Annual reports were a staple when I lived in the Silicon Valley, but the market for these gold-plated assignments faded after organizations started publishing financial results sans the four-color brochures.

By 2000, the full-zoot annual report had largely disappeared from my work mix.

annual report blur

A year ago I was asked to write an annual report for a nonprofit. I liked it (so did they), and the project led to a pair of new annual report projects.

After all those years in the wilderness, it was gratifying to realize the old reflexes still applied. I remembered it wasn’t hard to write a straightforward annual report. After all, simple reportage works. But it can feel boring.

And boring isn’t what they pay us for.

Writing an engaging annual — one with hints of personality and drama — isn’t easy. Here are two simple ways you can make it easier.

You’re Writing An Appallingly General Document, So Be Specific

You’re chronicling large swaths of time and activity on behalf of an often-sizable organization, but if your copy is wholly general in nature, it’ll lack contrast. To a reader, that feels gray and ponderous.

Sprinkle a few interesting specifics into the copy — details which add a personal or even humorous touch to an often distressingly high-level document — and you might just bring your annual report to life.

Of course, finding the interesting, dramatic bits is a function of due diligence. Like most copywriting projects, the annual report lives or dies on the quality of your research.

So do a lot of it. And never stop looking for the bite-sized stories that add color and contrast to a potentially gray, uninteresting document.

For example, my nonprofit installed a freezer, so they could store food longer before distributing it to their clients.

Nice, but no fireworks. Then I learned the freezer made it possible for them to receive, store and then distribute 5x more food (to hungry families) than was previously possible.


Get It Right From The Start

Want to write an engaging, dramatic annual report? Here’s my Biggest, Bestest Secret:

Write an Executive Director/President’s letter that kills.

You’ll endear yourself to the organization’s Ultimate Decision Maker (never a bad thing). More importantly — in terms of voice, tone and organization — you just created a roadmap for the rest of the report.

After all, a well-written letter should offer the reader energy, drama and personality — three things often sorely lacking in standard annual report copy.

Remember, there’s drama in every copywriting assignment. Our job is to find that drama, and sprinkle it throughout the entire project.

Write a killer ED/President’s letter first, and you’re 80% of the way there.

Keep writing, Tom Chandler.