Annual Report Success Strategies

YWCA Annual Report Success Strategies

Here’s an exclusive interview with YWCA Cincinnati annual report creator Nancy Spivey.

Their annual report (combined with their appeal letter) made them over goal, which was over $449,000! How did they do it? What made it so successful? What did their donors say?

Here’s the answer!

Mazarine Treyz: So I was looking at your annual report and just loving it.

Nancy Spivey: Oh, thank you.

MT: You’re welcome. Did you make this?

NS: We actually work with a graphic design firm, a female-owned graphic design firm who we love. They do a lot of work with us. So we kind of sit down and strategize on themes and concepts and design, and then they come back and they give us three options and we kind of look and maneuver and decide between three or a combination of the three. So it’s really kind of a team effort. It’s great. We love it.

YWCA Living Our Mission Cover

Living Our Mission YWCA Annual Report Cover

MT: Wow. That’s just so beautiful. I was just looking at the person on the cover here, the person’s face, and it’s just like oh my gosh. Like it just really – it seems like the person’s expression captures what you do in a way. It just looks empowered.


NS: Sure. With that particular annual report, it’s just we used our clients. It’s very real. We used real quotes. To me it tells a story about who we are, you know. Because many of our donors know us as one thing or another. But they don’t know the breadth of what we do and we really wanted to try to get that message across, and also, you know, to me the report is concise. It’s not – you know, I’ve seen annual reports go on and on and on. So having the ability to have some real numbers in there, real quotes from people, to be able to tell our story but also to be able to entice donor base, entice people to create awareness, to advocate for the work that we do. I think the piece kind of serves a variety of purposes.


MT: Yeah, and that’s actually one of the questions I was going to ask you. What was the primary purpose of this report for you?


NS: Well, I think, you know, for us our annual report is our – you know, it’s our history. Our organization was founded in 1968. So we’ve been around a very long time, and so by having multiple years of having annual reports, you see over time what we’ve been able to produce. It’s our history lesson for the year, basically.


MT: And did you have a secondary goal with this, or is it just mainly the history lesson?


NS: I think more than anything it’s to tell our story. It’s to tell our story to our current donor base and to thank them for their contributions that they’ve given to us, and that has enabled us to do our work. But it’s also part of a marketing tool for us to use when we’re out in the field.

MT: Did you ever put a remit envelope in with this or not?


NS: We did not, and you know, we do a variety of mailings throughout the years. My understanding is they used to put a remit envelope in it in the past, and the return was so miniscule. And really to me, the annual report is like a culmination of the year. So we chose not to put the remit envelope in there in the past. I’d love to know, you know, if others have found it to be successful. Because we do our annual campaign right after, and so we kind of use that as a separate marketing opportunity but we carry the theme through. But we choose to do two separate mailings.

MT: So you update donors with this and then you hit them with the appeal.


NS: Right. We follow up with the appeal, and the appeal, we have co-chairs that really help create the language and help, you know, basically put their name on it so it’s much more personalized. It’s a system that we create. We hope they read the annual report and they find it, like, oh yes, I’m so happy that I’ve been giving or I’m so happy to give to this cause I haven’t given to before, and then we follow up with the appeal.


MT: So does the appeal tie into the annual report? Or is it really like a separate thing?


NS: It does. The theme is carried. So again, the theme is introduced in the annual report for the previous year and then we follow up with a campaign that says, you know, change or whatever the theme is. You know, we carry that through for the year.

MT: Right. So living our mission was the theme for this one.


NS: And you’ll see that in – like we create special letterhead. We create special appeal materials using that theme.

MT: Could I see that appeal letter? Would you mind sending that to me? (She did! Here it is!)

annual report appeal letter

MT: I would just love to see how you did that.

NS: Sure, happy to.


MT: Thank you. I really appreciate that. I’m trying to help fundraisers all over the world see how to do it better. You know, whether you’re fundraising with your end report or you’re fundraising with an appeal letter afterwards. So I’m just looking to help people understand how can they raise more money, and what is good donor communication? You know.

MT: Did you get any donor feedback with this report?


NS: I think more than anything people said that they appreciated the realness of it. I’ve heard people say the fact that we were able to capture our actual clients and their perspective on things really hit home with our donors this year. So yeah, I think more than anything that’s kind of the theme that we heard. Besides it being beautiful, obviously. It’s a very crisp, clean design.


