The Top 5 Reasons to go Above and Beyond with your Annual Report

Earlier in the year, we produced an article about best practices used when creating an annual report, “Short, Simple, and Sweet – Rules for Effective Annual Reports.” Today’s article goes into further detail about why you should follow those best practices and how to take your organization’s report to the next level.

Consider going above and beyond because:

1. It’s a reflection of your organization’s strength

  • Originally annual reports were created to inform investors about the financial health and viability of a company through financial documents and strategic goals. They continue to serve in this capacity to this day but have evolved into a much more complex combination of documents due to SEC regulations and best practices. Now 82% of companies include narrative content in order to build rapport with readers (Deloitte). Companies do this because they realize the impact annual reports can have on potential supporters and want to stay ahead of their competition. To further reinforce this fact, many nonprofits have adopted producing annual reports for their supporters—making it a critical part of their marketing strategy.

2. Brand reinforcement

  • Your brand is more than just your organization’s logo and business cards. Branding is also about your organization’s culture, attitude, and the effect it has on its target market/community. When aligned with your organization’s branding, an annual report is an excellent vehicle for showcasing what your organization is passionate about, how it goes about doing its business, and what separates it from the rest of the herd.
  • Following a consistent theme—with text, photos, layout and color scheme—will drive your organization’s brand home with readers and shows them that your organization is on top of its game. It also gives them a good idea of what your organization’s momentum will be like in the future.

3. It provides clarity to current supporters

  • Investing in your organization’s annual report so that it is easily accessible and easy to read is critical. According to a study by Deloitte on annual report trends, “only 14% of readers felt companies produced a cohesive (annual) report,” leaving 86% of readers feeling the report was disorganized and up to the reader’s interpretation. Now, what if your organization could capture half of those readers who didn’t understand and draw them into supporting your organization? Even if your organization only gets a fraction of that 86% your organization would still be attracting a considerable amount of new supporters/investors. (Deloitte).

(Pro Tip: Using pictures and captions that are in line with the overall theme of your report enables readers to skim through it and still understand what your organization does and what its impact is).

4. It showcases the human side of your organization

  • For larger companies, annual reports are a rare opportunity to showcase the men and women that work behind the scenes. Having a human face attached to your report creates empathy with readers and reminds them that your organization is not just a well-oiled machine, but also an organization of people united towards improving the lives of other people—and that in itself is an incredibly powerful message.

5. It highlights social changes that your organization rallies behind.

  • Taking #4 a step further, modern annual reports can include information about your organization’s environmental impact, executive compensation and other relevant social issues. In fact according to an article in Forbes, 52% of Fortune 100 companies include social responsibilities in their 2010 reports. They do this because, when it is done well, it can have a positive effect on their organization’s brand and on its bottom line.

Here are collection of reports that were big hits in 2013: Show Me. For more information on annual reports go to our News and Tidbits for the rest of our series and more marketing tips and trends for nonprofits and associations.

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3 Short, Simple, and Sweet Rules for Effective Annual Reports

Association Coffee GraphicIt’s that time of the year again when nonprofit staffs eat a lot of pizza in the conference room and drink a lot of lattes during late night breaks to produce their annual reports. In honor of all of those marketing coordinators, membership directors, and executive directors who are working tirelessly to convey a year’s worth of effort and make sense of a 5-year marketing plan in a few amazing paragraphs, here are some tips for creating an effective annual report that attracts new members and donors in 2014.

1. Keep it Short

Annual Reports—just like any other piece of marketing material—are designed to convey a message to their readers. Don’t include material that might dilute your message? You want to quickly and easily engage readers, explain what you do, and convince them that your organization is worth contributing to.

(Pro Tip: The saying “a picture is worth a thousand words,” holds particularly true regarding annual reports. Images and infographics are nice way of keeping your content short and streamlined and still convey a lot of information.)

2. Keep it Simple

Fortunately, nonprofits aren’t stuck with all of the SEC requirements that their for profit counterparts have to deal with, but that doesn’t stop non-profits from unknowingly cluttering up their annual reports. Organizing and labeling key sections, combined with simple language (around an 8th grade level is recommended), and summaries at the beginning of each section will allow readers to pour through the text heavy sections of your organization’s report quickly and efficiently.

(Pro Tip: Infographics can be a great tool when utilized properly but having infographics for the sake of just having them is considered clutter. (Yes, even if they look really cool). If you use infographics in your report, make sure their designs are in-line with your message and that they convey information that emphasizes the theme of your report.)

3. Keep it Sweet!

There are a myriad of great nonprofits that are working hard to improve our society—so why should readers donate to, or volunteer for yours? Convincing readers to commit to your cause is no easy task. Here are some tips to make it a little easier.

