How to Prepare for Your Digital Annual Report

In our follow-up to our article on “The Benefits of the Digital Annual Report”, we provide detailed information on the steps and thought processes needed to efficiently move your Annual Report into the digital realm, and how to use your report as a marketing asset.
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Putting together an effective Digital Annual Report requires a significant amount of time and effort, arguably on par with a printed report. For people shifting from print to digital, this article serves as a guide to wrapping your head around the steps you need to take, the order in which to take them, exploring what kinds of assets and content to create, and strategic considerations for integrating your Digital Annual Report into your overall marketing efforts—before, during, and after the launch of your report.

We’ll look at the three phases of producing reports—Pre-production, Production, and Post Production—and discuss elements to consider when taking your Annual Report digital.

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There’s a saying in the film industry, “Pre-production is everything.” This also applies to producing your Digital Annual Report. Due to this truism, the bulk of this article will consist of an in-depth look into this important phase of production.

Start By Assigning a Point Person

It’s critical to place a single person in charge of shepherding the project through to completion. This person needs to be empowered to make decisions, assign tasks, and hold people accountable for delivering the content needed to complete the report.

Depending on the size of your team, this person may generate much of the content, or simply manage the project, assign content creation, and follow up on content requests. This person should be part of, or work closely with, your marketing team.

Assemble Your Team

As T.A. Webb put it, “A burden shared is a burden halved.” Identify what type of content you’ll need, and then delegate. Types of content could include: written copy, photos, videos, quotes, and more. Figure out what content you have, and what needs to be created.

Next, determine who on your team is best positioned to create and/or gather specific pieces of content for your report. Often project managers have the most well-rounded perspective on their project. Assign them the task of writing a summary of the project that showcases achievements.

Regardless of the size of your team, make sure that everyone has enough bandwidth to produce content and that there are very clear and realistic timelines and expectations. Set up a schedule at the beginning of the project so that every content creator has a clear idea when their deliverables are due. We recommend that you set up weekly meetings to review progress and catch anything that goes off the rails or falls through the cracks.

Find an Agency

Unless you have the in-house resources to produce a Digital Annual Report, you should start looking for an agency to partner with six to eight months prior to your launch date. Depending on its complexity, it takes us eight to fifteen weeks to design and deliver a report. You will need a few months prior to engaging an agency to research, interview, and choose one that works best for you. This is an involved process, but our article, How to Select the Right Design Agency, can set you on the right path.

If you’re creating a Digital Annual Report for the first time, be sure to discuss with prospective agencies the idea of using a format that can be reused in future years. As we mentioned in our article on the benefits of a digital report, this allows you to get long-term value out of creating the report.

Also, be sure to consult with the agency (or your internal team) that’s creating the report on setting a realistic launch date. Build a timeline of each step of the process that includes each phase of the project. Don’t forget to build a QA and content entry period into your schedule.

Set a Launch Date

Set this as an inflexible date so that everyone involved knows that the date is set in stone and all aspects of production must be completed on time. The release date needs to be firm because you are going to create a marketing campaign around the release of your report and you can’t let dates slip once you have the marketing effort in motion.

Backfill from your launch date to determine when to kickoff the project. For example, if you decide on a February launch date, know that you want to engage the design team, or agency, sixteen weeks prior, keeping in mind closures during the holidays season in the US. That means you should start looking for an agency in July or August, and kickoff the project in mid-October.

Determine Your Goals

What’s the purpose of your report? We view annual reports as marketing pieces that should be included in your annual marketing/outreach plan. Use yours to fundraise, educate, and increase engagement throughout the year.

Determine who comprises your audience. It should be more than just the people on your email list. An annual report is a chance to reach out to journalists and let them know about your accomplishments, and provide them with information about your organization that goes beyond your website.

For social enterprises, the annual report might fulfill a legal or board requirement. Make sure you check the box early in the process on this important element and include all of the content that’s required.

Opportunity for Transparency

Your Annual Report can be a vehicle to deliver detailed information about your finances, future plans, or other inside details. You need to determine the level of transparency that you wish to convey, so that you can gather the information you decide to share.

Constantly Collect Assets

This idea should be infused throughout your organization. If you’re not already doing this you should start immediately. Encourage, empower, and enable people to take pictures, shoot video, and gather testimonials as part of their normal activities, all year long. Front line people interact directly with your beneficiaries. They are in the best position to tell their stories and share your organization’s victories.

Invest in the tools you need to produce high-quality photo and video assets and teach people how to use them.

