The easy approach to producing your non-profit annual report

Gabrielle Ritchie| The Change Room | 19th June 2017

It’s that time of year again when everybody is likely scrambling to get their annual report conceptualised, written, designed and published.  In fact, most of us are probably just trying to get it written.

But the development of your organisation’s annual report does not have to be a massive mission.  What it does need is to be well thought through, properly conceptualised, attractively designed, and timeously published.  Amongst South African non-profits, our reports need to be submitted to the NPO Directorate within a few months (maximum 6) of our financial year-end.  Our continued status as a registered non-profit depends on the timeous submission of annual audited financials and a narrative report on your organisation.  For those organisations registered as public benefit organisations (PBO), you also need to submit your report to SARS, and for non-profit companies you will need to submit yours to CIPC.

Why else would we produce such a time-consuming piece of work?

Well, for a few reasons, actually.  These include that:

  1. A good annual report makes an excellent marketing tool, to share with donors, friends, supporters and beneficiaries
  2. Your annual report communicates your major achievements over the previous period
  3. It is an opportunity to share your financial status with anyone who cares to look, promoting transparency about the organisation’s state of financial affairs
  4. It is an important reflection of a well-functioning and expertly governed organisation
  5. It is a great opportunity to share stories, images and infographics of your work and of the difference you make in your community (however that may be defined).

So what makes a “good annual report”?

The answer to this is relatively straightforward – and you could simply follow the tips and steps outlined below.  The key questions that need to be asked in approaching the development of your annual report are detailed below and can be used as a discussion guide, with responses serving to shape an action plan.

  1. Who will be part of preparing the report? Which staff/ board members/ contracted service providers need to be involved?
  2. Should we engage an external freelancer (writing and/or design)? Do we have someone you use already?  Or someone in mind whose work we like?
  3. Will the Executive Director write the introductory overview, or would we prefer the Board Chair? Or both?
  4. Have we been gathering photos all year, and do we have easy access to these for use in the publication? Are they all ours or do we need permissions to use some of the images?
  5. Do we have an accurate, up-to-date, spelling-corrected donor list from the previous period, covering all donations? Are we going to mention all donors?  Do we have specific donor categories depending on donor-type or donation size?  What needs to be done to develop such a list?
  6. What will be our annual report’s theme? [There are many resources online to help you think through what kind of theme might suit your organisation, your work, and your annual report]
  7. Will we distribute in print and/or online? Both? What format will work best for us? Who is our audience and what works best for them?
  8. What are our best stories to share in this annual report?
  9. What are our key organisational messages, and where will we include them?
  10. Should we use video in our report?
  11. When will we launch or distribute our annual report?
  12. What are our three major accomplishments/achievements for the past year? And how can we ensure these link to the key messages?
  13. Who is going to triple-check our reported financials and donor list to ensure 100% accuracy?
  14. What calls to action should we include?

Answer those questions, and you will have the beginnings of a plan!

Key components of your report

Once you have a plan in place, you can consider the key components of your annual report.  Traditional components are based broadly on a Letter from Chair, an overview  from the Executive Director, a programme report from the Programme Director, perhaps some staffing and HR information on skills development  etc, the financial report, and a donor acknowledgement section.

A shorter, sharper approach could be (but not necessarily in this order):

  1. Table of Contents
  2. Executive Director letter (include mission: what you do and why)
  3. Accomplishments/Achievements (past year only)
  4. Stories (profiles) to highlight successes
  5. Photos all the way through the report
  6. Donor list
  7. Financials
  8. Board of Directors / Trustees
  9. A call to action

And use your report to THANK people: your donors and funders, your supporters, your partners – and your beneficiaries who have trusted you and your work!

If you need any advice on how to make this happen, drop me a line or ask a question here in the comments section.  Write well and make your annual report ROCK!

