As we have switched our clocks this past weekend and approach the vernal equinox next weekend, many nonprofits are also preparing their annual reports for 2010. In the last couple of years numerous charities and fundraising groups have been moving their ARs online and into digital spaces. Though the flexibilities and advantages are many, the process of moving your organization’s reports to digital distribution can appear daunting at first glance. One important trade off to appreciate, though, is that though initial costs might not seem to produce much savings, a digital AR grows less expensive after a couple of iterations and it allows an ongoing conversation with your constituents well beyond the initial flip-through of a published report.
One of the biggest and best known charities to move its report The Chronicle of Philanthropy, “The Salvation Army discovered a few years ago that nobody opened about half the 28,800 printed annual reports it sent to its 7,000 field offices every year.” Those numbers represent a good deal of work hours, print costs, and paper that were entirely lost and/or thrown straight into a recycling bin (one hopes).is the Salvation Army. According to an article by Maureen West at
Since 2009 the report has been entirely digital, and after some notable initial expenses (working with designers and videographers for the online presence, updating email lists, preparing distribution schedules…) the organization saves close to $50,000 a year nowadays.
The investment in video production has proven especially useful: “The videos do triple duty: They are also used in television spots and community presentations. Four national TV spots the charity broadcast during the 2010 holiday season were first shot as clips for the online annual report.”
Of course the Salvation Army has resources that your organization might not have. Other organizations interviewed by Ms. West discussed how they are working toward an all-digital distribution, but are also keeping a traditional paper presence for now as they encourage their constituents to make the switch as well.
Morris Ardoin, director of external affairs at theat Columbia University, in New York, notes that his organization hasn’t ceased publication of its paper annual report, but it has scaled it back. It went from 20 pages in 2008 to 12 pages in 2010, and it published only 1,000 reports last year, compared with the 6,000 it used to produce annually. The budget for the printed version is now $2,900, compared with $6,700 in 2008.
His organization put those savings into three additional fund-raising mailings. While freeing up the money for additional appeals was important, he says, his real concern was that the center would have lost many of its donors if it hadn’t made the move to digital, because so many people today get their information online.
Ms. West concludes her timely article with some guidelines for consideration as you make the move, including: “Make sure it’s the right choice” – “Seek digital skills” (and do not let initial investment costs scare you away) – “Gather web and print experts” and “Avoid frivolous features.” [Many people find extraneous sound strikingly irritating when reading or watching digital content!]
It might be too late to produce a digital annual report this time, but it is certainly not too late to plan for the 2011 AR for the early months of 2012. Read the article at The Chronicle, inspire your colleagues to consider the move, and talk to your communications staff about laying the groundwork now.