Is there any library marketing task as daunting as the annual report? I don’t think so.

Neither does reader Carrie Weaver of Peters Township Public Library. She is the inspiration behind this post.

Carrie writes, “I am sure many other libraries are preparing their 2020 summaries for stakeholders, elected officials, and the folks in the communities they serve. Can you talk about what they should/should not be? What should be included? What is a good length? I want our annual report to be more than a bunch of stats – I want to tell the story of how our library served our community in this year like no other!

Confession: I created six annual reports during my time at the The Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library. And I found it to be the most difficult work I had to do every year.

Carrie was spot on. The annual report has an importance that no other piece of library marketing holds. And that’s especially true this year. It must convey the work you did, the value you provided, and the ways the pandemic affected your library.

And, as Carrie says, your annual report is more than an archive of your library’s work. It is a way to tell the story of your library.

Your annual report can show the connection between your library’s mission and strategy. It can clarify the impact your organization had on the community. And of course, your annual report can thank donors and volunteers, as well as inspire future donations and volunteers.

You are no longer locked into using a brochure or a longform magazine. Your library may decide to change format, the size, and the way you present that information to best serve your audience.

We’ll start with ten tips for putting together a highly effective annual report. Then, I’ve gathered examples of library annual reports, as well as annual reports from other non-profit organizations for inspiration!

Decide what your key message will be.

Your annual report should be more than a list of your work. It can tell a story. And you can use it to stir emotion.

Ask yourself: What do you want your readers to feel once they’re finished reading your annual report? Think about how you’ll construct a narrative and take your readers through the various pieces to an end point, the focus of your key message.

Think of this as a call to action for readers. How can they help your organization to make progress this year? The answer should be very clear to readers once they reach the end of your document.

Focus on your library’s accomplishments, not just activities.

The readers of your annual report want to know why your library did what it did in 2020. You’ll want to highlight how your library staff responded to the pandemic. Don’t just talk about how you pivoted to provide support to your community. Talk about why that pivot was so important.

Write about the impact your work had on your community. Connect the everyday activities of your library to your mission statement and your library’s overall strategy.

Create an outline to lay out what you want to cover and how you’ll cover it. 

Plan to mix elements, with some pages including text, photos, and data. This mix will keep your audience interested and will help them to comprehend and remember the story and data points in your annual report.

Also, make sure that the pages include room for photos, as well as plenty of white space.

Use infographics to convey data.

Infographics can explain complex ideas and information in a simple way that is accessible to many audiences.

Our brains are hard wired for visuals. An infographic can trigger a reaction in the human brain, sometimes even before the person consciously realizes and processes that reaction. For more tips about constructing an infographic, read this post.

Balance data with stories.

Stories can humanize the work of your library and make your annual report more compelling.  

Clearly show the change that resulted from your library’s work. Use a storytelling structure with a beginning, middle, and end to show what changed as a result of your library.

In addition to patron stories, you might also consider including stories about your senior staff and employees to showcase the value of the people who do your library’s work. 

Finally, share a story of one person rather than a group. Your readers will find it easier to connect to a single person than a group of people. For the most compelling story, use that person’s own words as much as you can by including quotes and first-person narratives.

Use your words to inform and inspire.

The text portions of your report must be in your library’s brand voice. You’ll want your words to feel authentic and intimate to appeal to the heart of your audience.

Try to avoid being professorial or aloof. You can excite, surprise, and delight readers of your annual report by writing in a conversational tone.  

In fact, your library may consider using a blog-like model for the text in your annual report. Streamline your text to highlight only the most interesting tidbits for your readers.

Let the story determine the length.

There is no right or wrong length for an annual report. The amount of space you need to accurately convey the story of your library’s journey through the past year is exactly the right length.

Of course, you may need to add or cut sections based on factors outside of the story. For instance, if you use a vendor to print copies of your report, you may be bound to fill or fit a certain number of pages. But in general, let the story of your library be the guide when determining the length of your report.

Convey a sense of gratitude throughout the document.

An attitude of gratitude should permeate the entire report. Be sure to emphasize how important taxpayer and donor support is to your success. Saying “thank you” creates a personal connection to your supporters that can boost engagement for future fundraising campaigns, as well as loyalty to your library.

If you highlight a specific initiative or program, you can conclude the text with a line like: This was made possible with the support of taxpayers, corporate partners, foundation, friends, and individual supporters.

Proofread like your life depends on it.

Your annual report should be professional, polished, and proof-read. Recruit at least three staff members outside of your department to read the proof before it goes to the printer.

And double check the names of donors. Donors will feel slighted if their name is misspelled or if their donation is not acknowledged in the annual report.

Repurpose your annual report for additional marketing content.

You can extend the value of all the hard work you’ve put into your annual report by using the pieces for marketing.

Put the full report on your website for public transparency. Write a blog post version of the report and link to the full document.

Add a line to your emails and newsletters to prompt the community to read the report. And separate out the sections to create condensed social media posts for further reach.

Library annual reports for inspiration

San Mateo County Libraries 2019-2020 Annual Report

Mid-Continent Public Library 2019-2020 Annual Report

Cuyahoga County Public Library 2019 Annual Report

Spokane Public Library’s 2019 Annual Report

New York Public Library’s 2019 Annual Report

Other annual reports for inspiration

EveryLibrary’s 2019 Annual Report

Feeding America’s 2019 Annual Report

Equal Justice Initiative 2018 Annual Report

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