Interviews with foundation communicators revealed some critical perspectives of annual reports. At the time of the interviews, 99% of foundation annual reports were still delivered as print publications, so most responses focused on printed reports.
Some practitioners said they found the annual lens of yearly reports limiting since, in their opinion, social change does not occur in 12-month increments.
Many criticized annual reports—others’ and their own—as too lengthy and wordy, dense with jargon and heavy on text.
Several noted that in less than two decades, communication behaviors, expectations, patterns and needs have changed radically. “People just don’t read any more,” said one communication director. “They don’t have time.” Inundated with messages, images, texts, words, pictures, slogans, logos, newsfeeds and emails all day every day, their eyes and brains continuously filter information. Deleting messages becomes the default; opening them the exception.
Modern audiences, including engaged Americans, don’t wait for news any more. “When I’m interested in what a foundation is doing, I go online, I use the network of people I know,” said one communication director. “I usually don’t refer to the annual report.”
Today’s audiences send and receive, process and pitch, peruse and reject… all day long. Several practitioners believe that rather than tackling in-depth publications, target audiences set them aside. “It’s a cumbersome tool for a narrow audience,” said one executive. “Annual reports have a very small audience of truly interested people; no one’s waiting for them to arrive.”
“I don’t get the feeling that there’s a huge amount of anticipation and expectation for our annual report,” said another professional. “It’s just something communications does every year, not something people clamor for.”
Here’s what a few more practitioners had to say:
“I think it’s well done, but I don’t think people pay attention to it, or read it. “
“The day that the annual report could do it all is long gone. A static publication is just not fast enough.”
“People do not read. Even for policymakers, papers must be less than five pages.”
“My experience is that 90-95% of annual reports go in the trash within 10 minutes of looking at them.”
“People’s attention spans have changed. Everywhere we’re bombarded with media. We are in a competition for people’s time and attention. Even people who are highly motivated: grantees and program managers and media… still do not have much time to read.”
Source: Williams Group interviews with private foundation communicators
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