by Joelle Steele

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Every year, your non-profit organization produces an annual report, membership directory, or informational resource publication. With thorough planning, careful organization, and good old-fashioned teamwork, you will have an attractive, well-written, and comprehensive publication that is reflective of the professional status of your organization, and that is a marketing device of which you and your members can be proud.

How to make it all happen when everyone is so busy doing so many other important things? Start early, have a good plan, and do it all gradually. If you want your publication to be released in January, start planning no later than the previous May. To ensure that your publication is the best that it can be, it takes a minimum of eight months. Trying to do so in less time creates unnecessary stress and confusion, increases the chance of errors and omissions, and frequently results in a shoddy production. During those eight months, you will have plenty of time to do everything you need to do, at a measured pace, and with every opportunity to do it all correctly for a polished professional publication.


Here is a very basic time frame for all the various details that need to be completed:

Month No. 1 - Design (approx. 2½ weeks)
Select a theme, design the basic cover, and determine the content of text and images; hire a designer or art director to help you achieve this.

Month No. 2 - Text (approx. 3 months)
Research, outline, and draft any written materials to be included, and/or hire a writer/editor to complete anything you cannot do yourself or to edit what you write.

Month No. 3 - Images (approx. 2½ months)
Begin to collect and scan photos, graphs, tables, etc., or to find resources for same and decide which items you might want to include and where they should be placed.

Month No. 4 - Member List (approx. 4 weeks)
Begin to clean up your membership list, purging duplicates, checking spellings, and verifying addresses and phone numbers.

Month No. 5 - Review and List Conversion (approx. 4 weeks)
Update and edit, and in all other ways revise your text prepared so far, checking for spelling and grammatical errors; hire an editor to ensure accuracy; place your member list into a text file in the order in which the individual data fields will appear on the page (discuss this with both your designer and your list manager to avoid delays).

Month No. 6 - Production (approx. 4 weeks)
Finalize the basic designs begun in the first month, and place text, images, and the member list on the pages.

Month No. 7 - Final Review (approx. 2 weeks)
Review and make any last minute corrections to the content or images; submit your publication to the printer.

Many of the above-mentioned items are best done in cooperation with a professional freelancer or outside service that specializes in the particular task to be performed. You should decide with whom you want to work early on, so that they will not be left out of the loop by hiring on after the project is already in process. The following is a little more detail about the various processes in the creation of your annual publication.


The very first thing you need to do is design your publication. This is the single most important part of the publishing process, because whatever is designed in the way of appearance and content will set the pace for everything else that follows. A good design determines the budget, or must be revised in order to accommodate a fixed budget. During the design process, you will need to decide how many pages of text will accompany your membership listings, how long each will be, how many pages the listings will require, whether or not there will be any advertising, and if so, how much and what kind and how it will be placed.

You will also need to decide what kind of paper and binding will be used, how many pages will be in full-color, how many with spot color, and how many will be black and white. This is the best time to get your printing quotes and to set any advertising rates and sales goals.

Unless you are a brand new organization, you should have a pretty good idea of what you want your publication to look like in general, from year to year, and more specifically how you want it to look for each individual year.

Design includes not just the appearance, but the content. Most annuals have a theme that is underlying each year's issue. Each year addresses the basics, and also adds a single topic such as increasing membership, expanding fundraising, unique business opportunities, economic concerns, changing trends, new philosophies and goals, etc. That single topic becomes the theme around which everything else is built.

For example, if you are a trade organization and your theme for the year is "unique business opportunities," then everything about your members, their specialties, needs, growth, direction, etc., will be framed within that theme. New trends or new products and services that are creating the unique business opportunities in your industry will be highlighted and applied to your members, describing how they can benefit as a result of incorporating those ideas into their own companies.

Tables, graphs, and photographic images will also be selected to enhance the chosen theme. In the case of this example, statistics indicative of the new trends, etc., will be displayed, as will photos of new products or people administering new services. Members of your organization who are successfully creating unique business opportunities for themselves also might be profiled/highlighted.

Design also includes the selection of a color palette, basic and decorative fonts, the incorporation of a logo, and the cover and page layout templates. You may already have a pre-selected palette and fonts for your publication, or you may have specific new ideas for improving upon your previous publication. Your existing formats and any new ideas can be passed on to the designer or art director in the form of verbal or written instructions, or even a sketch or computer draft of your ideas.

