10 things to consider when designing your annual report Over the years, I’ve been in charge of developing a dozen annual reports for large foundations. For some of them, I was lucky enough to work with ThinkDesign Group. Their award winning work is known for its powerful interplay of text and design. For this guest post on annual reports, it was a no-brainer to turn to Linda Henneman, creative principal at ThinkDesign. My nonprofit clients are producing annual reports this year, despite the economic downturn. Together, we’re creating pieces that are appropriate for the times. Like them, you too may be faced with a complex story to tell, with only a few pages to tell it on—most likely on a trimmed budget. While addressing the reality of the economy is important, it need not be all doom and gloom. Instead, your audience needs to know that supporting your organization’s work now is more important than ever. So focus on setting the tone through a reassuring voice and compelling design, and be assured you won’t need to break the bank. Remember, an annual report is your chance to talk to the people who have been passionate enough to support you financially. So create a solid annual, they’ll appreciate it! 1. How to think about the strategy behind the annual report Yes, it’s a report addressing the past year, but make it even more useful by placing focus on the future. What’s your message? It must be aligned with the needs of your organization, concise, true in good times and in bad, and delivered with confidence. Your message should convey the essence of your organization. You’re talking to your supporters, but it’s also a great opportunity to talk to a new audience. Balance the “choir” audience and the potential new audience. Keep in mind that your supporters may also need help understanding the nuances of what you do. 2. Key leadership needs to be a part of the process This is true from the initial discussion to choosing concepts. This is a piece that is the voice and vision of the leaders. Hearing directly from them is critical in setting the right tone. 3. Bring the designer and writer in early, they’ll help spark the process The writer and designer can get the process started by being the outside voice and getting the focus off of the “internal speak.” Designers are problem solvers by training, and can offer ideas to overcome challenges. A good writer can inform the design and make the whole piece stronger, so get them on board from day one. Provide your design team with the details they need to make your annual report stand out. 4. Start Early Give yourself enough time, between three and four months. Forcing it into a shorter amount of time will only increase cost, errors, and stress. Your annual report concepting process can be a great opportunity to evaluate, revise, and reinforce your organization’s communications strategy. 5. The power of less copy & why writing shorter can be better Using minimal text with powerful images can make a strong statement; quickly. In today’s world, it needs to be quick. People are taking less time to read. 6. A great cover makes you think The cover should make you think. You should feel the urge to open it. And when you do, you get the payoff: your curiosity is satisfied. 7. Don’t neglect the mailing envelope The envelope needs to break through the mail pile. An odd size for a little extra “wow,” or try colored envelopes or add a teaser headline to spark interest. 8. What to look for in photos Photos don’t need to be literal—like people sitting around a table, working. Find more dynamic ways of telling your story. 9. Today’s green printing option Promoting green printing practices sends a powerful message and can motivate others to do the same. Choose a designer knowledgeable in eco-friendly paper and printing vendors. One that can help you make decisions on paper recycled content, vegetable-based inks. Look for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, renewable energies, efficiency in printing and press/paper setup. Be sure to add a simple line of text explaining how your piece was printed green, include all applicable “certified-green” logos. 10. Differentiate your report from others without breaking the bank It’s easy: a good concept, with strong messages, compelling visual, and clear, concise copy—and it doesn’t have to cost a lot to print. For instance, The Headwaters Foundation for Justice’s consistent, award winning annual reports are 2-color, use stock photography, and reprint efficiently on a sheet of paper. A good designer can help choose an appropriate printer for your specific project. Paper selection, production and printing techniques can all be ways to cut costs. Mailing cost is another area for potential savings. Consider smaller formats for lower postage costs. Order realistic quantities. It may be cheaper per piece to print more, but if you just throw them away it doesn’t save money or the planet.