Annual reports are a cornerstone of an effective nonprofit communications strategy. Each year brings a new opportunity to share your nonprofit’s impact for the year and tell the stories that bring this impact to life. It also requires focusing on communications strategy and your organization’s goals while staying on top of trends. One of those trends is whether creating a digital annual report is worth the time and investment over designing a PDF annual report. The shift to digital publishing has been developing for a long time now, but living through 2020, with many of us working from home, has elevated the value of a digital annual report for nonprofits who need to engage their most important audiences—particularly for fundraising. When you can’t easily hand an annual report to someone in a personal meeting and you’re also not sure if you can mail it to their office, the value of a digital annual report starts to make a lot more sense.
This year, we responded to this need and channeled our energy into designing an interactive digital annual report for the New York-based social impact law firm, The Legal Aid Society. We’ve created annual reports for The Legal Aid Society in the past. However, their print annual reports were always the priority— with digital versions playing a complementary role. But this year pushed us and The Legal Aid Society to take a different approach. One that would set The Legal Aid Society up for longer-term flexibility and success. We shifted gears and prioritized their digital annual report, with print and PDF versions playing a supplemental role. While this decision was bred from the new normal of our socially-distant world, it also strongly aligned with The Legal Aid Society’s longer-term digital goals. The multi-page digital annual report experience we created goes beyond telling the story of their year; it provides compelling ways for audiences to directly engage with and support The Legal Aid Society’s work.
New Year, New Goals
As the pandemic brought most in-person interactions to a halt in New York City, The Legal Aid Society’s typical strategy for distributing their annual reports shifted. Instead of distributing them primarily in-person during their Annual Meeting, this year they would need to distribute their annual reports digitally. Instead of moving the static annual report to a digital format where it would appear as a single-page, scrolling document, we decided to use this as an opportunity to provide The Legal Aid Society’s clients and stakeholders with a more interactive experience.
We pitched a multi-page, interactive annual report to The Legal Aid Society that would be more user-friendly and provide readers with an immersive digital experience. And for the print-inclined, the digital report also includes a downloadable PDF report.
Since we were creating a multi-page digital annual report, we approached things a little differently than usual. Instead of presenting The Legal Aid Society with a site-map and walkthrough of how the navigation would be structured, we took a content-first approach. We went a level deeper to think about what content would be hosted on each page of the site and how we envisioned these pages being interrelated.
Our wireframes, then, grew organically out of these content selection and layout phases.
Focus on User Mental Models
We created an HTML-based site to host The Legal Aid Society’s digital annual report. The main question that guided our design was, “how would a user flow through this information?” Since the annual report was a multi-page experience, we knew a user wouldn’t be going through it in a linear fashion, as one does when reading a static annual report, from beginning to end.
Even so, we wanted to make sure that we kept users’ mental models front and center when designing this annual report so that they would still be able to progress through the content from page to page, in a logical, even if not linear, manner.
We also enhanced readability through user interface elements. For example, the annual report included letters from executive staff, but instead of just presenting them in a static format, we loaded them in elements that slid out from the side of the report. This created the experience of reading a letter on the screen for the user rather than simply reading it in-line on a page.
Since we previously worked with The Legal Aid Society on their website and on multiple annual reports, we already had a design system in place. To keep brand continuity intact, we drew on the same design elements, including typography, photo treatment and color palettes.
For typography, we used type overlaid on photos with a box, picking up on design cues from the main site. Additionally, we used bolder and larger numbers for statistics to immediately draw the reader’s attention to them, a design practice we implemented both on the main site and in previous annual reports for The Legal Aid Society.
For the digital annual report, while we continued to use the same color palette we used for the rest of The Legal Aid Society brand, we incorporated larger color fields to break things up a little and create better pacing as one goes through the report. While in one way, our use of color aligned the annual report with The Legal Aid Society brand, in another, readers also got the sense that they weren’t on their main site and were partaking of a distinct experience.
Integration and Interactivity
A multi-page, digital annual report expanded engagement opportunities, something that was impossible on a single-page, static report. Here, we had the opportunity to pull readers toward interacting with, learning more about, and taking action on The Legal Aid Society website itself.
To this end, we created a footer with a “donate” button on the digital annual report. This button connected readers to The Legal Aid Society’s website, so that they could both learn about the different levels of corporate sponsorship the organization offered and more importantly, contribute to its operations.
Since releasing this nonprofit digital annual report, The Legal Aid Society’s team has undergone a strategic shift, recently adding Directors for corporate giving and foundation giving. As their team shared with us, having a digital annual report has empowered these new members of their fundraising and development team to make adjustments that would be impossible in a print annual report—and easily connect with new fundraising audiences.
Moreover, the email The Legal Aid Society sent out to all their donors and supporters sharing the annual report was viewed 22% more, compared to average communications sent out by their team, and showed a 63% increase in engagement. Want to see for yourself? Have a look at The Legal Aid Society’s 2020 Annual Report.
If you’d like to explore more of Constructive’s work with public interest and social justice nonprofits, case studies are available here. Constructive also offers its own digital publishing platform, Exposition, enabling you to create digital reports and publications that make an impact and drive increased online engagement.