Often, the previous issue can be used as a model from which to springboard into a new design, utilizing or revising some familiar concepts and adding a few brand new ones. The designer or art director will then refine your ideas into the finished product so that the new look does not exactly duplicate the previous year's publication, and so that your latest publication will have a fresh look that matches your theme.


Maintaining and establishing credibility comes from strong writing, both in subject matter and the grammatical and linguistical presentation of the information.

If you cannot write well, and even if you can, you will always benefit from the input and assistance of a professional writer or editor who can attend to the finer details and nuances inherent in the writing process. However, your organization must ultimately determine the content and direct any writer or editor you hire in the completion of all written matter.

You should begin researching, outlining, and drafting your articles and other text as early on as possible. This allows you to think about it more, adjust it, enhance it, beef it up, and in any way improve upon it in an unhurried manner. It also allows enough time for editing for content and for space, both of which are almost always necessary to some degree.


Nothing takes more time than compiling the graphs, tables, and photographic images that will be used in your publication. The earlier you begin looking for this information, the easier it is to get it all updated and formatted for inclusion.

Graphs and tables often must be drawn or typed into the computer, and since they often involve statistical information, it is important that adequate time be allotted for proofing them and possibly double-checking the data against other sources.

Collecting the photos and slides to be used, especially for the cover, is also better done a little at a time. By taking your time to look at photos from various sources, usually from among your own members and possibly your own archives, you will find that your expanded range of choices is greater, and therefore the ultimate final selection will be an eye-catching, captivating, and highly suitable and appealing imagery that thoroughly illustrates and enhances the text.


Many companies and non-profit organizations publish membership directories each year. These mailing list databases need to be given special attention long before they are published.

Your list must be cleaned up, all duplicates culled, any new names added, old names deleted, and all items standardized, e.g., all post office box addresses are "PO Box" or they are all "P.O. Box" and not a mix of both. Cities should not be abbreviated. States must either use the post office two-character abbreviation or they must all be spelled out, not a mix of both.

Any titles that accompany an individual's name must either proceed or follow the name, not both. Website addresses should include either http://, www, or http://www, or those designations should be eliminated entirely, the latter being the preferred way, especially if it is going to be a hyperlink in a PDF version of your publication.

The list should be very carefully checked for spelling errors by members who are familiar enough with the entire membership that they can catch such oversights.

Once the database list is cleaned up, the items that are to be included in the directory must be separated from the information that does not go in the directory.

If your membership directory is just a simple mailing list, you need only dump it into a word processing file, usually Word, with the individual fields going into the word processing file in the order in which they will appear in the directory.

If your database contains information about membership fees, classifications, sales representatives, or any other non-publishable data, you will need to separate out the publishable data so that it can be dumped into a word processing file.

If you do not know how to do these things, you will need to consult with your art director and your database manager early on in the project to ensure that you can deliver the word processing file in the correct format. This is especially important if your directory is 100 or more names, as it can take a very long time to reformat the data once it is in a word processing file.


Nothing is ever perfect the first time through. Actually, it is rarely perfect on the final run either, but you can get pretty close to perfection if you take the time to thoroughly edit and proof your publication at various stages.

There will always be a few last minute revisions, but if you can keep in mind that adding and subtracting data or member names often means that entire pages must be reformatted, and that this is a very time-consuming process so near to the end of the project, you will make the project go a lot more smoothly by making your revisions as early on as possible.

Always have your publication proofed by someone who knows what they are doing. Proofing is an art unto itself, and it requires a special eye. You must proof first; after your corrections are made, hand it over to an editor or proofreader.


When your publication is in production, it is being assembled into a computer program that will be used by the printer to create the final product. The production process, also called pre-press production, takes about three to four weeks just for the text and images.

If you have advertising, your advertisements will extend the process considerably, as it is a rare publication that receives ads that are truly "ready" to be dropped immediately into place on the page.

Many annual publications are also indexed or cross-referenced in some way, or they may contain lists of information that must be formatted for publication, such as glossaries and bibliographies. Indexing is one of the last things to be done. Once it is done, you do not want to make any changes, because that would ultimately require that the indexing be redone too.

Once production is completed, you will receive a final printout to review. This is the time to make sure that everything is correct, that no errors are present. Usually, before you get the printout, it will have been proofed by production and by your editor or proofreader, so there should be very few, if any, errors at this time.


Your annual publication is a reflection of your membership as a group. Your attention to detail and your advance planning will guarantee a product that represents your membership, and that reminds anyone who sees and reads it that you are a viable and credible organization.

This article last updated: 02/19/2007.