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How To Use Your Annual Report For Board Engagement

As most nonprofits know, having an active, engaged board is essential to the success of any organization. Engagement—no matter how small—can help board members feel more connected to the mission and goals of the organization. And, it can reinforce the importance of their roles and the necessity of their involvement, encouraging them to fulfill their duties and continue to donate and advocate on behalf of the organization. So while identifying and onboarding new board members can be a task within itself, it’s equally important to find new and exciting ways to engage them in the organization once they’re a part of it. 

One of the best ways to engage your board is to diversify their opportunities for engagement.

However, for both new nonprofits and veterans in the field, creating new channels for engagement and involvement in the organization can be taxing. With so much going on—from day-to-day operations to long-term development and fundraising—these efforts can easily get lost in the shuffle.

That’s why encouraging your board to participate in the annual reporting process is often a perfect solution. Turning one of your yearly tasks into an opportunity for involvement is a win-win—you’ll have the chance to handle one of your organization’s projects with new, exciting efficiency, and your board members will have a fresh opportunity to fulfill their duties and feel more connected and informed than ever.

By breaking down the annual reporting process—from start to finish—into easy, actionable chunks, you’ll provide your board members with succinct, impactful ways of donating their time and efforts.

Involve Your Board From The Start

Creating an annual report can often be a burdensome task. The project requires weeks, if not months, of gathering and organizing information. Then, with all that information on hand, nonprofits need to invest in thoughtful planning and execution.

This annual report planning, though, lends itself to some creative, engaging ways to include your board in the process.

  • Ask them to contribute testimonials

One of the best ways to make a compelling annual report is to include quotes and testimonials from stakeholders. In the planning phase of the annual report, ask your board members to either submit written testimonials or even video or audio recorded testimonials. These quotes and snippets can include information about why a board member is connected to the mission, what their favorite event of the year was, or even why they’re excited for the future of the organization. Not only does this give your nonprofit some stellar content, but it also allows your board members to feel involved and connected in a meaningful way.

  • Ask them to participate in the initial brainstorming 

Because the annual report requires so much strategic planning, it’s important to conduct even a quick meeting to discuss the goals and execution of the actual report. When you include your board members in this discussion—inviting them to provide creative ideas for how to format the report, what to include within it, etc.—you reinforce their importance within your organization. And, because the annual report is designed with stakeholders in mind (they’re part of your audience!), it’s super helpful to have your board weigh in on what to include or exclude—they’ll act as initial beta readers.

  • Ask them to help identify the message 

A huge part of any successful annual report is the ability to convey a strong message about the organization. Survey your board and ask them how they would describe the organization—what does it stand for? What impact does it have? How is it unique from other, similar organizations?

The answers to these questions will help you begin outlining and crafting how the report will flow, what it will include, and how you’ll tell the story of your organization. Not only is this beneficial for engaging board members with the mission, but including them in the initial planning processes will give your nonprofit a unique opportunity to involve fresh pairs of eyes—ones that aren’t enmeshed in the day-to-day operations of the organization. Their ability to give you more of an objective glimpse of your business can be hugely helpful in making your annual report as compelling as possible.

Involve Your Board Once the Annual Report Is Published

Once all the hard work of planning and executing is done, and your annual report is live, it’s time to engage your board in a new way.

  • Ask them to share it online

Though this “ask” might seem easy (and it is, relatively speaking), having your board share your annual report is impactful for your organization. Because most board members have fairly sizable networks—reservoirs of potential fundraising, volunteerism, and donations—their ability to share the report will help your organization reach new audiences and improve reputability. 

From posting on LinkedIn, Twitter, or even Facebook, to sharing via email or text, there is a myriad of ways that your board can actively spread the word about your report. Plus, if you’ve included your donors in the actual report—adding in their testimonials, and photos, and thanking them for their ongoing support and role in your organization—they’ll already be primed to share! 

P.S. That’s why it’s important that your annual report is a digital, mobile-friendly package, so board members (and other stakeholders) don’t have to jump through hoops to engage with it online. 

  • Ask them to send it to prospective supporters or board members

A well-designed, comprehensive annual report is a dream marketing tool that can be used by virtually anyone in your organization. Like asking your board to share online, asking them to use your annual report as a recruitment tool can breed similar results.

By asking your board members to share the annual report with colleagues or specific individuals within their network—whether via a personalized direct message, email, phone call, or text—not only are you reinforcing their duty to be advocates for the mission, but you’re spreading the word about your nonprofit in one of the best ways possible. Everyone knows that personalized outreach can really move the needle—so, arm your board with the best sales pitch of all (your annual report) and ask them to reach out to a specified number of individuals. 

Involve Your Board Post-Publishing

Finally, once the annual report has been created and published, and you’re looking forward to next year’s reporting, it’s important to continue to engage your board with the material. 

  • Ask for their feedback

While this “ask” might seem simple, it’s really crucial. Ask your board members to jump on a 30–60-minute Zoom to discuss their feedback on the report. Or, create an online survey. Ask them questions like: Do they think it accurately conveyed the mission? Did it inspire action? Did it tell the story of the organization well?

Board members are intimately connected to the impact and success of your organization. By surveying them and asking for their constructive criticism, not only can your organization improve for the future, but your board will feel valued. 

  • Ask them to continue to use the annual report for marketing and outreach

By using user-friendly, digital-first platforms, your annual report can be sliced and diced into a million different, engaging pieces (in the best of ways!). If you require that your board post on social media once a month, ask them to share an image or section from the annual report that resonated with them. If you’re asking them to invite colleagues or connections to a fundraiser or gala, invite them to showcase last year’s event highlight from the annual report (well-designed and eye-catching). 

  • And finally, give thanks

Though this isn’t an “ask” of your board members, it’s an opportunity for you to show gratitude. While it’s standard to thank board members for their contributions every year, their involvement with the annual report provides a more unique opportunity for gratitude. Instead of a more general, “blanket” ‘thank you,’ you can recognize your board’s efforts in a more concrete and individual way. 

Giving thanks is a proven method for retention and connection-building—by involving your board in the annual report process, you give yourself the chance to get creative in your acknowledgment of their work and commitment. As I said, it’s a win-win!

Involving your board in the annual report process is mutually beneficial—your organization benefits, and so does your board. By offering bite-sized, easy ways to get involved and engage with your nonprofit on a foundational level—like including them in the annual report process—you’ll turn an often onerous, administrative task into an opportunity for engagement and connection.

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