the Giving Tuesday UK mantle together with a steering group consisting of the Cabinet Office, Cancer Research UK, Scope, Charity Comms, Hope for Children, Stewardship, and Live Creative. The venture has been professionally co-ordinated and given a British make-over, with a slick Giving Tuesday UK website providing a plethora of ideas about how organisations can engage with the day, including some fundraising tactics which will come in handy any time of the year.

And the marketing seems to have worked with some 600-plus charities planning to use the day in a variety of ways: to promote existing Christmas appeals, signal new partnerships with corporates, or simply raise some awareness of a little known cause.

Connect Reading is one of the charities using Giving Tuesday to drive support from local business for its community focussed work.

“As a small local charity any opportunity to raise the profile of our mission is gratefully received.  Giving Tuesday will enable us to have increased awareness of our purpose to help the local community through the support of locally based businesses.  We are on our way to reaching        £1.5 million in-kind support since our launch in 2003 and with the increased awareness and participation from businesses and their employees we hope that Giving Tuesday will take us past this monumental milestone before Christmas,” said Clare Wright, Managing Director.

 

Music Heritage UK, a relatively new organisation which works to protect music venues, celebrate music history and engage new audiences with our musical heritage, is using the day to help raise its profile generally. The charity is hosting the unofficial closing party for Giving Tuesday featuring the Ringo: Music Bingo music quiz, hosted by Irish comedian Ronan Leonard.

“It’s not just about fundraising for us. We hope that by taking part we will become better known as a serious organisation committed to our charitable objectives, as well as attracting new visitors to our website, and increasing our following on social media,” said James Ketchell, chief executive.

Other participating organisations are simply using the initiative as a vehicle to remind their existing donors of their preferred charity on the day, and hopefully make more people aware of their cause by tweeting using the #Giving Tuesday hashtag throughout the day.

The impact of Giving Tuesday UK is yet to be revealed, but clearly charities do see the merit in participating with a view to boosting their coffers, as well as attracting new supporters which may last far beyond the season of goodwill.

…and if you’re really are bent on buying those novelty socks, look no further than the Sock Shop who have teamed up with a number of charities, so at least your purchase will help a worthwhile cause.

If you’re taking part in Giving Tuesday next week, we’d love to hear what you’ve got planned and how it worked for you.

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Related links:

Giving Tuesday: More orgs, more money, more questions about donors, The Non Profit Times

Holly Mitchell at Charities Aid Foundation answering some key questions about Giving Tuesday

Charities Should Give, Not beg, On Giving Tuesday, The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Learning from Samaritans’ RADAR

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Recently we have witnessed the untimely passing of a number of young celebrities who felt unable to continue with their lives. People who to all intents and purposes seemed to have the world at their feet. Their deaths undoubtedly caused much distress and sadness to their loved ones, and left us all wondering: how could they, of all people, possibly feel such insurmountable despair? And why couldn’t anybody do something to help?

The answers to these questions are not simple, but organisations such as Grassroots Suicide Prevention and of course, the Samaritans, have much expertise in this area – but to extend their reach they need to educate more people about how to recognise the signs and provide the appropriate intervention.

The need for these charities is all the more pertinent given recent figures released by CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) which reveal that the highest cause of death in men under 45 years in the UK is suicide. Quite clearly, something needs to be done to reach out to those who feel that their life isn’t worth living.

In October the Samaritans launched a new Twitter App, created by digital agency Jam, to try and identify young people using Twitter who may be feeling suicidal. The opt-in RADAR app worked by analysing people’s tweets for signs that they might be feeling at a low ebb, and then notified their followers that someone they know may be distressed, providing them with advice on how they might be able to help.

The App, although undoubtedly well-intentioned, came rapidly under fire for being invasive and potentially having the opposite of the desired effect, by making people less likely to share their feelings using social media. It was also suggested that it could be used to target those who may be vulnerable.

RADAR has now been suspended pending further consideration, not least the extent to which it potentially infringes Twitter users’ privacy. The Samaritans have acted swiftly and used the brouhaha to reassert their core mission: to reach out and support those who may be feeling depressed and unable to cope.

It’s important to note that the initiative aimed to target a younger demographic who may feel more inclined than others to share their private thoughts and feelings online. Understanding how different groups are communicating via social media and tapping into these channels to signpost potentially life-saving services, should not be condemned. However, where it may be open to abuse or even potentially make the very people it aims to help withdraw from participating in their social networks, serious questions need to be asked.

On the other hand, social media is here to stay, evolving rapidly and any charity worth its salt should be exploring how they can utilise the various tools and data analyses available, to engage new audiences with their work.

My point is that we shouldn’t let this one media storm in a tea-cup put charities off exploring the potential for utilising social media to engage people with their services or a particular campaign. What we must learn from this, is that before launching any such social media ‘tool’, it needs to be adequately tested not only for its functionality, but also its legal compliance, and crucially, the potential reaction of the target group and related professionals; this is where the Samaritans clearly fell short.

Despite the furore around Samaritans’ bungled App, they should be applauded for continuing to develop innovative services to support people when they are in a fragile state of mind. On this occasion they didn’t quite get it right, but in this brave new world of online chatter, we shouldn’t chastise them for attempting a new way of enrolling young people as the eyes and ears of their organisation.

Related links:

BBC News, Technology

The Guardian, Voluntary Sector Network Blog

Paul Bernal’s Blog, Privacy, Human Rights, The Internet, Politics and more

Image credit: http://www.freeimages.com uploaded by SSPIVAK, New Zealand

A lesson in strategic planning from …Thomas Hardy

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Earlier this year I took a break from planning my new business and picked up a novel off my bookshelf – Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy.

Far from taking me away from the world of communications, Jude Fawley’s plight struck me as a cautionary tale for organisations with half-baked mission and goals.

You see it’s all well and good having an inspiring vision, but the key to success lies in knowing how you’re going to get from A to B, understanding the barriers you might face along the way, and what resources you need to get there. Continue reading