You must collect and organize these assets as they’re produced. It can be difficult or impossible to capture a situation once it has past. More importantly, if you build your asset library as you go, there’s no need to scramble at the end of the year to collect it all. Our biggest piece of advice here is to organize all of your assets as you go—create an intuitive folder structure, name files properly, train people on how to use the system, etc. It’s very easy to simply dump a large amount of files somewhere and think you’ll come back later to organize it. More than likely, that won’t actually happen, which will make the gathering and finding effort at the end of the year much more difficult.

Develop a Content Strategy

Determine if your stories are going to be a review of accomplishments, company updates, programs, more forward-looking goals, or a combination of all four. Revisit your overall project goals to make sure that your content is serving those goals. Going through this process will help focus your copywriting efforts and give your content creators a perspective from which to tell the stories you are highlighting.

Be sure to include opportunities to cross-promote content on your website. If you wrote a blog post on your main site about one of your programs, find a way to reference it in your report. This can lead to an increase in visits to your main site and help your SEO ranking.

Determine in advance how you plan to honor donors, investors, partners, and volunteers. If you need bios or photos of these groups or individuals, schedule those as early in the process as possible.

Schedule Video Production

Creating video content is a collaborative effort that takes time to plan, produce and complete. Decide early if video is going to be included in your content strategy and get the ball rolling on the production of these assets.

Formulate a Marketing Plan

The release of your Annual Report is a big deal. The lead-up to publication should be accompanied by a marketing push. Early in the process, determine the extent of your PR strategy. The release of the report allows you to authentically promote your accomplishments. It’s a chance to tell your donors that the funds they entrusted to you have been well-spent and have helped to achieve tangible results. It’s an opportunity to convert those successes into ongoing and new donations.

As a digital product, the importance of leveraging social media to promote your report can’t be underestimated. Just like any marketing effort, start getting people interested a few weeks prior to the release of the report. There’s nothing like a sense of anticipation to draw interest to your efforts.

We can’t emphasize enough the importance of treating a Digital Annual Report as a marketing opportunity. Be sure to get the most out of your investment.

Decide on Print Options

In our article, The Benefits of the Annual Report, we discuss several options for offering a print version of your report. While the print version is losing favor, some stakeholders still appreciate an analog report. Regardless of what format you decide—a simplified report that drives people to the site, a downloadable PDF, or a full-scale Print on Demand option—the preparation of the print version is a project unto itself. Discuss this with your marketing team early in the process and determine how to allocate resources to this element.


Once you’ve engaged an agency and dive into production, you need to be sure that project is completed in a timely manner. Schedule out every element of the project so that everyone working on it has a clear understanding of when each component must be completed. In short, create a realistic plan and stick to it.

Allocate Sufficient Time

Be sure that your point person has time in their schedule to consolidate all of the elements of the report and drive it to publication. This shouldn’t be a side project, but rather their primary focus. As we mentioned above, the production can take eight to fifteen weeks. Be sure that everyone involved in the project is available during that time.

Any and all stakeholders must be advised of the launch date and provide feedback in a timely manner that allows for changes, fixes, or edits.

Lastly, be sure that any content creators have time carved out of their schedule to finalize their copy, proofread, and review final layouts.

Activate the Analytics

Prior to the release of your report, make sure that you have the site analytics hooked up. Having data to learn about the performance of your marketing efforts gives you information to improve year after year. Analytics is one of the biggest benefits to having a Digital Annual Report. Be sure to check the data over time as you use the report in other marketing campaigns.

Post Production

Follow-up should be baked into your marketing plan. The release of your report is just one step in promoting it. Check in with your constituency. Talk to your major donors and gauge their reaction. See what works and what didn’t work so that you can either iterate right away, or implement the changes in the next year’s report.

Remain Engaged

Keep the conversation going on social media. Use the stories in your report as talking points to connect with people in your channels. Be sure to answer any questions,ask for feedback, and respond gracefully to people who give you constructive (or not so constructive) criticism.

Market Any Updates

We suggest that you schedule updates to the report, making it more of a living experience than a digital version of the static printed report. Depending on how active you are, you could update the report every three to six months or even monthly. Remember to promote these updates as a component of your marketing strategy.

Looking Forward

You deserve to take a break after you publish your report, but don’t get too complacent. Your projects are still running and the success stories you want to tell in your next Digital Annual Report are happening now. Keep the content creation ball rolling, check your analytics, adjust your strategy, and start making plans to produce an even better report next year.


Ready to go digital for your next annual report? Get in touch with us to learn how we can help you produce a report that’s a valuable component of your marketing strategy.

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