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Your nonprofit organization’s annual report allows you to celebrate your accomplishments, address challenges you’ve faced, and share your plans for the future. An informative, professional, and visually appealing annual report will boost trust in your organization and excite your supporters for the coming year.
Traditional annual reports are text-heavy, print booklets that are up to 30 pages long. While this format may interest some donors, you’ll engage more readers with digestible content that includes eye-catching graphics, whether you use a print or digital format.
In this guide, we’ll explore dynamic annual report formats that will grab your donors’ attention. But first, let’s review the fundamental elements of an annual report.
Annual report fundamentals
Although annual reports will vary in terms of their content and format, they should include these essential elements:
- Your nonprofit’s messaging and tone of voice. Your annual report should sound like your other messages, such as your outreach emails or social media posts. Avoid using complex jargon and opt for a friendly and relatable tone to make the content digestible.
- Letters from the president and board chair addressed to the reader. Including these elements near the beginning of the report will make your organization’s leaders feel approachable while demonstrating their knowledge and investment in the organization.
- Financial reports. One major purpose of an annual report is to inform donors about the nonprofit’s financial status and how their contributions are being used. Include complete financial statements that can be released to the public as well as a summary of key insights for readers who are less financially savvy.
- An impact report. Provide data on how many people your programs and campaigns benefited that year and the value they provided to beneficiaries. These metrics should be quantifiable results. For instance, a food kitchen could include the exact number of meals served.
- A challenge report. Being upfront about the challenges your nonprofit faced ensures transparency between your nonprofit and donors. Highlight how your nonprofit addressed these issues and how you will prevent them in the future.
- Your organization’s branding. The most successful annual reports are visually attractive, so style yours with your nonprofit’s logo, colors, typography, and other unique brand elements. Due to the length of an annual report, consider hiring a graphic designer to stylize it for you.
Now that you understand what goes into an annual report, let’s review different ways to format it.
Digital annual report formats
Digital annual report formats have increased flexibility, accessibility, shareability, and interactivity. Plus, you can easily upload them for supporters to view on your website. Let’s explore the different annual report formats for digital platforms.
An annual report mini-site is a section of your nonprofit website dedicated to your annual report. Also known as a landing page, your readers can access this site by clicking on a link to it from your main website.
Mini-sites are useful because they require less maintenance than your main website and are more interactive than a static annual report. Be sure to include a table of contents so readers can quickly access the content that interests them.
For example, reference the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta’s 2021 annual report mini-site. This annual report is easily skimmable due to its call-out graphics and descriptive headings. Also, it provides links to the full program overviews, allowing interested donors to get a deep dive without cluttering the main page.
If you’re looking for a straightforward, interactive annual report format, a mini-site is a great option. Work within your CMS to create a new page on your website and place the link in a visible spot that your donors can find.
A PDF is a versatile file type that’s easy to upload, download, and share. Your CMS likely has a PDF tool that allows you to embed these files on your website for easy downloading. Also, PDFs aren’t modifiable after being uploaded, ensuring that your annual report remains unchanged once it’s made public.
The World Wildlife Fund’s 2021 annual report is a great example of the strengths of this file type. PDF is a good option for organizations interested in creating long, easily accessible, text-based annual reports.
If you want to catch your donors’ attention, consider supplementing your annual report with a video. While you likely can’t convey every detail of your annual report in a video format, video is an engaging option for audiences that want an overview of the most important information.
For instance, the Herren Project’s 2021 year-in-review video provides a high-level overview of the year’s highlights. By featuring their beneficiaries and supporters, the video also shows the tangible impact of the organization’s work.
No matter which format you choose for your full annual report, a review video is an effective addition to engage donors who care about the big picture.
Print annual report formats
Some donors value receiving a physical copy of an annual report. There are numerous ways to make your print materials pack a punch and remain concise.
Postcards serve a similar purpose to year-in-review videos, but on paper. Due to their size, postcards are best for delivering the main ideas of your annual report. You can highlight compelling photos and graphics on the front of your postcard and feature a few key messages on the back using bulleted highlights.
Consider the Literacy Volunteers of Bangor’s 2021-22 annual report postcard. It includes the most important facts on the front. On the back, the text is turned length-wise to fit more information.
For supporters interested in learning more, provide easy ways for interested supporters to access the rest of your annual report. Include a QR code that links to the complete digital annual report so interested donors can read more stories, donor information, and financial statements.
Short brochures can effectively highlight your annual report’s key messages, stories, and statistics while remaining digestible and visually appealing. Plus, brochures can be self-mailers, saving your nonprofit money and time on buying and stuffing envelopes.
Domus’ annual report brochure exemplifies how a lot of value can be packed into a small mailer. This two-sided brochure is eye-catching and educational, and it keeps its spotlight on the beneficiaries. If you want to include more data than can fit on a postcard but still want to keep the report simple, a brochure is ideal.
Annual report content tips
Here are some additional tips to know before you start your annual report and decide which format you’ll use:
Preserve prose, no matter your format
While using images to break up text is a must, don’t slash too much text from your report. Text helps explain disparate visual elements, providing context and helping them feel cohesive. Plus, compelling prose ties the piece together and keeps audiences focused where you want them to be: on your messages, purpose, and impact.
End with a positive note and call to action
No matter which annual report format(s) you use, always end on an optimistic note. Share what you’re excited and hopeful about for the coming year and invite readers to do something—make a donation before the year ends, sign up to volunteer, attend an event, or respond to a survey. If your report did its job, they’ll feel energized and motivated to support your cause.
Make the most of your nonprofit's annual report
Now that you understand annual reports and their formats, it’s time to write and deliver yours. To get started, segment donors based on their design preferences via your donor management software or send out a survey to gauge which formats are the most popular. With attention to detail and personalization, you’ll have a strong chance of transforming casual readers into long-term supporters.