storytelling, video sharing, website innovation

Rethinking the Annual Report for Video

20 Comments 05 January 2012

Three things I know about the nonprofit annual report: it takes a ton of time to put together beautifully, few people actually read it, but funders require it. The annual report is one of those pieces of communication and collateral that executive directors and development directors dread putting together because it is such a costly endeavor with relatively little return and short shelf life. It doesn’t have to be that way in the age of social. We’ve socialized constituent communication, websites, fundraising, and events…why not rethink the annual report into a social communication? Several nonprofit organizations have done just that, transforming the paper annual report into a video report, and reinvigorating it in the process.

Video is a natural medium for storytelling, and that’s what the annual report should be.

There are some significant benefits to a video report: lasting content on the web, video footage for re-use, and changing a report into a discussion. Four organizations have done just that. I was lucky enough to correspond with Nathan Hand of School on Wheels and Derek Weidl of THEMUSEUM, who offer editorial comments about their organizations’ video reports as well.

THE MUSEUM: THEMUSEUM’s Report to the Community

THEMUSEUM, a children’s “unmuseum” in Kitchener, Ontario, has a mission “to scan the globe for fresh cultural content and use it to stage experiences that stimulate transformative connections for our audiences.” As such, it isn’t surprising that they created a video annual report that expresses the creativity of what happened at the museum in 2011. It’s a lot of fun to watch, too.

Beth Kanter posted THEMUSEUM’s video annual report to her Google Plus stream, and quite a conversation ensued. Beth commented that the video seemed a bit long, with a lot of insider information. Derek Weidl, the video creator, agreed that “scope creep” played a role in length. One solution might be two versions of the report: a shorter video for external use and longer video for internal use with more insider jokes and  insider news.

Derek Weidl adds that the video has succeeded in a number of ways: “It inspired some donations that we weren’t expecting. It provided a great engagement point online (especially twitter) where people relived some of the great moments and events we’ve had over the past year. It’s been already used in some important meetings with potential sponsors/partners to great effect as it really captures what we’re all about. Also, an underrated part has been the reaction by staff members. Since it involves every staff member, it has reinforced their love of our organization. After we first screened it at our AGM, the staff insisted upon multiple viewings – we all watched it 5 times without a break (not kidding)!”

The Sunlight Foundation: Sunlight 2010: The Year in Review

A snappy mix of text, images from the year’s work, and video footage from the Sunlight Foundation’s political advocacy work. Conveys achievements and Foundation highlights in 2:24. Conveys a lot of information in a short amount of time, and keeps your attention.

The Greater Chicago Food Depository annual video report: It Starts With Food: 2010-2011 Annual Report

The Greater Chicago Food Depository’s executive director gives the voiceover highlighting the successes of the past year. The video is embedded within the website and accompanied by a fundraising appeal, short blog post, sample tweet, and a thank you.

I really like how they package the video within their own web page, and explain the report to donors. The web page announces, “This year, the Greater Chicago Food Depository has taken its Annual Report online, providing our donors, volunteers, partners and supporters a glimpse of the day-to-day work your support makes possible. The 2010-2011 Annual Report’s online format saves paper and the cost of printing the report, while offering visitors an opportunity to experience the Food Depository’s work in a new way. ”

School on Wheels: School on Wheels 2010 Annual Report

A combination of the traditional annual report (the Executive Director’s note, the CFO’s report), footage of programs, and stakeholder testimony. A bit long at six minutes, but certainly more engaging than a written report. A list of donors runs through the last three minutes of the video.

Nathan Hand, VP of Development and Marketing for School on Wheels, reports that the organization reverted back to a PDF report for 2011. When I asked why, he wrote: “The work was donated last year. We had a lot of supporters who didn’t/wouldn’t go online to see it but wanted to see their name in print. Orgs spend tons of time/$ on them and they have the shortest life ever – people skim the pretty pictures, look for their name and toss it. We designed (this year’s PDF report) internally, didn’t spend a ton of time pouring over details, mailed it out and then posted it online.”

Nathan adds “there are tons of other benefits to the video version but for us, the cost/time factor won out. Plus, we just had a great video done (donated again) for a big event which basically served the same purpose. We now have a ton of great digital b-roll of our kids that we’ve already used in videos we’ve created since then.”

Two takeaways from the School on Wheels experience: budget for the video report or find a talented videographer, and know how your donors want to be thanked.