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Digital space, civil society and nonprofits in South Africa

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Gabrielle Ritchie, Director, The Change Room

25th November 2016

So what is the state of play in South African digital civil society?  My last post looked at the importance of defending digital spaces in South Africa – but now I go back a bit, to the nitty-gritty of digital civil society. This broad phrase refers to a broad mix of concerns, approaches, practices and activities ranging from building the public profile of a cause, to defending current levels of freedom, openness and accessibility of digital space.

Enset has been running a global workshop series focused on supporting civil society organisations around the world to navigate what Enset refers to as “the complex digital landscape” to achieve online effectiveness.  Enset’s mission with these workshops and panel discussions is to identify and, likely, help create the best paths for the use of digital space by non-profits globally.

The Enset/ Resource Alliance panel discussion, of which I was a part – held at Bandwidth Barn in Cape Town on 4th October 2016 – was titled, “NGOdigitalspaces & Civil Society”.  The discussion addressed a range of issues and practice areas in the digital space, such as:

  • What is the role of Social Media in building civil society?
  • How is digital fundraising changing the donor relationship and giving overall?
  • What are some of the risks and challenges of digital spaces, and what can non-profits to address these?
  • What is the political / regulatory environment and implications of a new NPO Act in South Africa?
  • What is the future of digital spaces for civil society – opportunities, challenges and potential threats?
  • What is the importance of credibility and validation within the sector?

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A number of organisations and individuals spoke to their particular concerns, the work they do, and how their work serves to address their concerns.  The panel and issues included:

  1. Jeri Curry, president and CEO, Enset: introduction to the non-profit and civil society digital space, and to the work of Enset – and also navigated the panellists inputs, facilitating the discussion with great knowledge and expertise.
  2. Baratang Miya, founder and CEO, GirlHype: now here is somebody to watch and keep up with. Baratang spoke about her initiative to encourage girls into the digital and tech space, not as users but as innovators.  Great stuff.
  3. Michelle Jones, head of content for digital agency RogerWilco: Michelle shared lessons from a successful client project, showing how paying careful attention to messaging, content, design and site architecture can completely change levels, frequency and type of user interactions with your online presence
  4. Gabrielle Ritchie, Director, The Change Room: This is me – I spoke about the need to defend digital spaces, as these levels of freedom increasingly come under the state spotlight and as non-profit organisations are under pressure from government. I also shared insights about the legislative framework that currently governs this space in South Africa.
  5. Colin Habberton, IFC Ambassador, South Africa: Colin shared insights into the use of digital platforms for fundraising and for profile-building for organisations and causes, and stressed the importance – across a range of factors – of building an online profile
  6. Michelle Matthews, Head of ED and Innovation, CiTi: Michelle’s focused on trends in ICT and the digital economy, and she shared details of a fantastic digital project supporting start-up and established social enterprises and businesses, including the development of an innovative toolkit (which we all wanted a copy of!)

Are you starting to get the picture?  Around the breadth and depth of any discussions about “digital space”?

We can talk about developments in digital technology; the use of digital technologies for the promotion of civil society campaigns; the role of an online presence in promoting your non-profit organisation and in stakeholder/ supporter/ donor communications; the importance of content in building a profile and positive footprint in the online space; the role of civil society organisations in promoting and encouraging the involvement of girl learners in the digital tech space; the importance of an online presence for fundraising (both on- and off-line); the pressure (globally) on civil society and the closure of operating spaces, both physical and digital; and the legislative framework governing the use of digital technology (eg. drones for journalism) and online spaces.  That’s just the start.

In addition, there is a boatload of information that non-profits need to keep up with – such as the 2014 transition of the org.za domain (used by most South African non-profits for their web presence) to a new regulatory authority, and the implications for non-profits using org.za.  Again, just the start.

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Enset’s work has had the effect not just of providing spaces to have discussions about digital spaces and civil society, but also of connecting activists and digital specialists locally and globally.  It is critical that we are talking to each other, in light of my particular concern – as per my previous post – about the defence of digital spaces as we see an increase in governments clamping down on activities that challenge their actions (or lack of action).

