Thursday, December 2, 2010

Comment on Webinar about Foundation Annual Reports

by Jeff Stanger

On December 2, I participated in a webinar hosted by the Communications Network on the state of foundation annual reports. My interest was in the move to make digital versions of these documents and what shape those efforts were taking. You can read a study on annual reports provocatively titled "Talking to Ourselves?" at the equally provocatively titled whyannualreports.org. Below is my comment on the webinar and report.


Great report, site and December 2 webinar. Thanks.

I think it is inevitable that there are going to be digital renditions of much or all of the material contained in annual reports. In a lot of cases, they probably already exist. Whether they completely replace the printed volume or not is to me really not the critical question. The bigger one -- what do these digital versions look like? If all it becomes is a PDF clone of a print document, I think it's fallen well short. If all it becomes is a "micro-site" with static hypertext, I think it's only gotten slightly closer. These methods are what I call "digital distribution" -- using new media to transmit what is essentially offline material. Successful communication in today's digital environment demands much more. Broadband proliferation (66% of homes), smartphone and digital tablet adoption, more advanced browsers and programming languages, etc. have raised the digital bar considerably. It's not enough to clone it; we need to transform it into something new that harnesses the unique capabilities of modern digital media. Interactive information graphics, data-driven Web features, smartphone and tablet applications, computational elements, localization, customization/personalization, share-ability -- these are some of the techniques that are now possible, expected and I would argue necessary. So posting a PDF or building a set of hyperlinked static text pages, in my opinion, are not bold enough advancements to keep pace with the rapid evolution of the digital environment.

(I was interested, but not surprised, to hear on the webinar that the most popular feature of one foundation's online annual report wasn't the text, wasn't even the video, but was the *interactive* map.)

I think there will always be a purpose and audience for printed documents, annual reports included. But as we supplement them with digital presentations, if we continue taking small steps when communication technology and audiences are taking massive strides, then we're falling behind.

Comments welcome...