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Tips for Creating Compelling Corporate Community Reports

By Tom Watson on February 28, 2007No Comment
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Tips for Creating Compelling Corporate Community Reports
By: Alisha Fernandez and Brian Walsh, 2/28/2007

Creating an annual report that describes your company’s community engagement efforts is often an overwhelming process.  It can be difficult to find the right balance between conflicting priorities: How do you laud achievements without appearing to brag?  How do you provide enough information without making the report too dense and tedious?  How do you highlight certain nonprofit partnerships without alienating any stakeholders? 

Such complexities often stymie corporate grantmakers.  However, when done well, annual community engagement reports have significant benefits for companies.  A report lends accountability, highlights key partnerships, and provides a connection between a company and its key stakeholders: customers, investors, employees, community members, regulators, and nonprofit partners. 

Having read, and helped to produce, more than our share of annual community reports, we provide the following tips for producing a stellar publication.

1) Determine the target audience of the report and ensure that the report consistently addresses that audience. 

Make sure that you understand the audience your report will address.  From there, the content should follow.  For example, if your report is geared toward your customers, then highlight your company’s involvement in community efforts.  If you are looking for legitimacy in your program areas, , focus your efforts on providing high-quality information on your programs and their impact.  Your audience can be as broad or as limited as you like and can include consumers, employees, advocates, nonprofit practitioners, or other grantmakers.  Just make sure you are clear from the beginning who you intend to address.  

2) Align with your overall brand identity. 

A community report like any corporate communications mechanism should reflect your company’s brand, culture, and identity, and fit into your company’s existing communications strategy.  The best community reports are produced as complements to a company’s annual report, and generally include the same design system. 

3) Be concise.  Keep your report brief, between 15 and 40 pages, if possible. 

There is nothing worse than spending time meticulously putting together your annual report, only to have readers frightened away by its length.  Long reports can be daunting, and include extraneous information that is not pertinent to your audience.  However, a too-short report runs the risk of not providing enough information. Here is another area where it’s important to determine your audience; a report geared towards experts in your field will include different, and perhaps more comprehensive, information than one for your consumers.

4) Be sure to include a greeting from the company’s top leadership.  

Any community report should include an introductory note or letter of greeting from the company’s CEO or Chairman, as well as foundation leadership (if applicable).  It is important to show that your corporate leadership is guiding the vision set forth in a community report, and that social engagement is a priority to those at the highest levels of the company.

5) Be open and clear.  Make sure you are transparent about your giving and program data.

Your community report should be the definitive source for data on your community involvement activities and, just like your corporate annual report, should include critical pieces of information such as financials and board data.  Fully audited financials are not absolutely necessary, but a one to two page summary including details on expenses, revenue, and net assets (including changes over the past several years) should be included. A short, graphic breakdown of how much funding each program area received should also be included.  This information gives the impression that a company wishes to be as transparent as possible with its giving, and can be held accountable for its actions. 

6) Profile!  Include profiles of selected grantees and anecdotes of individuals served by your giving programs.

The most interesting and thought-provoking reports include in-depth grantee profiles that mention anecdotal evidence, demonstrating the programs’ successes in a personal way.  These stories help readers make an emotional connection to your cause, and create the clearest possible link between your programs and the people they serve. 

7) Testify!  Include testimonials from nonprofit partners and community leaders.

Positive assessments of your company’s community engagement are more believable if they come from those who are not on the payroll.  That is why it is so important to have community members both grant recipients and those who can speak to a company’s impact share their reflections on your company’s involvement. 
8) Provide relevant grant application guidelines. 

There is no need to include a hard copy of your application forms, but a well-thought out annual report provides guidelines as a rationale for grantmaking decisions.  Even if you do not accept unsolicited proposals, it’s helpful to list programming areas, any restrictions on funding, and contact information.  This is beneficial to include, not only to further highlight the transparency of your processes, but to give any potential grantees some sense of how you allocate your funds.

9) Picture perfect.  Photos are powerful communication tools, but only when they have a specific purpose.

Photographs add to the presentation, readability, and emotional salience of a report, but  should not be included merely as background décor.  Powerful reports include photographs that convey a specific feeling or meaning to the reader. Photos of employees working in collaboration with grantees, for example, provide visual evidence that a company is committed to the community. 

10) Be stylish.  The design of your report should be unified, cohesive and considered carefully. 

Whether it is fair or not, readers will judge a report by its cover. Reports that are eye-catching, well-organized and have some kind of graphic theme or motif repeated throughout make for more engaging reading.  Our favorite reports are in “portrait” format, have a clear table of contents, include interstitial pages that assure that your readers can easily following the logic and structure of the report, and have a consistent color scheme. 

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