This space is absolutely critical for civil society organising, as a still-democratic space providing for the proliferation and platforming of a range of voices critical to debate, discussion, defining the languaging around particular issues, and moving away from the dominance of traditional media and their ownership of public discourse.  This has changed irreversibly, and this space must be defended.

Financial sustainability on a shoestring: possible or not?

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 Gabrielle Ritchie, Director: The Change Room

9th June 2016

A couple of weeks ago I addressed the (long) short list of key factors for NPOs to develop  fundraising fitness.  The thing is … it looks like you have to spend money to make money (ain’t that Rule No. 1, then) – and you really don’t have any of that.

So how do you tackle your organisational sustainability on a shoestring?  Surely being financially constrained doesn’t mean a non-profit dead end?  The good news is, it definitely does not mean a dead end … necessarily.  The bad news (for some, perhaps) is that it requires solid, hard, knuckling-down kind of work.  And if you don’t yet have staff, or your complement is small, then that’s what the Board is for.  After all, we got into this because of our commitment to social change, right? That we would do what is required to achieve the organisation’s goals, yes?

Rule 1 on being fundraising-fit is:

There are no shortcuts in raising money. No quick fixes. No cutting corners.

Moving on from that, let’s look at what the options are for a no-budget fundraising endeavour:

  1. Governance: your NPO board members will have come on board because they believe in the mission of the organisation and are prepared to put in the effort to achieve it.  You will have to accept/ expect that board members are on board to provide voluntary input, support, and expertise. Which requires time. Kind of a deal-breaker. Not negotiable.  The more cash-tight you are, the harder the board will have to work (so if you are recruiting new board members, make sure they know this up front!).
  2. Planning: is non-negotiable.  The primary resources for this are time and skills. You will have to have had both to start your non-profit, so you should be able to do this without additional expenditure.
  3. Financial management: there isn’t a no-budget option here, unless one of your board members is a finance expert. You will have to spend money here.  For annual audited financial statements, there isn’t any way around this, so you have to accommodate for this in your initial budgeting.
  4. Fundraising skills: if you don’t yet have the staff, you must use the skills available through your board and/or other volunteers. These skills include
    • leadership;
    • project planning and management;
    • information management and data-mining;
    • communications;
    • networking and relationship-building;
    • writing (proposals/ reports etc);
    • financial management;
    • fundraising (donor prospecting, stewardship, relationship management, budgeting, proposal writing, donor reporting, donor acknowledgement, understanding the fundraising cycle, maintaining long-term donors, building an annual fund, legacy fundraising, campaign development and implementation and others).
    • if you don’t have access to such skills without having to insource skills at a cost, then  be realistic and manage what you can: focus on donor identification and relationship building, and proposal development.  Keep it simple. And plan your approach to raising the required resources.  Planning. Planning. This can be done without funding, but it has to be done properly and with commitment to the end goal of achieving the organisational change objectives.
  5. Communications and marketing: If you don’t do anything else, make sure you build your profile.  This is much easier to do than it used to be, with far less money.  Developing a facebook page, and a twitter account would suffice to start – and they provide you with the freedom to publish your own content according to your own schedule and deadlines.  That said, there are some ground rules – and it is more effective with a bit of money invested into your channels.  But not having money does not need to prevent you from starting.  There are great online resources to guide and advise (see below).
  6. Information management: one thing you must get right is to capture and maintain your stakeholder contact data, and – if they are donors – their record of support.  You don’t need fancy software for this.  Excel is a perfectly adequate system to start, and will serve you well.

The most important skill, which costs no additional money, is your capacity to speak passionately and expertly about your work and what you seek to achieve.  This will take you a long way to achieving your resourcing goals, while costing very little.

In short, with some good volunteers with an effective spread of skills (because a key component of people becoming board members, right, is the skills they bring to the organisational party), you should be able to get up and running without incurring huge costs and needing significant resources to get going.