• Tell a story that is centered on the impacts your organization has on people and the community. Show them the results your organization achieved.

• Create a world for readers to dive into by using pictures and testimonials of the people whose lives your organization has changed.

• Remember to highlight the human element of your organization’s work. Images, quotes and stories from volunteers and staff will go a long way towards connecting readers to your cause, as well as enhance your organization’s image.

A simple and great example of this, that is often seen on Facebook, are the before and after photos of dogs that have been rescued by the local humane society. In only a few seconds, viewers can see the dramatic difference the humane society has made on that dog’s life. Parallels can be found in almost any organization.

Short, Simple and Sweet, if your nonprofit follows these three tenets you are well on way to producing a great annual report. Many organizations struggle with principle one and two because they get lost in their passion for their cause. In these circumstances, it’s a good idea to hire outside content developers and designers. They will ensure that your message and passion gets across, without any unnecessary clutter.

That is it for today but for more marketing tips and trends relating to Annual Reports keep it locked on True Creative Services. Check back in next week for our “ARTICLE TITLE.”



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Nonprofits, How Do you Rank on These Three Influential Websites?

Association Rating GraphicWith annual reports coming out soon, many nonprofits are spending a great deal of time, energy and money developing and strengthening their brand messaging and image for this year. They will be taking care that their reports convey their desired theme and checking that their social media and other marketing materials are aligned. But have they considered that social media is more than what they publish online about themselves? It’s also what others say about them

Have you updated your organization’s profile on these up-and-coming information hubs for nonprofits?

1.    GreatNonprofits (
This website is like Yelp for nonprofits. Founded in 2007, this nonprofit is dedicated to helping potential volunteers or donors connect with nonprofits that are making an impact. Users can rate their experiences of over 1.8 million nonprofits. Since its founding, GreatNonprofits has collected over 170k reviews from users and that number keeps on growing. If you haven’t already, we recommend you check your organization’s reviews to see if they are in-line with your perception and your organization’s mission.

2.    GuideStar (
GuideStar is another nonprofit dedicated to informing people about other nonprofits efficacy, financial information, and objectives. GuideStar is unique in that it collects 990 Forms (Mandatory IRS Form) and publishes that information to their website. Users can then look up financial information for any nonprofit that completed these forms and evaluate how well they are serving their mission. GuideStar’s website also includes information on each organization’s missions and specific campaigns they are running. Nonprofits can then update their profiles with new campaign information and financial data. Unfortunately, a quick search will reveal that many nonprofits have not taken the opportunity to do so and are likely missing out on some savvy donors.

3.    Philanthropedia (
While GuideStar is concerned with relaying financial and operational information to users, Philanthropedia (a division of GuideStar) takes this one step further by giving its users recommendations, helping them decide which nonprofits to support. It is a win-win for both sides. The upside for users is that they get easy-to-understand recommendations regarding which nonprofits to support and nonprofits benefit in that they get free evaluations and recommendations regarding how to increase their effectiveness in the future.

Transparency and efficacy are becoming the determining factors that potential donors and volunteers are looking at when it comes to deciding which nonprofits to support. Like Yelp and LinkedIn, these websites are likely to become go-to stops when evaluating which nonprofits to support—so best get ahead of the curve and start building your organization’s online reputation now!

For more marketing tips and trends for associations and nonprofits, check back next week for “3 Short, Simple, and Sweet Rules for Effective Annual Reports.”

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5 Reasons Why Your Organization Should Produce an Annual Report

Annual Report Chameleon GraphicModern annual reports are economical marketing chameleons streamlined for readability, accessibility and branded in-line with an organization. Public companies produce them as a way to laud successes and present the numbers. But many nonprofits also consider them to be a major element of a successful marketing campaign and produce them every year—even when they have no obligation to do so.

If your organization has not produced an annual report yet, here are 5 reasons you should start:  

1.    Demonstrate your Organization’s Accomplishments
An annual report is an amazing vehicle for showing current and future supporters why your organization is great. Your organization’s report should focus on the impact it has had on its community and relate that as a story so that readers resonate with it on a personal level. Using photos of your team in action and testimonials from those who benefitted from your organization’s work are effective ways of achieving this without taking up a lot of space.

2.    Celebrate Supporters
Regardless of who is supporting your organization, whether it is volunteers for or donors for non-profits or investors for publically owned companies, you will want to thank them in one way or another. Your branded annual report can tell the perfect story. The report is one of the best methods of saying thanks because it shows what you have accomplished throughout the year with their contribution—working to reaffirm their decision to support you again this year.

