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Don’t Let First Impressions Fool You

In the never ending quest to make annual reports — or certainly their content — get more notice, foundations have been experimenting with different approaches, often with a multimedia angle. At one extreme, some have scrapped print versions entirely and replaced them with online only reports that feature audios and video and some content to read online. Other foundation have been putting some pieces of their reports online and inviting web visitors to download others parts of the report to be read the old-fashioned way.  

An example of the kind of experimentation taking place across the field is the 2009 annual report of The German Marshall Fund of the United States. At first glance, the document, which has to be downloaded from the
foundation’s website as a pdf file, seems just like an electronic copy of a print report.

But wait, there’s more.Embedded throughout the report are callout boxes containing links that, when clicked, open up in separate windows containing videos, podcasts, and longer
pieces about the topics highlighted, referenced or covered in the report. For instance, one box contains a reprint of a foundation tweet: GMF Policy Brief: Why the Obama Administration Should Not Take Central and Eastern Europe for Granted 

Click the hyperlink and you get a larger description of the highlighted policy brief and and invitation to download it. Another callout links to a replay of a GMF and Duke University presentation on “Creating a Strong & Credible Global Carbon Market.”

According to William Bohlen, director of communications, GMF, before deciding on this approach, had talked “internally for ayear or two ago about ditching our annual report.” Out of concern that doing away with it completely and not having something staff could use with confidence “to introduce the organization,” the foundation has settled on sticking with its annual report, but finding ways to make it serve audiences better. Bohlen says the goal for this year’s report “was to make to make it shorter and snappier. ” He adds that by using design elements that incorporate “some of our Tweets and podcasts along the margins,” the foundation
hopes “to encourage print readers to migrate to our website and social media services, where they can find longer pieces.”

Also this year, as it did in 2008, GMF produced  companion audio annual report, which Bohlen says contains a compilation of highlights from GMF’s top podcasts and events in 2009.

What’s up for next year?  Bohlen’s not telling yet. But you can be sure when he’s ready, he’ll Tweet about it first, release it second.

–Bruce Trachtenberg


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