January 13, 2012

Should nonprofits use video for their annual reports?

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Target audience: Nonprofits, foundations, social enterprises, cause organizations, NGOs, businesses.

Debra AskanaseThere are three things I know about the nonprofit annual report: It takes a ton of time to put together beautifully, few people actually read it, but funders require it. The annual report is one of those pieces of communication and collateral that executive directors and development directors dread putting together because it is such a costly endeavor with relatively little return and short shelf life. It doesn’t have to be that way in the age of social. We’ve socialized constituent communication, websites, fundraising and events. Why not rethink the annual report into a social communication?

Video is a natural medium for storytelling, and that’s what the annual report should be.

Several nonprofit organizations have done just that, transforming the paper annual report into a video report, and reinvigorating it in the process. Video is a natural medium for storytelling, and that’s what the annual report should be.

There are some significant benefits to a video report: lasting content on the Web, video footage for reuse and changing a report into a discussion. Here are four organizations that have done just that. I was lucky enough to correspond with Nathan Hand of School on Wheels and Derek Weidl of THEMUSEUM, who offer editorial comments about their organizations’ video reports as well.

THE MUSEUM

1THEMUSEUM’s Report to the Community (See video at top.)

THEMUSEUM, a children’s “unmuseum” in Kitchener, Ontario, has a mission “to scan the globe for fresh cultural content and use it to stage experiences that stimulate transformative connections for our audiences.” As such, it isn’t surprising that they created a video annual report that expresses the creativity of what happened at the museum in 2011. It’s a lot of fun to watch, too.

Beth Kanter posted THEMUSEUM’s video annual report to her Google Plus stream, and quite a conversation ensued. Beth commented that the video seemed a bit long, with a lot of insider information. Derek Weidl, the video creator, agreed that “scope creep” played a role in length. One solution might be two versions of the report: a shorter video for external use and longer video for internal use with more insider jokes and  insider news.

“(The video) inspired some donations that we weren’t expecting.”
— Derek Weidl

Derek Weidl adds that the video has succeeded in a number of ways: “It inspired some donations that we weren’t expecting. It provided a great engagement point online (especially twitter) where people relived some of the great moments and events we’ve had over the past year. It’s been already used in some important meetings with potential sponsors/partners to great effect as it really captures what we’re all about. Also, an underrated part has been the reaction by staff members. Since it involves every staff member, it has reinforced their love of our organization. After we first screened it at our AGM, the staff insisted upon multiple viewings – we all watched it 5 times without a break (not kidding)!

The Sunlight Foundation

2Sunlight 2010: The Year in Review

The Sunlight Foundation offers a snappy mix of text, images from the year’s work, and video footage from its political advocacy work. It conveys achievements and highlights in 2:24, provides a lot of information in a short amount of time and keeps your attention.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository

3It Starts With Food: 2010-2011 Annual Report

The Greater Chicago Food Depository’s executive director gives the voiceover highlighting the successes of the past year. The video is embedded within the website and accompanied by a fundraising appeal, short blog post, sample tweet and a thank you.

I really like how they package the video within their own Web page, and explain the report to donors. The Web page announces, “This year, the Greater Chicago Food Depository has taken its Annual Report online, providing our donors, volunteers, partners and supporters a glimpse of the day-to-day work your support makes possible. The 2010-2011 Annual Report’s online format saves paper and the cost of printing the report, while offering visitors an opportunity to experience the Food Depository’s work in a new way. ”

School on Wheels

4School on Wheels 2010 Annual Report

Here’s a combination of the traditional annual report (the executive director’s note, the CFO’s report), footage of programs and stakeholder testimony. It’s a bit long at six minutes, but certainly more engaging than a written report. A list of donors runs through the last three minutes of the video.

Nathan Hand, VP of Development and Marketing for School on Wheels, reports that the organization reverted back to a PDF report for 2011. When I asked why, he wrote: “The work was donated last year. We had a lot of supporters who didn’t/wouldn’t go online to see it but wanted to see their name in print. Orgs spend tons of time/$ on them and they have the shortest life ever – people skim the pretty pictures, look for their name and toss it. We designed (this year’s PDF report) internally, didn’t spend a ton of time poring over details, mailed it out and then posted it online.”

