Right now, my studio is getting ready to begin work on our 20th annual report for NACME. While many things have changed over that time, the importance of mission focus and consistent branding in fundraising materials has remained constant.
I came to New York to study Communications Design and completed my graduate work at the Pratt Institute. My professional career in New York began by working at several design firms that primarily specialised in corporate communications. I was part of the team that first created NACME’s brand identity in 1985, and soon after, they became my first freelance client. Having worked on many design projects for NACME, I then started the design studio that became Ludlow6 in 1990, and was given the opportunity to design their annual report.
NACME’s story is compelling. Born out of an engineering shortage in America in the Seventies, several major American corporations realised there was a significant untapped population for the engineering and technology workforce – African Americans, Latinos and American Indians. They formed this nonprofit to champion STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education beginning in grade school to increase the number of students entering college for engineering degrees. STEM education is again at the forefront of government, corporate and education discourse in the United States, just as it was 30 years ago. NACME is one of the foremost authorities on the subject and the largest private provider of scholarships in engineering education for these underrepresented minorities.
One of the challenges of designing these reports is that, even though NACME is a non-profit organisation, the primary audience is major corporations. The design has to compete on a corporate level, even though the budget is that of a nonprofit. Working within these constraints and fluctuations over the years, we have consistently been able to produce compelling reports by always focusing on their mission – creating a workforce that looks like America – by using large portraits of NACME Scholars and conveying a very strong brand image.
NACME realises the importance of its annual reports as fundraising opportunities. All nonprofits must file an annual report, but not all realise that a well-produced document can be an invaluable way to reach out each year to donors and advocates and highlight the organisation’s successes, frame the way forward and make an appeal. Everyone wants to be part of a winning team, so to recruit new donors and encourage current ones, the design of the report should emphasise how well the organisation is accomplishing its goals and advancing its mission.
Nonprofits have been moving away from producing print versions of their annual reports in favour of posting them online, mostly as PDFs. Some are creating digital reports linked to their websites. However they are posted online, it is necessary to notify their donors that the report is available with either an email or even a simple postcard. But, by taking the time and money to print and mail an impactful report, a nonprofit will add a powerful component to its annual fundraising outreach, stand out from the crowd and thank their donors, all at the same time.
Our professional relationship has run for over 20 years, but there were a few years where we didn’t design the report. That break actually turned out to be a valuable experience. We could really see again the importance of emphasising the organisation’s mission and staying on-point with clear, clean design. We again placed the focus of the 2011 report on the NACME scholars by incorporating large portraits and profiles that tell how NACME helped them achieve their goals. People respond to compelling stories and they respond to great photographs.
Having created annual reports for the same organisation across decades, I have summarised some key points to help guide you to execute brand communication success:
A familiar face: People respond to the familiar. There is great power in establishing a consistent and recognisable brand image.
Words into action: Use the mission statement and the year’s important achievements to frame the report and tell a compelling story.
A picture’s worth a thousand tweets: Use engaging photography. A great visual not only creates spark, but it evokes an emotional response, and feelings are what motivate people to act.
Design is marketing: Along with being memorable, the report should also be an important fundraising tool. Design it to bring awareness, and open both doors and pockets.
Look like a million bucks: Planning and creativity are more important than budget in getting the message across. And no matter what the budget, stay on point and drive the nonprofit’s story.