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We Asked. They Answered:
Do Annual Reports Still Matter?

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This week the Communications Network held a webinar that had been previously billed as a “no-holds” barred conversation about the value of annual reports to foundation communications. It definitely was a full-throated conversation, with a mix of views — both pro and con — and a variety of examples of different ways various foundations are continuing to produce annual reports. Some the same. Some in modified form. And some not at all. 

You can watch a replay of the full webinar here.

Some highlights worth noting:

–Over the past several years the number of foundations producing print versions of annual reports has been dropping.  Here are the responses from a “snap poll” conducted during that asked: Would your organization be willing to end production of printed annual reports?

Already Have:  31 %
Yes:   24%
No:   22%
It Depends:  22%

–There isn’t universal agreement among communications pros, especially those that work for community foundations, about annual reports.  Community foundations, in particular, feel annual reports are still important vehicles for communicating with donors about the work they’re helping advance and also as a marketing tool to attract additional support. Some private foundations also see value in having annual reports serve as to document a foundation’s history from year-to-year.

–While many still say it’s a struggle to initially convince their CEOs and boards to modify their approach to producing annual reports, it can be done.  Charity Perkins of The Duke Endowment had expected trustees on her board would have to turn over before the foundation would be open to the possibilty of doing things differently. But after broaching the idea, following a conversation about annual reports at a Fall 2008 Communications Network conference in Chicago, the foundation has since been producing a considerably downscaled print report and has created an online micro-site with embedded videos.

–Christine Maulhardt told about the Blue Shield of California Foundation’s experience with an all-online annual report. Maulhardt noted that people viewing the report showed great interest in an interactive map of the foundation’s grantmaking and activities.  On the other hand, few viewed its embedded videos.

One discussion, obviously, isn’t going to be a definitive one. But we hope by giving people on both sides — as well as those in the middle — a chance to speak their minds, the conversation will continue. That’s also why we set up WhyAnnualReports.org, as a place where people can share their additional thoughts, and show and tell how they’re addressing the question of whether or not — or how — to produce annual reports within their organizations.

It will be curious to see six months, or even a year from now, what people say the next someone asks, Do annual reports still matter?

–Bruce Trachtenberg

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