Every year, you spend countless hours perfecting your annual report. Or, if you’re just starting out, you’re spending time trying to figure out what exactly should be included in that annual report. Or even further—do you even need one?!

Luckily, there are a host of organizations and experts out there who have been there and done that, ready and willing to help your organization succeed. We gathered some of the best tips and tricks to help as you’re developing your next annual report.

Let’s talk about what an annual report is (and what it’s not!), how to know if you need an annual report, important elements to include and how to put your new knowledge into action.

What is an annual report? What is it not?

First, let’s briefly discuss what an annual report is NOT. An annual report isn’t:

  • A financial document
  • A list of donors
  • A 20-page black and white text-heavy booklet
  • Your 990 Annual Return form

If it’s not any of those things, what exactly is an annual report, you ask? You’ve come to the right place! Simply put, an annual report is:

  • A summary of what happened over the past year
  • A donor retention and marketing tool
  • A report that builds confidence and trust in your organization

We’ll dive deeper with the nitty gritty, but this at least gives you a baseline to start!

Do I need to create an annual report?

First and foremost, as a nonprofit organization you may be required to submit an annual report. Make sure you’re familiar with rules presented to your organization by funders, parent organizations, national brands or anyone else who may have a stake in your organization.

There are also other reasons you might want to consider making an annual report, even if you aren’t required to create one, such as:

  • If you need materials to present to donors or funders
  • If you need another way to connect with donors on a mass scale
  • If you’re looking for a written way to share your story, 56% of nonprofit followers on mobile and social networks take further action, primarily making a donation, after reading a compelling story published by a nonprofit.

5 must-have elements of a successful (and interesting) annual report

1. Authentic overview of your year.

Did you have a tough year? That’s okay—it’s been a rough go for many nonprofits the past few years. Honestly report about everything from your financial situation to your successes and challenges. Don’t forget to offer a healthy dose of gratitude and include a heartfelt call to action. Honesty goes a long way in the hearts of your supporters.

2. The people behind your org.

While it’s important to include all the facts, figures and applicable statistics in your annual report, don’t forget to humanize it with photos and images of the people behind your mission—both those who serve and those who have been served by your organization. Adding photos adds a personal, human element to your report.

3. Succinct and engaging content.

Long blocks of text are a sure way to lull your readers to sleep. Keep your messaging concise and focused. Avoid rabbit holes that take your reader off topic or into the weeds. Think short paragraphs, bulleted lists and quick blurbs. Plus, break up longer blocks of content with subheads that allow your reader to skim and hit the highlights.

4. Versatile delivery.

If you have a traditional audience who prefers paper, print your annual report in a 4- or 6-page format. If you have a tech-savvy audience, take the digital route with a video, infographic or microsite. Want to be inclusive? Do both, and give your audience an immersive experience by including QR codes in your printed report that drive people online for more details, videos and calls to action.

5. A vision for the future.

What’s in store for 2023? How is your org planning for the next year, the next five years or even further down the road? Why are you hopeful for what’s to come? Give your donors a reason to believe in your mission and keep coming back.

How do I put these tips into action?

Telling stories is one of the most important aspects of your annual report. Don’t wait until it’s time to put together the report to begin collecting those stories. Come up with the best place to identify a repository to begin collecting stories throughout the year that can be used for your annual report or for other materials.

In addition, you can ask people for testimonials throughout the year to be used in your report. And be sure to get their permission to publish them.

Next, fill out your annual report worksheet. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you need help once you get started. We’re here to help you make your annual report a success.

Pro tip: When it’s time to deliver your report, create a personalized box with branded promo items and your annual report to create a great first impression for new supporters and to show your appreciation for current supporters.

If this still sounds like you may need a helping hand, we would love to work with you on your annual report! At Firespring, we can design, print and mail your organization’s annual report—all of that and then some, because we can do the digital part, too. When you’re ready, tap us to help your nonprofit create an annual report that’s uniquely yours.


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