Nathan adds “there are tons of other benefits to the video version but for us, the cost/time factor won out. Plus, we just had a great video done (donated again) for a big event which basically served the same purpose. We now have a ton of great digital b-roll of our kids that we’ve already used in videos we’ve created since then.”

Two takeaways from the School on Wheels experience: budget for the video report or find a talented videographer, and know how your donors want to be thanked.

Ideas for further socializing the annual video report

  • Ask volunteers/members/constituents/stakeholders to submit video content for the annual report
  • Crowdsourced ideas for what should be featured in the report
  • Run a contest around sharing the report to the most people and places
  • Include a question during the video report that you’d like viewers to respond to in the comments
  • Ask for video responses to the report
  • Run a contest for fans to create their own annual report of what they think the organization has done best over the past year

Debra Askanase works with nonprofits and businesses to create engagement strategies that move people to action. She is a social media strategist and partner in Socialbrite. Visit her profile page, see her Community Organizer 2.0 blog, follow her on Twitter, contact Debra by email or leave a comment.

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  • http://ashshepherd.com Ash Shepherd

    On behalf of all visual learners let me say thank you! You sum it up perfectly in the first few lines. Not only does this approach make the annual report more engaging but it gives you a pieces of storytelling that you can get far more mileage out of. It also reminds us of what working in the nonprofit sector is all about, people and doing things.

    Such a fantastic way to match data with story telling in a format people will actually consume.

    • http://www.communityorganizer20.com/ Debra Askanase

      Thanks so much Ash for your kind comment!

  • http://www.socialmedia.biz/ JD Lasica

    I second what Ash says. And for some nonprofits, perhaps a video *plus* a PDF report might be a good solution.

    • http://www.communityorganizer20.com/ Debra Askanase

      JD – totally agree. I’ve heard comments that one cannot do without thanking the funders in print, so that’s a great solution of how to to recognize them while also telling the nonprofit’s annual story.

    • http://www.communityorganizer20.com/ Debra Askanase

      JD – totally agree. I’ve heard comments that one cannot do without thanking the funders in print, so that’s a great solution of how to to recognize them while also telling the nonprofit’s annual story.

    • http://www.facebook.com/annie.escobar Annie Escobar

      A great example is the online annual report we (ListenIn Pictures) did with TEAM Schools, a branch of KIPP schools. We created 6 video stories for them, CauseVox helped create a web-based fundraising platform for them and they also had a PDF version. In a month we were able to raise $18,000 for teacher’s projects. Check it out here: http://www.teamschools.org/about/annual-report-2011/#sixquestions

  • http://twitter.com/RobertNCroft Robert N. Croft,CFRE

    I’m with JD…why not do both…create a briefer printed annual report that contains directions to view video and an annual report webpage, perhaps via QR code, etc. You might even consider sending only a postcard as a means to lead donors to the online video/annual report. The both approach could be a means to bridge the digital gap among generations.

    • http://www.communityorganizer20.com/ Debra Askanase

      The postcard idea is a good one, Robert, to view both a webpage and a video. I believe that the videos that list the donors at the end of the video lose something in the power of the story, so a PDF or a special webpage with all those donors listed and some key stats is a good accompaniment to the video.

  • Karen Luttrell

    You can use your organization’s blog to post an annual report with video components, infographics, and links to pdfs of financial statements. The blog format also gives you the ability to ask people for comments. For example, while reporting on program outcomes, you might be able to ask people who have used the programs over the last year to comment on their experience. While listing board members and volunteers, you can ask some to comment on why they support the organization. In short, if you use your blog you have a built-in platform to engage your people in telling the organization’s story in their own words.

    • http://www.communityorganizer20.com/ Debra Askanase

      Karen, great ideas!

  • Karen Luttrell

    You can use your organization’s blog to post an annual report with video components, infographics, and links to pdfs of financial statements. The blog format also gives you the ability to ask people for comments. For example, while reporting on program outcomes, you might be able to ask people who have used the programs over the last year to comment on their experience. While listing board members and volunteers, you can ask some to comment on why they support the organization. In short, if you use your blog you have a built-in platform to engage your people in telling the organization’s story in their own words.

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