Is It Time to Say Goodbye to Print-Based Annual Reports?

Image of reports

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 propelled a worldwide effort to virtualize operations at breakneck speeds. We learned, almost overnight, how to set up zoom-based weddings, telemeet our doctor and become homeschoolers. There is much more we can seamlessly do in efficient, environmentally-friendly ways. Now let’s ask: what efficiencies will we retain once we don’t “have to” because of the pandemic?

One area we’ve seen significant benefit – even before the pandemic – is in nudging clients from print-based annual reports, to online versions. Swanky, well-designed booklets printed on high-end paper handed to donors was an industry standard few questioned. It was a paper-based tradition that outlasted many other paper-centric practices that died a natural, digital death. It simply feels good to hold that report in your hand. No question. 

When we asked clients to consider moving from print to web-based annual reports, we heard concerns like this:

“Yeah, we know we could make our annual report online but our donors like seeing it in print. They expect to get something in the mail.”

“Older donors are uncomfortable with technology and will give less or not at all if they don’t think their money is being used well.”

“Our annual reports are a way of acknowledging our donors.”

Were these valid concerns or merely assumptions? We knew print-based annual reports are rarely read or get a second glance after being opened. Many are discarded at the very dinner they were distributed, only minutes after being perused, but do they still “pay for themselves” nevertheless? 

We always want to do well by our clients and act in their best interests, but it was hard to know if this would have a negative or positive effect until we tried. When faced with this choice with UVA’s School of Education & Human Development, we considered a hybrid solution: a small run of printed annual reports + web-based version. They only had time to pick one option and they chose a web-based annual report. Would this affect their bottom line? Would they lose the paper-loving crowd? Would their presentation be less compelling without the impact of paper? 

We followed up with UVA a year later to learn the results of our experiment. Were there complaints or backlash from going digital? To our delight, the response from board members and major donors was almost exclusively positive. No pitchforks, no rotten tomatoes. Yes cost-savings and wider reach and distribution of the report.

Our experience and data with UVA gave us the confidence to guide clients in the direction of digital reports. We have produced a number of stunning digital reports for various clients like CFA Institute and UVA’s School of Education & Human Development.

If you have a hard time selling the idea of print-based annual reports within your organization, here’s a cheat sheet of what makes them great:

If you are hesitant to move to a digital platform for your annual report, we get it. With the pandemic stretching into 2021 and a widespread change of attitudes in acceptance of digital formats over in-person ones, this year is a great year to make the shift to an online report without much pushback from paper evangelists. Change can be hard, but not changing can be harder – on your business, your time, and your bottom line.