The days of glossy annual reports that require half of your nonprofit marketing budget are long gone. Say goodbye to long text-heavy articles, adios to hours licking envelopes with volunteers, and au revoir to bulk postage accounts that only accept cheques.These days, the annual report has gone digital and more and more nonprofits are taking to the Web to create all digital editions of their yearly reports. Say hello to audio, animation and video.

The Salvation Army discovered a few years ago that nobody opened about half the 28,800 printed annual reports it sent to its 7,000 field offices every year. So it decided to scrap the hard-copy version, moving to an all-digital one in 2009.

The charity now produces a paperless annual report, including video features on its programs nationwide, an interactive financial and statistical section, and a video message from the group’s leader. Recently profiled by Maureen West in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, the videos are said to do triple duty: They are also used in television spots and community presentations. Here in Canada, The Leprosy Mission Canada (TLMC) has also found success using digital annual reports and a video direct mail package, as well as a dedicated You Tube channel.

Sound like something your nonprofit wants to explore? Consider making the transition to digital today. Here are a few suggestions for getting started …

Consider your audience.Before getting rid of hard-copy annual reports, make sure the digital medium works with your target audience and goals. Go as far as conducting surveys to see how your donors, board members and program participants would like to receive your organization’s report. Encourage survey participation by offering free gifts like logo’d duffels or cozy branded blankets.

Consider the tools. There are plenty of tools and technologies that exist today that position nonprofits of any size or budget to offer a digital alternative to a print annual report that don’t require a degree in Web design or development.

For example, Treesaver is a new open source Web platform for publishing that uses the new HTML5 standard to create narrative experiences—with text, pictures and video. Treesaver divides content into pages, automatically adjusting to the size of any screen. The same design and the same code work on PCs, Macs and Linux desktop computers or Apple®, AndroidSM, and Blackberry® smart phones and tablets like iPad® or Samsung Galaxy TabTM. While many organizations are running to develop iPhone® and Android apps, with a Treesaver dynamic publication, you skip the hassle and cost of making separate apps for every target device.

Another example is dynamic and easy to use presentation platforms. For its first online annual report last year, VolunteerMatch, in San Francisco, used PreziSM, a Web platform similar to PowerPoint. The program cost the organization $60 and saved $17,000 in postage, envelopes and printing, says Robert Rosenthal, director of communications for the group, which helps charities recruit volunteers across the U.S.

Be sure you have the skills. To churn out digital content, your internal team will still need knowledge of desktop publishing and have an eye for design. Their knowledge of technology may vary, though, based on the medium your organization chooses. Mailed discs, splash pages, Web-based interactive presentations, video—your digital options are endless. If your internal team just can’t cut it, seek out help from the experts at marketing and public relations firms in your area.

Keep videos short and avoid unnecessary features.Online videos work best and are most shareable when they are short (no more than 3-5 minutes, tops) and compelling. Avoid adding distracting touches to videos like sound effects, dramatic fades, flashy supers and more. Keep it simple. The same goes for other digital documents, too.

Plan a distribution strategy. Getting the right people to see your nonprofit’s online report is the next challenge; at least a mailed report often ends up in the hands of the right people, even if they don’t read it. Some nonprofits have gotten around this obstacle by continuing to mail or e-mail alerts to their list of donors and supporters alerting them to where they can find the annual report. If your organization chooses to release annual report videos via a YouTubeSM channel or content through splash pages or pages that will have permanent URLs, consider purchasing marketing materials in bulk with this address printed on them to save costs without losing buzz. Items like pens, USB drives, stress relievers or even sticky notes that can be attached to an appeal letter are all great options.

The bottom line here is to think outside the mailbox. Cut costs and improve engagement by exploring digital alternatives to the standard print annual report.

West, Maureen. “How to Move From Paper to Digital Annual Reports – Marketing and Communications – The Chronicle of Philanthropy- Connecting the Nonprofit World with News, Jobs, and Ideas.” Home – The Chronicle of Philanthropy- Connecting the Nonprofit World with News, Jobs, and Ideas. 20 Feb. 2011. Web. 01 Apr. 2011.

Kanter, Beth. “A Better Way to Produce Nonprofit Annual Reports | Beth’s Blog.” Beth Kanter’s Blog. Web. 01 Apr. 2011.

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