Best Practices (Tech and Otherwise) for Annual Reports

By Brenda Bethman

Disclaimer: I SWEAR that the primary reason for this post is NOT shameless self-promotion, although I do admit that that might be a strong secondary reason (besides you have to admit that our video annual report does really rock). In fact, it is so great that I am going to embed it here instead of burying it at the end. If you want to know how you, too, can create an awesome annual report (whether print or video), read on after the video.

It’s June in higher ed which means the students are gone (or back from summer school), orientation is in full swing (or about to me), vacations are (hopefully) happening — and it is very likely that you are working on an annual report of your office’s activities in academic year 2011-12. Here at the UMKC Women’s Center, we just finished our annual report so I wanted to share some tips for best practices for annual reports while it’s fresh in my mind.

All year round. First, remember that working on your annual report actually begins NOW (or whenever your new fiscal / reporting year starts). We use Excel spreadsheets, updated weekly, to track all of our numbers. It is soooooo much easier to pull those numbers out of a spreadsheet at the end of the year than it is to scramble to remember how many people came to your ice cream social in August. Similarly, if it gets to be May or June and you find yourself without high-quality photos or video to use for your report, you will be in trouble — make sure that you are taking photos and/or shooting video at every event during the year. And don’t think you can take too much — the more stuff you have to choose from at report time, the better.

Track everything. And I mean everything — in our weekly reports that get fed into the spreadsheet, we track not only the events we held and how many folks attended, but also number of visitors, phone calls, emails, advocacy hours, volunteer hours, blog/website hits, Facebook fans, Twitter followers, YouTube views, etc. You name it, we track it. Everyone is competing for fewer resources — the more data you have to back up your claim of having a broad impact, the more credible your request for resources is.

Align with the bigger mission. A couple of years ago, we changed up the format of our annual report so that all programs and events are aligned with the goals of the University’s and Division’s strategic plans. Doing so helps the higher administration understand where the Women’s Center fits in the big picture and how what we do ultimately supports UMKC’s mission and goals. That’s what you want them to remember.

Invest in the equipment. Annual reports can be simple Word documents or high-gloss publications produced with quality publishing software or even a video (more on that below). If you decide to go the fancy route, be sure you have the equipment (hardware and software) you need. At a minimum, that means a camera capable of taking high-res, print quality photos, a video camera (if you want to do a video), and publishing software. Do NOT, I repeat do NOT, think you can get away with a Publisher template. It will be ugly and we will know and mock you. Seriously. A plain text report is better than something ugly from Publisher. (And yes, I know I’m getting judge-y there, so sue me. I care deeply about design).

Acknowledge and share. Do you have collaborators, donors, volunteers, other partners? The annual report is the place to acknowledge them — and then let them know. Everyone loves to see their name in print (believe me, I know — we’ve had phone calls from folks we inadvertently left out), so if you’ve included them, send them a copy. They’ll thank you. More importantly, they’ll remember you and think fondly of you, which means they might just work with you again when you need them.

Consider a video. If you have the time and resources, consider making a video of your annual report. We started this a couple of years ago and it’s been a huge hit because people just love video. It also allows for greater distribution — we can’t afford to print endless copies of the print version of the report. And while we can, and do, send out a link to a PDF, a lot of people might not bother to open and read the file. Many of them will take 4 minutes to watch a video, though. It’s also handy for class presentations and at orientation. Instead of standing in front of a group talking, I show them the video — it’s much more effective at capturing their attention. It also comes in handy for those family members who ask “What is it exactly that you do, anyway?” Just show them the video! For more tips on how to make a video, see my earlier post.

Those are my tips for creating a fabulous annual report. If you have more to share, please leave them in the comments. And happy reporting!

Best Practices (Tech and Otherwise) for Annual Reports