 Bonus: Ideas and opportunities for further socializing the annual video report

  • Ask volunteers/members/constituents/stakeholders to submit video content for the annual report
  • Crowdsourced ideas for what should be featured in the report
  • Run a contest around sharing the report to the most people and places
  • Include a question during the video report that you’d like viewers to respond to in the comments
  • Ask for video responses to the report
  • Run a contest for fans to create their own annual report of what they think the organization has done best over the past year
  • Pingback: Rethinking the Annual Report for Video | Nonprofit Ops: Marketing |

  • I think video is a great move… however, I don’t see it as inherently “social” nor a “discussion.” It might be better at spurring those things, but in itself, it’s still a one-way communication, no? But I do agree it is a huge leap forward from a gigantic PDF document.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Hi Jeff, video can be inherently social, especially if joined with YouTube. The moderator function of YouTube enables voting on questions, comments on YouTube make the report interactive. You have a strong point that these examples given aren’t that interactive, just really good at bringing people into the organization and rethinking the PDF annual report.

    I think this is the beginning of what may be a trend, and if so, then the beginning of the social report. Some of the ideas offered toward the end of the post for further socializing the annual video report get closer to “social” and conversations than the examples that I found. How would you further socialize this concept?


    Jeff Stanger Reply:

    I don’t disagree. I think the items you list under “Bonus” are indeed great ways of taking a video-driven experience to the level of an interactive, social one. But we need to make sure we actually do these things, not assume that just because it’s video rather than text, or online vs. offline, that it automatically becomes interactive, social and discursive.

    What about video that customizes itself based on user inputs (active or passive)? What if the video adapts over time to actually incorporate comments posted around it? I think those are the sorts of things that become uniquely digital interactive experiences, perhaps more than a video posted on a website with comments enabled.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Love your idea of adapting the video over time to incorporate comments posted around it? Sort of like an annual report Q&A. In fact, there could be an annual video report and a second one that is Q&A. Hebrew University has an “expert on the spot” video series on their Facebook page which is essentially a video Q&A response along those same lines…

    Thanks for coming back and offering your ideas!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for featuring the Sunlight Foundation’s year end video! Here’s a link to the one we’ve done for 2011:

    Happy new year


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Thanks for the updated link – your videos are so much fun, while being informative. What is the primary reason behind making your year-end videos? Do you publish a PDF report as well?


    Nicko M. Reply:

    Thanks Debra! We find year-end videos are an effective way to keep our funders, small donors and fans informed about Sunlight’s work. There are a few funders that require written reports, but we try to keep all aspects of our work as public and accessible as possible. To be more specific: we don’t do a traditional annual report.


  • Another good one from Goodwill in Seattle –


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Nathan – great find! I felt like the first 3 minutes were more of a promo video than an “annual report” per se, and the last 1:30 minutes were definitely the traditional annual report. Yet another variation. What do you think about Seattle Goodwill’s report?


    Nathan Hand Reply:

    I feel annual reports are primarily a medium to share success with current supporters, as opposed to a donor acquisition piece with tons of stories and program overviews. This one was a mix, which may alienate each side.


    Debra Askanase Reply:

    Nathan, agreed! Also, FYI, just picked up this blog post and ran it here (for more conversation)

  • Pingback: 4 Ways to Bring Creativity Into 2012 | Inspiring Generosity()

  • Anonymous

    I love the video idea, but when I produced ARs at Scenic Hudson, the donor list was the thing I lost the most sleep over. One year, due to production issues, we produced the donor list separately from the rest of the report, offering 2 pdfs on the website. Guess which one got downloaded more, but a 2–to-1 margin? Donor list! Also wondering about the SEO benefits of text annual report (today I’d use Issuu to publish a print AR). In a perfect world, I’d do a short video, a simple print report and an online text. Funders still need names and numbers. 


  • Pingback: Rethinking the Annual Report for Video | User Guide for Social Media for Nonprofits |

  • Debra — What do you think of TEAM School’s annual report?


  • Pingback: Rethinking the Annual Report for Video: Community Organizer 2.0 | The Good Scoop |

  • Pingback: Rethinking the Annual Report for Video-Non Profit Examples | Great Ideas for Non-Profits |

  • Pingback: Rethinking the Annual Report for Video | Nonprofit Management |

  • Pingback: Annual Reports | Kristen Cockburn()


Debra Askanase is an experienced digital engagement strategist, non-profit executive, and community organizer. She works with mission-driven organizations to develop digital strategies and campaigns that engage, create trust, and move stakeholders to action. Debra speaks at conferences worldwide on the intersection of technology, social media, and nonprofit organizations.

Follow Debra

Subscribe via email




© 2020 Social Media Strategy for Mission-Driven Organizations.

Site by Arrow Root Media