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Sarah Melby

Question:

We have been doing the same old annual report for years. What are some ways we might spice it up to improve interest?

Answer:

Chambers of commerce use annual reports to show progress to stakeholders: members and perhaps prospective members, the board of directors, community leaders and so on. These time-honored pubs can serve as a tool for marketing, a vehicle for thanking volunteers, a showcase of the past year’s successes or a compilation of something else entirely.

Annual reports almost always paint a picture of operations – showing strengths and maybe even opportunities for improvement.

GET INSPIRED:

In their 2015–16 annual report (www.ACCE.org/mag/NashvilleAR), the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce includes fiscal year highlights in a clean, easy-to-follow timeline. The award-winning publication, with “A Bold Vision” splashed across the cover, combines reader-friendly snippets of copy with photography, brand-aligned art, member stories and charts to create an effective communications vehicle. Nashville’s annual report received an ACCE Communications Excellence award in 2016.

The McLean County Chamber of Commerce in Bloomington, Illinois also received an ACCE Communications Excellence award in 2016 for its annual report (www.ACCE.org/mag/McLeanAR). In this brand-aligned publication, the chamber communicates major accomplishments using photos, quotes, graphics and financials-focused charts. It also dedicates an entire page to showcasing its Chamber of the Year award, which the McLean County Chamber received in 2014.

Another Chamber of the Year winner, the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association in Colorado, uses a short video to deliver their annual report. The video (www.ACCE.org/mag/GlenwoodSpringsAR) summarizes key accomplishments, shows appreciation for members, calls out events and chamber-provided services, mentions political action successes and showcases tourism-focused achievements—all in under three minutes.

1. Spice up the stats; finesse the finances. Chamber team members, board members and volunteers have worked hard the past year; and an annual report is a trusted tool for proudly promoting your chamber’s good work. You’ve got access to numbers galore: membership joins and drops, budgets and vital financials, engagement stats and more. But lots of black numbers on plain white pages do little to grab attention and enhance reader interest. Pair attention-grabbing graphs, charts, infographics and artwork with copy to create a more positive visual impact.
2. Craft your story. While it might be easiest to simply list all your organization’s activities that occurred over the past 12 months, it might be more effective to select just a handful of significant accomplishments to highlight. Dust off your creative writer hat and use a narrative-based format for communicating your year-in-review. To present important finances and operational stats in a more meaningful way, craft stories to put behind numbers. And remember to keep in mind the five basic elements of any good story: characters, setting, plot, conflict/climax and resolution. Solid storytelling will make your annual accomplishments even more memorable. You might even consider telling a story – one that’s not directly related to your chamber’s work – about a member or volunteer. Readers can more easily relate to other people; the human element goes a long way.
3. Give the layout a little love. Don’t be shy about getting creative with your annual report’s design and layout. Instead of text-only content, use visual elements – like graphs, charts, infographics and artwork – to communicate your story. Show key accomplishments in graphics instead of words. Use extra real estate for infographics, pull-quotes and photos of members and events. If the old saying is true, then a picture is worth a thousand words.
4. Dud-free delivery. In addition to a traditional print format for your annual report, consider other opportunities to deliver year-in-review content. Be sure to make your content available on your website, but get creative with the format and delivery mechanisms. Your chamber doesn’t have to follow standard procedure. A video annual report could be a fun way to share your message. Likewise, a podcast-style delivery could help your message stand out in a sea of clutter. Cross-promote your annual report on social media and in your email newsletter.

More resources

ACCE has developed an entire page dedicated solely to annual and financial reports. Find resources and inspiration at www.ACCE.org/mag/AnnualReports.

Go to www.ACCE.org/mag/ARsamples to browse ACCE’s collection of annual report samples.

If you’re still in a pinch, email HERO@acce.org for one-on-one assistance.

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Sarah Melby is ACCE’s director of information and research. Email Sarah at HERO@acce.org

HERO (Help. Expertise. Resources. Online) is ACCE's online information repository and virtual reference desk. Live help is available every business day.

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