I’m in the thick of creating a 2008-2009 annual report, and the question I pose to other nonprofit communications professionals is, Why do we keep producing these things, and does anyone bother to read them anymore anyway?

Why do I pose the question? Well. if you enter the question, Does anyone still read nonprofit annual reports? in a Yahoo or Google search, some of the items that come up suggest that annual reports  are so last century. BUT, and this is a big but, the writers of these posts tell us that donors still care about what you are doing, who you are serving and your impact.

So, the question is, How do you provide this critical information to funders in a way that keeps the information lively and informative.

My colleagues tell me to consider a video annual report. Or you can try the four-page, keep it short and only discuss impact report. I also saw a report earlier this year that chronicled one young man’s journey thanks to the help he received from a nonprofit.

What advice can you folks give me and each other on the best way to create a relevant annual report in the “keep it simple and short” era? I’d love your help!

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So, Larry King and company have proclaimed, “It’s in to be Black.”  He explained, laughingly (and that’s the part that really got me), on one of his recent shows that his eight-year-old son wants to be Black.

When did it become appropriate for people in the news business to joke about race like bad comedians on cable networks?

So, I guess I wasn’t in before?

First, King is suggesting that being Black was out until he decreed otherwise. As a Black American, I’ve always thought that being Black was in. I either felt sorry for or angry at those pathetic people who acted otherwise — the people that unwittingly helped to galvanize the Civil Rights movement and the centuries-long activism (most of it left out of the history books) that came before it.

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A Respected Brand Can Get You Through Tough Times

When friends, coworkers and even family members find out that I went to Washington, D.C. for the Inauguration of President Barack H. Obama, they ask, What was it like? In their usually hushed voices, you hear one part awe, one part envy and two parts reverence. Even one of my husband’s friends, who mostly just nods when he sees me, asked to speak with me –  during their sacred weekly call about football – when he heard that I was on the National Mall for the swearing in.

Certainly, everyone from my mom to Rupert Murdoch and from the Guardian to CNN, MSNBC and Fox News (and how often do they all agree?) have called Barack Obama a rock star. Even rival John McCain pejoratively referred to then-Senator Obama during the presidential campaign as a celebrity.

So of course, everyone assumes that my experience witnessing the inauguration in person must have been amazing. And it was.

But it was also cold and windy and amazingly frustrating. I walked for nearly two hours from one check point to another between nine city blocks, and then was subjected to a body search in the frigid weather, before I finally got onto the mall to witness the event. And I, a member of the ticket-less lumpen proletariat, did better than hundreds of ticket holders who never made it in at all due to some kind of security breach.

But in the midst of all of the confusion, all of the waiting, and all of the pushing and shoving in and out of the Metro station and on the streets, two million people kept smiling – broadly – and greeting each other with such a positive spirit. And that is a testament to President Obama and all that he stands for.

And it is also a result, for those of us who try to practice such things, of successful branding and effective social marketing.

Social Marketing and Building a Respected Brand

Now before you suggest that I’m reducing President Obama’s accomplishments to a good brand, hear me out. The Obama campaign can teach nonprofits a lot about branding, messaging and social marketing.

Few people believed just a year ago at the beginning of 2008, that then-Senator Obama had a chance at the U.S. presidency. Even his wife has admitted to questioning his belief that he could be U.S. Commander-in-Chief. In addition to being a black man, our current president was raised in Hawaii and Indonesia and has a name that is anything but U.S.-traditional. His parents were not married when he was born, and his father was not American.

So how did he make it, and how can nonprofit organizations use some of the lessons from his campaign?

Six Steps to Borrow from Candidate Obama’s Brand Playbook

1) Be clear about purpose: First and foremost, candidate Obama was clear about what he wanted to achieve. Not only did he want to be the president for change, but he was clear about what that change would mean: transparent government, inclusive decision-making based on solid facts, citizen empowerment, progressive national and international policies, stewardship of our economy and ecology, and using technology to improve lives and strengthen communication.

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Challenges and Opportunities in the Age of
New Media for Grassroots Organizations

The annual Be the Media Mini-Conference will help participants understand the link between strategic communications and organizing strategies as well as learn more about essential communications tools and techniques.

Attendees of the 2007 Be the Media Mini-Conference at the opening panelDate: Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Time: 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (lunch provided)
Location: NonProfit Center
Cost: $15 – $35 sliding scale, includes lunch
Sponsored by: Progressive Communicators Network and Third Sector New England
Co-sponsored by: Project Think Different, Boston Women’s Fund, Resist and Press Pass TV

Communications and media work are powerful tools for organizers and nonprofits working on community and social issues, but they can also present challenges, particularly for under-resourced groups.

In recent years, the development of new media tools such as social networking sites, blogs with multi-media content, YouTube and cell phones as mass communication devices have both given groups more options and raised questions about where to focus already limited staff and volunteer time. At this year’s conference, we will explore not only how to implement these tools, but identify what are their best and most impactful uses for grassroots organizations.

The conference is designed to serve change makers at levels of communication experience including those who are doing communications work as part of their current positions, such as organizers, executive directors or policy advocates.