Focus, attention to detail, commitment to the end goals, and dogged determination – plus a host of free resources online and offline – will definitely get you to where you want to go.  It might seem easier with a whole big fundraising budget – but it is not a non-profit dead end if you don’t have the money.

But remember: the goal is to raise funding to include budget for fundraising.  Remaining in a frugal mindset will ultimately cost you.  Read here on the cost of being too frugal, and of remaining in that paradigm.

FREE RESOURCES

www.nonprofitlawyer.co.za – for resources on governance and non-profit law: Excellent set of short videos and articles to guide you

www.nonprofit-network.org – a fantastic set of resources for non-profit social media and communications

www.askinyathelo.org.za – a whole site of tips, tools, guidance and resources covering the key skills areas for organisational sustainability

www.ngopulse.org/about – a great portal of information and resources in support of South Africa’s non-profit sector; almost a meeting place – with articles, issues, resources, jobs and opportunity listings and  more

 

 

How do we know when FREE is worth the effort, or just a waste of time?

Non-profits generally love FREE!!  And donors usually get really excited about low-cost/ no-cost opportunities for their grantees to access skills-exchanges and new knowledge.

But How do we know when FREE is worth the effort, or just a waste of time?

Here is one virtual online conference you can be sure will be worth the effort.  Organised and hosted by Resource Alliance, an organisation with a global reputation for its excellence in capacity development products and services for non-profits (particularly their conferences!), you can’t really go too wrong 🙂

This two-day event is being held on 13th and 14th May 2015 and all you need to do to be part of this fantastic learning event is register here. Over the two days, 16 sessions will be presented by leading experts in digital marketing, online fundraising and social media marketing, from within and outside the non-profit sector.

Full details on the programme are available here and include the following:-

  • Six practical methodologies to enable you to get started – Dr Scilla Elworthy (UK)
  • Charities don’t tweet, people do – Euan Semple (UK)
  • Adapting to a changing world: the innovation imperative – Colin Habberton (South Africa)
  • Seven ways to use mobile to build your supporter base – Nick Allen (USA)
  • Integrating digital into your old fashioned fundraising stuff – Sean Triner (Australia)
  • Crowdfunding for fundraisers – Ronald Kleverlaan (Netherlands)
  • Five learnings from masters of social media you can use in your fundraising today – Touko Sipiläinen (Finland)

According to Resource Alliance, who host the regular Netherlands-based International Fundraising Conference,over 2 000 delegates from 120 countries participated in last year’s Fundraising Online, which once again aims to help charities of all sizes successfully navigate the shifting sands of technological change.   With a focus on “empowerment and bridging the gap between online and offline initiatives”, Resource Alliance explains that this online initiative makes it possible for delegates to “benefit from the expertise of renowned speakers in the comfort of their own workplace, wherever and whenever it suits”.

Gotta go now … off to register 🙂  I am not missing this one!

The Lexicons of the Non-Profit Sector: do you speak non-profit?

By Gabrielle Ritchie : Independent Advisor, Consultant and Service Provider to Grantseekers and Grantmakers

1st April 2015

The vocabulary of the non-profit sector often comes under the spotlight not just for its exclusionary jargon-ness, but also because often meaning is not as widely shared as the very existence of the jargon would have us believe.  Questions are often raised about what we really mean by the jargon we use? Are we only talking to each other, or do others actually understand our lingo? Are we sharing our thoughts and messages best, to bring people along with us on our mission, or have we been taken in by our own hype?  Should NPO-speak be more or less corporate?  Should we speak stronger business language, or should the corporate sector learn to speak “non-profit”?  Does speaking corporate make us appear smarter and more attractive to funders?  What about those who can’t or don’t or won’t go corporate with their modes of communication? Are they automatically at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing funding? Are those who don’t speak corporate less likely to attract funding? What is the real difference between corporate and non-profit lexicons? If the donor world is widely English first-lanuagage, and the non-profit world predominantly English second-language (in South Africa, at least), how does this exacerbate the existing power-dynamics already at play between grantseekers and grantmakers?