MT: Oh, it is. No, it’s gorgeous, and I’m just continuing to scroll through it as we talk, and I wanted to ask you, how did you decide what you wanted to highlight in this annual report? I mean, I know you worked with the design firm. But I’m assuming that the content came from you.


NS: Sure. Yeah, but we work with our program staff and really get them to help us understand who are the people that are really inspirational, that you feel like would be able to share a story that’s compelling to others? So we gather a lot of that feedback from our program staff.


MT: I love that. So what do you think is the most successful section and why?


NS: I mean, I just can’t say enough about the sidebars with the quotes. I mean, I just think making it real is a lesson that I know having done other annual reports in the past. The fact that this one, to me – I mean, you look at those females and you’re like, you know, that could be me. Or that could be my daughter. That could be a friend of mine. You know, and I think that, to me, is, you know, versus – whether it’s health and safety or whether it’s education and training. I mean, they all are important sections and pieces of what we do. But I think the personal stories is what really stood out this year.


MT: Wow, so I’m looking at these sidebars that you’re talking about. It says 684 women were screened as part of the breast cancer cervical health program. Is that the sidebar you’re talking about?

NS: Yes.

YWCA annual report example

MT: And 180 girls have been empowered through our Rosie’s Girls summer program since its inception.


NS: Yes. The real stories. The real statistics. This is what our work, our collective work, along with our donors. This is what we’ve been able to accomplish. It’s concise. It’s precise.


MT: No, it is. Definitely. And I just love how you have all the donors listed in the back as well. Have donors told you they like that too? Like, I like finding my name?


NS: Oh yes.

MT: Because some people ask me, Mazarine, should I really list all my donors? There’s just so many. And I’m like, well, they look for their name.


NS: Yeah. If you want them to come back, yes, you should. I think that’s important.

MT: Yeah, it is, and I’m glad you agree.

NS: People like to have their name in print. They do.

MT: So I want to ask, as a result of this annual report, what was the appeal result? (The appeal asked donors to help raise a goal of $440,000)


NS: Hang on just a second. So we raised $449,133.00.


MT: Wow, with the appeal after this?


NS: That was our total appeal, so yes. From the time we launched the appeal, which was right after the annual report. Total dollars raised is $449,000. With 760 donors, if you need to know that.


MT: Oh yeah, 760 donors, and did you see an uptick in giving amounts? Or was it the same?


NS: It was additional donors. I think we had – we went from 670 to 760 donors. So an increase in donors and annual gift amounts were increased, yes. I don’t have the total off the top of my head, but we did see an uptick in the amount that they gave.


MT: See, that’s like the dream for everyone. Uptick in donors, uptick in amount that they gave, and I love that. You know, I would have thought – for some nonprofits we think that, you know, having a celebrity spokesperson or celebrity inside the report is like a dream too. But I’m interested that you didn’t say that Gina Davis was in your annual report. It didn’t really make a difference. Did it?


NS: Yeah, I mean, she was a great speaker at one of our events. But she didn’t make our annual report. She didn’t – no. I think the testimony of the work and the effect of the program is what makes our donors give.


MT: So people who are chasing celebrities. . .


NS: Obviously having a celebrity is nice, and I’m sure we sold additional tickets to a lunch. But that doesn’t equate to giving.

MT: Right. So pulling for celebrities can just be like, no, actually, you don’t have to worry about that. Telling the stories are more important.


NS: Right.


MT: I get that. Do you have any other advice for people making annual reports based on the tremendous success on this one?


NS: The number one advice is to tell your story and to not be afraid to utilize your clients to make it real.


MT: I love that. I love that. So okay, let’s say for example someone is working at a domestic violence shelter and they have to worry about people’s anonymity. Would you still suggest that they do that?


NS: Confidentiality, we certainly understand because we deal with it. We have a domestic violence shelter. But a lot of times the women in shelter are not afraid to speak out about what they do. I think if there is a reason for someone to remain anonymous. If it’s just hey, Becky is a woman in shelter. Her face isn’t seen. You know, making the story compelling and real, you can do that without identifying the person. I still think it’s important and very, very valid to do so.

MT: Yeah, so you could do a composite story with a quote from the person.


NS: Sure.


MT: Yeah, that’s what we used to do back when I worked in a domestic violence shelter. So wonderful. Thank you. Well, that’s all the questions I have. Thank you!


Want 43+ more tips on how to write successful appeal letters? Just go here!