By Sarah Sims
Many of us are gearing up for annual endowment reporting season, and now is the time to be making strategic decisions about process, content, and deliverables.
As you may have heard, Donor Relations Guru partnered with ThankView and MSP Digital Marketing to launch ODDER in 2020 to help institutions digitally deliver their endowment reports. (You can read all about it here!) As part of this process, we are assisting our clients in re-envisioning their endowment reports from soup to nuts. And this includes what you should and should not have in your reports!
(Hint: Many of us are making it WAYYYYY too complicated!)
Please raise your hand if you feel like your endowment reports have become the junk drawer of your donor relations shop. Need a place to put something? Put it in the endowment report! Have extra brochures/newsletters/magazines laying around? Put it in the endowment report! Have 23 pages of audited financials the CFO wants to share? Put it in the endowment report! With this type of non-strategic and streamlined approach, the endowment report quickly becomes the bane of our existence – they are cumbersome, take too long, and lose their personal value to the most important player in all of this – the donor! It becomes the junk drawer - messy, overwhelming, you can’t find what you actually need, and everyone ignores it. Americans have an average attention span of 7 SECONDS – you need to catch their attention quick and convey only the most important factors!
So, how do we accomplish this? Focus solely on the Big 5:
Message from Leadership: whether this is a fabulous video on your customized ODDER landing page, or a traditional printed letter on your organizational letterhead, have the appropriate person present to recap the year, set up the financial information, and thank your endowment donors for their support. (Tip: build this message into the design of your reports and forego individually addressed letters – you will save hours of work and grief over salutations and address blocks. Cover letters are necessary, but aren’t the most important factor, so streamline where possible.)
Fiscal Year Fund Financial Snapshot: provide the basic figures for each endowed fund the donor supports. This typically includes opening and closing balance (investment returns), expenditures, contributions in that year, fees charged to the funds, matching funds, etc. Some organizations do this for both the principal and spendable portions, others just the principal. This is an organizational decision based on many different factors. As long as you have the basic information, you are golden. Do NOT complicate this page with numbers from other fiscal years, current distributions, or other numbers that don’t come from your CFO. Just report on the year in question – nothing else!
Fund Impact: This is where many of us get the most hung-up. There are many ways to approach this, but our recommendation is always the same: provide narrative impact reports for all of your fund types (scholarship, program, faculty), but do so in a tiered (i.e. sustainable) method. This means only your top 1-2 tier donors receive the custom impact narrative and you scale the others down from there. This is because the impact portion is the toughest piece to get from our organizational partners and we have to be reasonable in expectations. Scholarship award selection and notification should be handled in real time, not on the AER timeline. For example, if you choose Sarah Sims to receive the Betty Smith Equestrian Scholarship for academic year 2020, than you will tell Betty Smith that in the fall of 2019 (or whenever your scholarship decisions are made), and you will provide her with Sarah’s bio or thank you letter at that time. Then, NEXT fall, you will simply list Sarah in Betty’s AER as the 2020 recipient of the scholarship (with my directory information such as year, major and hometown) – no additional thank you letter or materials because Betty already knew Sarah received the scholarship – you are reporting in arrears. The point is, don’t try and mix too many reporting activities into this report. Keep the narrative gathering as simple as possible and don’t cross reporting years!
Organizational Endowment Performance: Yes, there is a place for investment returns and overall endowment performance, benchmarking, and trends. But make sure this is well designed, light in content, perhaps in infographic style, and easy to read. This can be built into the design of the report, or perhaps housed online and directed with a link or web address.
Glossary, FAQs, and Survey: These are your “housekeeping” items. They make the end-user experience more donor friendly and gives us a channel for direct feedback. If your reports are digital, embed a link to the survey in a highly visible location and proactively drive participation.
Trust me, with just these five elements, you have more than enough to get done – don’t let this already cumbersome process morph into an initiative that diverts time, staff, and energy away from higher priority donor engagement work. Endowment reports are very important, and we need to do them well, but they are not what makes or breaks a donor relationship! If you need assistance in revamping or reimagining your endowment reporting process, we are here to help! Our on-demand reporting course walks you through the entire process from beginning to end, and our team of experts is available for virtual consulting.