Start with this question: is your annual report a humble necessity or an inspiration?
Inspirational is there… you just have to be ready to jump over some common obstacles to reach it.
We don’t have the money to create something good
You don’t need a fancy presentation. You do need a mission-, community- and donor-focused mindset. You need to create a report for your donors, not your CEO or your board. (Reading while an organization pats itself on the back is not inspiring. It’s boring. Sometimes even offensive.)
Afraid of printing expenses? Create a digital version and share the link. No design software? You can even create it in Canva! Or consider telling your stories with video. It doesn’t have to be perfect.
If it’s full of heart and well-written, you can print something on your office copier and it will reach your donors.
Donors aren’t the only people who matter
Gratitude matters to everyone who helps make your work possible. No government or corporate representative will be insulted by a grateful annual report. And don’t worry – crediting donors for your work won’t telegraph that you’re not working, too.
This publication isn’t for insiders. It’s not about making your ED feel accomplished or bragging rights for your board. It’s about showing your partners in mission how much they’ve made possible – and thanking them for it all.
But our staff and our board need to be celebrated, too!
Of course they do. But if you’re counting on an annual report to thank them, you’ve already lost.
Your staff doesn’t need annual report kudos. They deserve thanks all the time. Has it been a particularly tough year for the staff? Thank them with a party. Praise them to the board at a board meeting.
Give them paid time off.
And your board should all be donors themselves – if not financial donors, then volunteers. So they should be feeling the love.
I’m the fundraiser, but the annual report is done by another department
Fundraiser, you should be the boss here. Because you don’t need a corporate brochure. You need a love letter.
Fundraising staff should help create the theme and focus. And you should be working with any writers, designers or photographers you hire.
So how can you create an annual report that works?
Focus on donors: they get the credit for what you have accomplished together. You don’t need credit as much as you need support!
Ooze gratitude: You can’t be too effusive as long as you’re sincere. And if you can’t muster sincere gratitude, you might be in the wrong field.
Pass on the letter from your ED. Unless your ED is famous or the organization has something really news-worthy to say, skip it. If you’re finding it hard to write the letter then think about how much harder it will be for people to read it.
Make it easy to read: Design with readers in mind. That means making the print large enough to read easily. It means writing simply as well as emotionally. It means white space is your friend. Be careful with design: text isn’t simply another visual element.
Tell a story: We all learn best from stories. Stories are an elemental way for humans to communicate. Find a great one to tell. Or several. Give the story a beginning, middle and end. Tell a story of the people you serve. Or a donor or volunteer.
Be creative: A dutiful corporate report is pretty dull stuff. Why bother creating it if no one will want to read it? Think outside the typical annual report box. What will intrigue or delight your readers?
Be emotional: Don’t fall for safety. To write emotionally, you need to feel those emotions. They’re not unprofessional – they’re critical!
Be transparent: Share your financials. But don’t share so much detail that readers get lost. Publishing every line of your budget can actually camouflage your financial position. Because if readers don’t feel able or willing to study it, they’ll skip it. It’s harder to present financials in a reader-friendly way. But it’s worth it.
Use great images: start thinking about the story you want to tell now. Then collect images that support it. This is an area where hiring a good photographer can make or break your report. A few great images, with well-written captions, can tell your whole story!
Your annual report can show donors you care. Your gratitude can bring those donors even closer to your work.
Isn’t that what you want?