Lilly Endowment Annual Report is a must-read

The next time you’re looking for a good book, pick up the Lilly Endowment’s 2006 annual report.

No, I don’t normally recommend annual reports for anyone’s reading pleasure. If you’ve read my other posts, you’ll infer that I find most annual reports full of stilted language and business jargon intended to impress readers into putting them down before they’re actually read.

The Endowment’s report easily could have fallen into that category. The organization gives away millions of dollars each year to help individuals, groups and communities improve the world; its writers could have used the annual report as a forum for proclaiming its transformational generosity and unsurpassed greatness, etc.
Instead, its writers chose to show how the organization is leaving its imprint on the world through the compelling personal stories of the people who receive its money. Here’s the start of one:

In June 1966 John Sherman, a 2005-2006 Creative Renewal fellowship winner, left his cap and gown from Indiana University on a table after the graduation ceremony in Bloomington. That was on a Monday. By Saturday he was in Atlanta, Ga., undergoing Peace Corps training. A farm boy from rural Marshall County, Ind., Sherman recalls, “My parents always encouraged me to go out and see the world.” Good advice.

You’re immediately drawn in, and stay interested through the rest of the story. You don’t run into a stilted quote by a Lilly Endowment official anywhere. Here’s part of another:

“Just getting out the photo album and looking at the pictures has an effect on students,” Fancher says. “When they see that their teacher has worked in the field and done something unique, students see that teacher differently. The experience helps my students perceive me as a scientist as well as their teacher.”

Coupled with photos more journalistic than posed and art-directed, these stories personalize the organization’s mission in a way that no CEO ever could.
Sit down for an inspiring read.


2 thoughts on “Lilly Endowment Annual Report is a must-read

  1. Interesting—because this is pretty much the direction we’re going with our annual report this year, too. (I say “we,” but the decision was made before my time, so I can’t take credit). Maybe it’s a trend… better this direction than toward more business jargon.

  2. Congratulations to your organization on its vision. One can only hope it’s a trend that will continue. Let me know of other examples you run across.

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