6 reasons you should NOT ask for “annual report updates”

How does the content for your nonprofit’s annual report come together? How would you describe your role: writer, editor or…collator? If your answer is “collator,” I wrote this post for you!

Annual reports have a reputation for being boring – boring to produce and boring to read. But if you’re producing your nonprofit’s annual report by collating departmental “annual report updates,” I’m sorry to say that you are part of the problem!

I generally prefer to write posts about how to do something, vs what not to do, but I have strong feelings about this topic. I believe that “calls for annual report content” will serve neither you nor your desire to produce a quality product.

6 reasons you should NOT ask for 'annual report updates' #nonprofit #communications Click To Tweet

Here are six reasons you shouldn’t be asking for “annual report updates” from your peers

1. It’s make-work. The information is usually already available.

You don’t need your colleagues’ writing; you need their information. And this information is usually available elsewhere, such as in board reports, senior management reports, funder reports, presentations to stakeholders, internal memos and presentations, press releases…the list goes on. So ask colleagues for this existing  material and use it as background information to inform your writing.

2. The people you need to ask don’t like writing – or aren’t good at it.

Many people are nervous about, uncomfortable with, or simply don’t like writing. Shocking, I know! And guess what? If you ask finance people to write content for your annual report… You’ll have content written by finance people in your annual report. No offense to finance people, because this leads to my next point.

3. It’s your job to create the content!

If you’re responsible for writing your annual report, then write the annual report (or assign, manage or outsource the writing).

I’ve previously shared ways you can benefit from the annual report production process. But to benefit from the process, you have to embrace it. Yes, you can turn annual report production into a fun, creative exercise but that’s not going to happen with a cut and paste job. Think about it; how can you possibly translate those updates into your vision of a more succinct, innovative and surprising annual report format?

4. You’ll give yourself a grisly editing job.

That might be a bit dramatic, but I see myself as a writer vs. an editor. Because of this, I simply do not relish the “edit several distinct chunks of writing into one voice” assignment. This applies ten times over when it comes to the type of content you’ll get in response to your request for “annual report updates.”

I can think of few things I’d enjoy less. What about you? And it could be worse…

5. You’ll feel obligated to use their writing.

Depending on who you ask for updates, you might not even feel comfortable editing the writing you’ve received.

Is your manager, C-suite executive or VP ready for you to smooth out his or her words? Do you already have this type of relationship in place? If not, you could find yourself stuck using content that isn’t the right quality or doesn’t work with the writing style of the other updates you’ve received.

Side note: ask me about the time when one executive barked, “Just use it!” at me about a piece of annual report content that was factually incorrect. I moved on to self-employment not long after that. 😉

6. You’ll feel obligated to use their updates.

In addition to less-than-optimal writing, the information itself might not be right for inclusion in your report. But by asking for it – and asking people to put time and effort into writing it – you could be setting the expectation that their content will be included.

Be mindful that not every department or function is likely to having something significant to report every year. Don’t set yourself up for letting people down when you have to reject their submission. And be extra cautious about your requests if you aren’t in a position to approve or reject submissions.

Skip the calls for 'annual report updates.' Focus on research and writing instead. #NPMC Click To Tweet

What should you do to source annual report content instead?

  • Let people know (a simple email?) that annual report time is coming up and you’re entering the research/data collection phase.
  • Conduct one-on-one annual report interviews with a few key people. Use these interviews to help you develop an annual report theme and narrow in on which updates to include.
  • Create an annual report structure and outline, making decisions and suggestions about what you’ll include in the report this year.
  • Submit the theme and outline as necessary for review, revisions, and approval.
  • Ask for existing documents that contains the information you need (see above). This step might come earlier depending on what you already have/know – and could be repeated if you discover that you need additional background information.

Of course, this approach means that you have more planning, research, review and decision making, but this all feeds into a more creative, strategic document of which you can be proud.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with my position on calls for “annual report updates”? Add your thoughts in the comments section below.

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