Of particular interest to me is whether the language of marketing, branding, communications and PR is necessarily “corporate speak”, or whether this language can be (or perhaps has already been) appropriated, adopted and re-worked to suit the non-profit sector.  Can the non-profit sector comfortably speak branding and marketing without appearing is if it has corporatised?

The Non-Profit Service Providers Network

A key forum for such discussion is the Cape Town-based Non-profit Service Providers Network (NPSPN), a referral-based group of individuals and small companies who provide services, advice, consultancies and other forms of support to non-profit organisations operating in South African civil society.  This is an energetic group of people looking to share the particular challenges and experiences of working with non-profits, and seeking a forum where thinking and experience can be debated, up-ended, challenged, and spotlighted.  The network is a really useful meeting of minds, where pertinent issues can be surfaced and discussed amongst peers and colleagues.

What struck me at the March bi-monthly gathering of the NPSPN is that all of the for-profit service providers around the table speak very competent non-profit.  While most of those who provide services and products to non-profit organisations are themselves for-profit, most individuals appear to make “a living” rather than generate any vast profit from the fees they charge for their services.  It is here that the for-profit service provider and the non-profit to whom they are providing services become almost indistinguishable.  These service providers, for the most part, are as non-profit in outlook, world-view and language as the non-profits they serve and as those employed in non-profit organisations.  In effect, these service providers are no different in their goals and missions to most of the organisations they work with, and it raises the question of why we insist on boxing the small service providers as “for-profit” as if in some false juxtaposition to the organisations they serve.

At the March 2015 NPSPN meeting, a few issues of terminology and language were tabled for discussion. I am writing here less about the phenomenon of sector-based jargon, which exist in every sector, and more about the need to ensure that we are all understanding each other – in an including way, rather than languageing ourselves into a reformulation of the social elite in ways that are excluding, elitist, alienating and effectively quite imprecise and therefore inaccessible to so-called outsiders.  In a December 2012 post, Jodie Shupac reflects (referencing others) on the source of contemporary nonprofit jargon.  Shupac notes that much non-profit language has become corporatised, attributable to the fact that as governments have increasingly called on nonprofits to provide the services they once offered, the sector has felt the need to up its language game.  Taking their cues from the business world, says Shupac, non-profits are increasingly using language that is business-oriented, and is flavoured to convey their lean shapes and efficient functioning.

Issues that arose at the March NPSPN meeting focused, in one or other way, on the ways we talk about what we do. These issues included, amongst others:

1. The importance of marketing for non-profits – the importance of profiling one’s organisation, of having a communications strategy, of being visible on social media platforms and of ensuring the use of traditional media channels and platforms.  But the question was raised – Why? Why is this important if you are an organisation with extremely limited resources and a clear mission?  It was also suggested that the commercial “selling” language used in marketing is inappropriate for the NPO sector.  Is this the case?  Why is it inappropriate, and what compromises occur (possibly unwittingly) through the adoption of selling-speak?

2. In discussions on non-profit branding, what are we really talking about?  Are we talking the language of corporate branding, or does branding in the non-profit sector serve similar but ultimately separate functions?

3. If you have very limited budget, how do you best and most appropriately target your spend in ways that serve your organisational mission, and which also serve your need to promote your cause and/or your organisation?  Are there different levels of marketing available for different levels of spend?

4. How do corporate and non-profit clients differ?  Do small service providers need to fully adjust their ways of speaking, languageing and referencing to accommodate their different clients, depending on sector?

5. Are there specific features or characteristics of the NPO client – almost an NPO personality type, perhaps?  Are challenges specific to providing services to NPOs?

6. Are fees charged on a sliding scale from corporate, to big NPO, to small NPO?  Does one reflect the full fee and then include the discounted rate as an indication of the extent to which a for-profit provider is supplying a non-profit with a full discount?

Many of the questions raised, both explicitly and implicitly, weren’t answered in the session – but they remain pertinent and they warrant discussion.  If you  have any thoughts to share, please do!!