How to keep your annual review on track

It’s like telling your family you’ve decided to go on holiday at Christmas for the first time. Or trying to run for a train at Euston.

When you’re writing your charity’s annual review, it can feel like people with competing aims are getting in the way of yours.

Whether it’s fundraising colleagues asking for a whole page for a detailed list of projects funded by major donors, when you have been told to produce a streamlined publication this year. Or policy insisting that their explanation of a complicated campaign cannot be changed, even if plain English is your plan.

Many charity communicators will be facing these challenges over the next few months as annual review season starts. It can be easy for your labour of love to become frustrating.

But remember, you are the expert. You are a charity communicator, whereas your colleagues’ expertise lies elsewhere. So, stand your ground and you will produce a publication that will communicate what you do in the best way. And, it should be a really enjoyable process.

Here are my six top tips for keeping your annual review on track.

1. Decide what you want your annual review to do – at the beginning.

If you want your annual review to win awards, including a 10-page financial summary probably won’t meet your aim. If you want it to meet Statement of Recommended Practice (SORP) guidelines but someone suggests a novelty calendar format, your aims won’t be met either. Meet with colleagues to discuss what you want your charity’s annual review to do and make sure that you keep this aim in mind whenever you discuss any content or design.

2. Stick to word count.

Extra detail means extra words – which means extra space. You only have a finite amount of space. Whenever you send out drafts of your annual review to colleagues, make sure they know what the word counts are. Make it a rule that that if they suggest adding more, they need to also think about what detail can be lost. Your designer will only ask for cuts later down the line which can cause more chaos.

3. Agree what the publication is not.

When you decide the aim of your publication, also make sure you get stakeholders to agree what your annual review is not. Then, for example, when someone from campaigns asks you to mention a specific project and there’s no room, you can remind them that you agreed that the review is not an A to Z of your charity’s 2010/11, but a summary of key achievements.

4. Get your content sorted before you start to write.

Case studies need to be agreed and interviewed before you start writing. Leaving space for them, as well as other content, like specific projects, is a recipe for disaster. What you know or find out about your case study, or project, will influence what you write, as well as how it is laid out on the page. Leaving space for things you can insert later might sound like a good idea at the time, but will only create more work in the end because you might have to revisit everything.

5. Don’t sacrifice impact.

Funders, commissioners and supporters all want to know how what you do makes a difference. And your annual review is the perfect place for you to explain just how you do this. But sometimes, with last minute editing, or the too many authors syndrome, impact is lost.

Instead of: “Our 111 befrienders support older people to live in their own homes for longer, decreasing isolation and improving their well-being.”

You might have: “We have 111 befrienders.”

Check every fact and statistic to ensure you have explained its impact.

6. Give everyone a chance to feedback – at the right time.

You spend most of the year trying to get people to write for your magazine or newsletter with no luck. Around annual review time, everyone seems to be interested in what you’re doing. It’s vital that your colleagues have a chance to comment on the annual review – but not at every stage. Draw up a flatplan and content structure and send it round as a PDF to all of the people you think should be involved. Decrease the number of people who see the first draft and only send the second to key heads of department. Only you, or your communications manager, should sign off the final draft.

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