3.    Show Financial Accountability and  Organizational  Strength
People who are supporting—or considering supporting—your organization, want to know that their money is being spent effectively and responsibly. In the case for nonprofits they also want to know that your organization has a strong financial base and their money will be reaching the community. This is where financial figures are essential. Make sure that the financials provided are easy to understand and provide explanations written in layman’s terms for those who are less quantitatively inclined.

(Pro-tip: Financial figures accompanied by an infographic are effective tools for conveying a lot of complicated information, clearly and in a small amount of space. They also help break up the monotony of page after page of financials.)

4.    Fundraising
Like any piece of marketing, you should seek a return on investment. Keep in mind the return may not be dollars but rather awareness or an increase in volunteers. This is where your organization going above and beyond in creating a compelling annual report shines through. A compelling report creates excitement for your organization, solidifies current supporters and attracts new ones.

5.    SEC Regulations
If you are a publically traded company you should know this already, but in the rare chance this is news to you—sorry, you have to produce these for your investors. If this is the first year you are producing an annual report for your organization you should check out the SEC guidelines here.

When done properly, annual reports are effective tools that all nonprofits and associations should be utilizing in order to retain and capture supporters. In a single document, your organization can envelop readers in your mission, by highlighting the impact your organization has on its community, showing its strength and celebrating the men and women who make it all happen. Check back next week for more information on association and nonprofit marketing trends and tips.

Be sure to check back in next week for our next article for non profits and associations “Nonprofits, How Do you Rank on these Three Influential Websites?”


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Non-Profit and Association Marketing and Communication Trends 2014

AssociationChartSPT and True recently reached out to over 100 associations and non-profits headquartered in the metro Washington D.C. area, in order to determine how the slow economic recovery and rise in new technologies have affected marketing communication strategies over the past three years and expectations for 2014. Our association and non-profit sample included organizations with both national and international members in a variety of professions and industries.

As expected, and as seen in other industries, the down economy and the rise of digital media have caused some serious changes in the way associations and non-profits approach communications.

The Long Road to Recovery

Our survey found that approximately 60% of associations and non-profits felt their organization was negatively effected in some way in the last three years.

Fifty percent felt a dramatic impact due to some regulatory change in their industry including the Affordable Care Act. The other 50% attributed the impact to purely economic forces.  One communications director we surveyed stated that, “Financial constraints on our constituents have resulted in the loss of over 25% of our members,” highlighting the fact that many organizations will be facing a lean year in 2014.

Success GraphicA Bright Future

Fortunately, this isn’t the case for all non-profits and associations. Forty percent felt little to no impact in that last few years and do not foresee any major impacts in the near future.  In fact, 71% of all the associations and non-profits surveyed believed that next year will be the same or better than the previous three. Only 14% stated that they believe it will be significantly worse in 2014. The other 15% only believed it would be slightly worse.

Further evidence of non-profits and associations’ resiliency is indicated by the number of major events they plan on holding and the number of materials associations and non-profits plan on producing in 2014. Over 90% of the organizations surveyed said that they would make no changes to the number of major events—held at an average of two per year. They also plan on maintaining the same quantity of marketing materials produced per year—at an average of twenty pieces annually per organization. Sixteen percent plan to add new content into to their rotation in 2014.

BudgetSqueezeBudget Squeeze

Association and non-profit budgets will not being staying the same. Fifty-seven percent anticipate operating with a reduced budget in 2014, with the other 43% maintaining their budget from 2013.  Of the organizations with decreasing budgets, 40% attributed it to the lower production costs that are associated with digital materials. The other cause of decreasing budgets is financial hardship—40% cited this for their organization’s reduced budget in 2014. The remaining 20% is due to shifting marketing material production to an in-house team.

Associations and non-profits need to adapt to a changing environment, but one thing they must not do is skimp on the quality of their marketing materials. Brian Hefner, Director of Membership and Business Development for the Truck Renting and Leasing Association, says, “Over the past few years, we have seen our associate members pull-back or eliminate their marketing through the association due to the economy. However, most others stuck with their marketing programs, even during tough financial times. Many of those that stuck with their marketing budgets are thriving today, while the others that did not, have to rebuild their marketing programs aimed at our regular members.”

Brian’s message is one that we truly believe in as well. Organizations cannot let up on marketing efforts even when faced with financial uncertainty or constrained budgets. What is the saying again, “Doing more with less?”

GroupCommunicationEffective marketing is what connects members to the associations and non-profits they choose to belong. This connection should be strengthened in order for support to continue. High-quality marketing and communications materials such as a user-friendly, mobile-ready website, social media strategy, and flagship industry newsletter or magazine draw individuals into your cause, creating enthusiasm and commitment to your organization. Poor quality marketing materials and a disjointed communication’s strategy or a lack of any strategy, do the opposite by diluting your message or worse, turning an important cause into spam that gets passed over completely and is forgotten.

