A Better Way to Produce Nonprofit Annual Reports | Beth's Blog

A Better Way to Produce Nonprofit Annual Reports



Note from Beth: I facilitated a panel about Mobile Integrated strategy at the Innogive Conference earlier this month and have shared the notes here.   The panelists offered advice to nonprofits about integrating mobile into the nonprofit toolbox.  My main takeaway was that nonprofits need to think differently about content.  There are  different media forms  that mandate different types of content  — and nonprofits must consider this as part of the online content strategy.   People who reading content on their smartphones or tablets will not be consuming text heavy information – it has to brief text and visual or videos.   What how to make that efficient?   Michael’s guest post explains more:

A Better Way to Produce Reports Nonprofit Annual Reports, guest post by Michael Hoffman,  See3 Communications

Treesaver is a new open source web platform for publishing that uses the new HTML5 standard to create narrative experiences—with text, pictures and video. Treesaver divides content into pages, automatically adjusting to the size of any screen. With Treesaver you can create content once and publish it everywhere.

It works on any device that has a web browser. The same design and the same code works on PCs, Macs and Linux desktop computers  or Apple, Android, and Blackberry smart phones and tablets like iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab. While many organizations are running to develop iPhone and Android apps, with a Treesaver dynamic publication, you skip the hassle and cost of making separate apps for every target device.

Treesaver is significant for nonprofits because it combines important trends – open source software, web standards and mobile applications. While Treesaver has been designed for media publishers by magazine design guru Roger Black, we at See3 believe it has real significance for nonprofits.

The Nonprofit Report

Many nonprofit organizations produce reports. These reports could be annual reports that sum up their work during the year or reports about subjects where the organization has expertise. The report is often an important piece of research designed to show leadership on an issue and attract the attention of the press and governments to affect social change.

For example, CREW –Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington just released a report about
how payday lenders have increased payments to lobbyists. Feeding America has a national hunger study. Amnesty International has a report about housing and water rights for the Roma community in Slovenia, among dozens of others. The Alliance for Biking and Walking has a benchmark report about the levels of biking and walking in the US. These reports, and others like them, represent a critical part of the work of social change organizations, think tanks and foundations.

The Death of the PDF

While reports such as foundation annual reports are still printed and mailed, today many reports are
found on websites in the form of a PDF.

What PDF’s do well is prepare a document for printing. But people are less and less likely to need
printing. They are more likely to want to read that report on their computer, their iPad – some
researchers suggest Apple could sell 25 million units in 2011 — or even their smart phone. The PDF is
actually a terrible way to put content on the web. Why are PDFs so bad? Let me count the ways:

  1. They are slow to load
  2. They are in a fixed size, no matter on which screen you are looking at them
  3. They aren’t built for mobile devices
  4. You can’t link to a specific page inside the document – if you want to share one page on Facebook the best you can do is link to the whole document, and when your friend clicks and realizes it’s a 30 page PDF they hate you.

Don’t Build That App

Nonprofit Executive Director: “We need an iPhone app. And an iPad app.”

Nonprofit Tech Person: “We do?”

Nonprofit Executive Director: “Yes. You see, I have an iPad now and it’s very cool and we should have
something on here.”

Nonprofit Tech Person: “OK, but you know it will cost around $30,000 to build an app for the iPhone.
And we might want to optimize it for the Ipad. Oh, and we should build an Android app as well, which
will be another $30,000. Not to mention Blackberry users and all these new tablet computers.”

Nonprofit Executive Director: “That’s a lot of money.”

Nonprofit Tech Person: “Yes it is. And there is another problem here also. Who’s going to download that
app or even know it’s there? And… social media has become a very important way for us to tell people
about our content, and you can’t send people to specific content inside an app. When they click on our
link on Facebook they will hit a wall asking them to download something, which almost no one will do.”

Conversations like this one are happening all over nonprofit executive offices these days. And
unfortunately, many of these organizations proceed to build their apps, spend their money, only to find
that no one is paying attention.

Treesaver offers nonprofits a way to publish content that is native to an iPhone or iPad without having
to develop anything different. The content will look great on the computer or on any device. And
because it’s open source, there are no license fees, just the work on design and content.

At See3, we think this is like the launch of Drupal or WordPress – two content management systems that
have become very popular with nonprofits. It’s a significant event and you should pay attention.

We tested out Treesaver by telling one of our own stories. Have a look here to see how it works. http://

Michael Hoffman is the CEO of See3 Communications. You can learn more about online video and the work of See3 at http://see3.net/

29 Responses

  1. is it prohibitively expensive?

  2. This is really interesting and I was blown away by how beautiful the Egypt story (report?) is. If one creates such a “document” (for want of a better word), is there a way to download it?

  3. Linda

    Treesaver is free and open source, in the same way Drupal or WordPress are. This means the framework is free, but any design you want to do will cost you with design and development time. There are no license fees for the core software but like a Drupal website you will want to make it look like your own.

  4. Shonali

    Right now, Treesaver is in early development stages. We are looking into different kinds of add-ons and features and download could easily be one of them if this was a client requirement.

  5. Thanks, Michael. It might be worth looking into – could be a way for Treesaver to be an alternative to downloadable ebooks, and so on.

  6. Terri says:

    What do you suggest instead of a pdf then?

  7. Terri

    We suggest Treesaver for making print reports into readable online experiences that can be delivered beautifully to an iPad, Android phone or any device.

    Most people don’t want to print your report, and most people glance at and then toss the printed reports they get.

