Monday, February 22, 2016

Your Best Annual Report Yet!

Ready to create an annual report, but not sure where to start? Start here! 

Transparency and regular communication about a nonprofit's mission and accomplishments builds trust, increases visibility and provides the opportunity for an organization to engage with their community. An annual report is just one of many opportunities for a nonprofit to share their organizational story. Sharing an annual report every year with key stakeholders, donors, family and friends, helps supporters connect with your mission and make informed giving decisions, leading to responsible philanthropy.

At Charities Review Council, we review hundreds of annual reports a year. Some are great, highlighting personal stories, clearly articulating accomplishments and effectively utilizing visual content to make it engaging for the reader. While other annual reports, well, that's why we decided to write this post. With three easy steps, we're sharing what we've learned and providing additional support as you take on creating your next annual report. Follow the steps outlined below and you'll also ensure that your organization aligns with our Annual Report and Communication Accountability Standard. It's a win-win! So without further ado, here are our three steps for achieving your best annual report yet! 

Step One: Determine 2 - 4 accomplishments to highlight.

Your annual report should not be a running list of everything you did in the previous year. Instead, focus in on a few accomplishments that truly convey your organizational story in a meaningful way. Ensure that you are including information for each of your major programs (major programs listed in the IRS Form 990, Part III). Donors want to know how their gift made a difference. So consider sharing things that might 'wow' your constituents, whether that was a new program, unexpected results, or a new location opening. Share the excitement with those who matter most, your supporters!

Step Two: Make it EASY! 
Easy to read, easy to understand and easy to access.

It's simple, annual reports fall flat when they are too long or overly complicated. When writing your annual report, keep the end goal in mind, which is (or should be) to engage your key stakeholders, donors, volunteers, family and friends in the work of your organization. In order to do that, keep these three things in mind:

Donors & nonprofits gather at Annual Forum 2015
  • Avoid using jargon. When you use jargon, or complicated language that not everyone will know and understand, you limit your audience from understanding the full breadth of your work. Make your work accessible and easy to read. Avoid jargon.
  • Use Images. You know and we know pictures have the ability to bring stories to life! By using pictures in your annual report you're not only adding excitement to your report, but you're also adding color, which is reported to increase readership by 80%! Don't forget about photo captions. If people read nothing but the captions in your annual report, they should still get a sense of the work that was accomplished last year. Photos and image captions connect your reader with the work being done, and that my friends is what the annual report is all about.
  • Create white space. Annual reports that are all text from top to bottom, left to right, are hard to read and quite frankly, boring. Strategic use of white space creates a more effective design and un-cluttered feel. White space can also be used to draw the reader's eye to a key statistic, mission statement, or accomplishment. Use white space to help point out the most important pieces of your annual report. 

It may be last on this list, but it's certainly not least. Use our annual report checklist to determine what is required information* and what is considered 'best practice' before getting started. You can print the checklist, or share the link with a co-worker to get your team on the same page before diving in. Discuss which, if any, of the best practices items that you will include in your annual report, remembering that too many things can potentially detract from the message you are trying to share. Focus in on the items that convey your organizational story, are relevant to the previous year, and include those in the report.

You are now ready to embark on your annual report journey! For more information, inspiration and practical applications, check out our website at

*Required to meet Charities Review Council's Annual Report and Communication Accountability Standard, not necessarily required by law. 

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