Robert Garber, Director of Marketing for the Cato Institute underscores the importance of high quality, professional communications when he says, “We have seen a 100% increase in article downloads each year for the last two years due in large part to our incorporating  the work of outside designers into converting our written materials in all of the different formats readers and consumers use. It’s important that we use quality designers so that both our print and digital media are in high quality, error-free formats—for those who read us in print, on their laptops, to those who read our work on smart phones, iPads, and everything in-between.”

So how are associations and non-profits able to maintain the same number of events and materials when over half of them are dealing with significant financial strains?  By going digital of course! The reason behind this can be attributed to an upward trend toward more digital materials and less traditional marketing materials (printed materials).

SignsOfCommunication“Online communications does more than save an association or non-profit money in printing and mailing costs,” says Sharon Ritchey, Owner and Creative Brand Director for Home Row Editorial. “The initial savings from moving online are important,” says Ritchey, “but they are soon absorbed into another budget and forgotten. The boost comes from the ability to target communications to various users within an organization and deliver current, important content to members where they want to see them. When news happens, whether an important award or something needing crisis communication planning, an organization with an online delivery strategy can immediately distribute their voice, their message, and their benefits to members.”

We found that of the associations polled, all of them had an existing digital marketing strategy. What is interesting though, is that they planned on increasing their digital marketing presence by an average of 7.5%, which is nearly twice the amount of growth digital marketing saw between 2012 and 2013, which was 4.2%. Associations are focusing more on their digital strategy because it allows them to focus more on the quality of their materials, by spending more money on the design side and by hiring talented graphic designers. In fact, 83% of those surveyed said that electronic newsletters represented the majority of their marketing materials.

CreativityHow Content Is Created

Approximately 60% of the associations and non-profits surveyed use a combination of in-house creative teams as well as outsourced work to freelance design teams. The other 40% use only their own in-house team. All of the associations hiring an outside design team in the last year did so because they felt that there were serious limitations to what their in-house design team could produce. Ironically, those associations and non-profits that do not use an outside designer felt the same issues, but believe that they cannot afford to hire outside designers due to budget limitations.

It is interesting that almost all the associations and non-profits polled felt the need to use outside designers. This highlights an increasing demand for talented individuals and that organizations are recognizing that high-quality marketing materials are necessary to attract and sustain their members.  Janet Haley-Varre, a professional event planner at Exclusive Designs 4 You, LLC, told us that “as an event coordinator with over 10-years of experience planning and organizing specialty events, conventions and fundraisers for associations and non-profits, I see time and time again, a direct correlation between professionally designed marketing and communications materials and successful events.” She adds, “If organizations want great results from their events, they need to invest in their image and their messaging. If you don’t have top-notch talent in house, hire a professional design company—experienced with associations and non-profits—to provide you with this level of service. Your results depend on getting your marketing and communications right.”

If you or your organization would like its voice heard in this matter, we would love to hear from you to add to the results of our survey. Please reach out to us at 703-539-2195 to get your voice heard!




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Web VS Print for Associations in DC and Virginia

I recently met personally with a selection of Virginia and Washington DC Association professionals to discuss Web VS Print for marketing and member communications. One of the questions I was seeking to answer was how much they are relying on their website and email for communication and marketing and how much they are relying on traditional print media such as magazines, brochures, trade show materials, etc. The most important pearl of wisdom that came from all of the information is how important it is to survey your members. Overall the results of member feedback gave the associations the knowledge that while they can, perhaps, reduce the amount they are printing, large numbers of their members still want printed material. Some of this information came to them as a surprise.

While many members the associations thought to be web-positive, surveys found that at the end of the day many of these computer-savvy professionals simply did not want to look at their computer to get information when they had been on their computers all day. Others, due to alternative factors, were not in fact as computer savvy as hoped.

While it is unquestionably more cost-effective for the association to provide their communications electronically, the goal of the association should be to provide desirable value to it’s members – thereby maintaining member renewal. In economic times such as these, associations need to really prove to their members that they are listening to what the membership needs all year round, and not just at renewal time.

Also important when preparing information for web posting, is that just because you are creating a PDF and not a printed piece, it still needs to have a well thought-out design, be visually attractive and have a professional appearance that maintains the brand and image of the association. Also, don’t give into temptation to over inform – just because your aren’t paying to put ink on paper, that does not lengthen your viewer’s attention span. A poorly presented electronic file will be sure to discourage your members.

Our summary: When deciding to cut back on your printing budget make sure your members support the decision and when creating materials for web download and email, make sure to maintain the professionalism and quality of presentation that represents the image of your association.

Thank you to all of the association professionals that gave me 20 minutes of their day to meet with me in person to assist me in my research!

Kris Brinker

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