  8. David Venn says:


    Great post – couldn’t agree more – the pdf annual report is dead. There are so many better ways of sharing annual reports that are interactive and integrated with other communications tools.

    I recently helped a client use Issuu.com to digitize their annual report as well as create a digital library for their publication archives. It’s a great system and well worth the small investment. Will check out Treesaver.

    I also blogged the other week about 4 innovative ways nonprofits can share their annual reports: http://bit.ly/iimGfK

    Hope it helps some others out!

  9. Michael, how does Treesaver line up against Scribd?

  10. Scribd is like SlideShare for documents, Treesaver is part of your website that you control and design, etc. more like Drupal or WordPress for narratives.

    Treesaver auto paginates for the device and orientation. More info on the tech stuff here:

  11. Jo Lee says:

    When will the hosted version be available – that’s the killer app

  12. I saw the See3 session at the Nonprofit Technology Conference in DC last week. Was very impressed with the quality of the result of Treesaver. I’ve been thinking about how to use it at Great Books.

  13. Alan says:

    Hmm… It’s still early stages I’m sure, and the chrome version displays beautifully. However, on my large desktop monitor PDF’s still sing just fine.

    I popped it up on someone’s iphone and there’s lots to be desired:
    1. images like page 2 and the map auto-sized incorrectly
    2. safari mobile’s pinch zoom is disabled
    3. text on the cover was too small to read.
    4. the company logos on page 3 didn’t show on the iphone.

    I will say the text on page 3 auto-sized beautifully and was a delight to read. But I gave up after that.

    A lot of promise, look forward to seeing a hosted version, for sure.

  14. Alan
    For sure it will be improving in image handling.

    The advantages to this are much more significant than could be explained in this post. A critical point is that you can’t control whether your readers will have a nice big monitor or not.
    You should watch the big web show interview to learn more of how this works and what its about http://5by5.tv/bigwebshow/42
    And i think the advantages will make more sense.

  15. Geri Stengel says:

    The times they are a changin’. As media options expand, that conversation is going to get more complicated and it will be even more important for funders to acknowledge that consultants who know the ever-changing field are a legitimate expense.

  16. nothinglikepaper says:

    Boo!!! Print out the Annual Report. It will stand out in the mailbox and your user base/donor base loves to hold things and see their names in print!!!

  17. Hey Nothing Like Paper
    I agree that sometimes printing out names of donors makes sense. Like at a gala dinner!

    But you can achieve that often without the huge expense of glossy larger reports.

    Amazon is now selling more e-books than books! The times are changing, and we will see less and less print and less justification for the print expense.

  18. jenny says:

    What is the cost comparison of using and installing Treesaver as opposed to printing annual reports of hiring a designer to design content is still a necessity?

  19. nothinglikepaper says:

    Using Google Chrome and all I see is Loading in upper left corner and nothing else. Had it open for the past 5 min. ????????

  20. Mazarine says:

    How about…

    An even simpler solution. You don’t need an iPad app. Or a fancy tech solution.


    Link to different parts of your annual report on your website.

    Have your ED letter be one pdf.
    Have your Financials be another.
    Have your stories be a third.
    Have your donor list be a fourth.

    Link it in your e-newsletter and on your site and people will not have to try to wait for a big pdf to download, OR wade through a mass of information to find what they want.

    You could save money by sending your annual report in printed form to your donors who give over $100 or some arbitrary amount per year.

    Or do a quick survey of donors and ask them if they’d like to receive a printed copy of your annual report, or if they’d prefer to look at it online.

    These tips actually come from a post I wrote on 13 things NOT to do with your annual report here:




  21. […] A better way to produce nonprofit annual reports, by Michael Hoffman of See3 over at Beth Kanter’s […]

  22. Jenny
    Treesaver is Free and Open Source, so it costs nothing to download. To install and design takes some tech skills, which some places might have in house. That said, to fully design and implement one it might cost up to $10,000 or more. Unlike the print report, however, this template can be reused for many reports in the future.

    Mazarine – I think you offer really good suggestions, but I don’t believe that long-term PDFs are a good solution at all. Eventually, people will be reading these things on their tablets, their laptops and phones and you will want to give those people a good reading experience in each place, without having to create versions for each one.

  23. Here’s an article in today’s NY Times that gives some good background on why Treesaver and other HTML5 applications are significant

  24. […] too much time worrying if you have the right strategy for cultivating Gen X versus Millenials. And definitely don’t spend time brainstorming about the iPhone app for your nonprofit that will do…. Think big picture, and focus on the basics. The next generation will become loyal donors when they […]

  25. […] first read about Treesaver on Beth’s Blog the same day I attended the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) Social Media in […]

  26. Thanks Michael for a great post about a wonderful new way to produce online publications. After reading your post, I decided to make my April 2011 video clip of the month about Treesaver (see http://t.co/muKy97h). Of course, I quoted your excellent list of reasons why PDFs are terrible. FYI, I also noted PDFs are not accessible, at least without a lot of extra work tagging and bookmarking (if you’ve ever made a PDF accessible for a federal government agency you know what I mean). Being able to serve all audiences, including the disabled, is another important reason why you’d want to try Treesaver.

  27. Yikes! Here’s that link again: http://t.co/muKy97h without a parentheses attached to it!!!

  28. […] first read about Treesaver on Beth’s Blog the same day I attended the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) Social Media in […]

  29. […] Beth. "A Better Way to Produce Nonprofit Annual Reports | Beth’s Blog." Beth Kanter’s Blog. Web. 01 Apr. […]