Rhode Island Foundation: why less can be more with the annual report, particularly when it comes to legacies

Exhibited by
February 18, 2012
Medium of Communication
Target Audience
Type of Charity
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance

SOFII’s view

Printed annual reports are expensive to produce, expensive to send out and, some would say, raise little money. Now we have the technology to provide the same information and direct our donors and potential donors to an online version, what is the point of the old version? Before you decide to abandon your printed annual report, please consider the wonderful story in this exhibit.

Creator / originator

Melanie Coon, senior vice-president communications and marketing, the Rhode Island Foundation.

Summary / objectives

In the past, the Rhode Island Foundation printed as many as 10,000 hard copies to send out. In an effort to save money and trees, Melanie Coon, senior vice-president for communications and marketing whittled that number down and in 2010 the Foundation mailed only 2,625 printed copies of the annual report.


The Rhode Island Foundation was founded in 1916 and is one of America's oldest community foundations. Each year, they publish a well-designed, well-written annual report. It’s available online, as a downloadable PDF and also in hard copy

Melanie Coon attended a session conference where someone from a major private foundation said he had sent postcards to all the people who received the foundation’s annual report that encouraged them to request a hard copy, as well as providing the address of the online annual report. No one asked for a hard copy.

So Melanie decided to try it for herself. The Foundation sent postcards to about 3,100 people who had received annual reports in the past but had no other known connection to the Foundation. They also sent e-postcards to the 1,400 people who fell into that same category who they had email addresses for. The postcards encouraged people to call or write to the Rhode Island Foundation if they wished to receive a printed copy of the report. They also provided the address of the online annual report on the postcard.

Eleven people requested hard copies. And the Foundation saved a lot of money.They also had significantly fewer returned reports than in previous years.

Special characteristics

The Rhode Island Foundation still offer a printed version of their annual report as well as the one online. They make sure that Rhode Island’s lawyers receive hard copies as reading matter in their waiting rooms. A downloadable pdf simply won’t do that job.

Influence / impact

Here you’ll see why the Rhode Island Foundation keep on printing.

One day, an elderly man walked into his lawyer’s office in Rhode Island. He was there to make his will, to get his affairs in order before it was too late.

He was early for his appointment. To pass a few minutes, he picked up the first thing that caught his eye: a handsome publication with beautiful photography of familiar scenes.

It was the Rhode Island Foundation’s most recent annual report. He’d never heard of the Foundation, but he started reading. And he liked what he read. He liked how the Foundation gives away money to the state’s nonprofits to help them with their missions.

The man had no close family left. But he did have a sizable estate. And, up until then, he really wasn’t sure where to leave it. Then he had an idea. When the lawyer called him in the man took the Foundation’s annual report with him. When he died a while later the Rhode Island Foundation received a small fortune from him in the form of a charitable bequest.

All thanks to the printed annual report. 


The Rhode Island Foundation provides donors, potential donors and potential legators with the right item in the right place and at the right time.