Annual reports are incredibly useful in order to feature your organization’s accomplishments over the past year, lay out goals for the years ahead, and thank donors for their generous support.  When well-designed and compellingly-written, they can also be much more than that. Annual reports can help bring your donors further into the life of your organization, making them feel special and privy to the ins and outs of your work, and serve as a gentle pitch for further support.

In addition to sharing it with your most committed donors, here are some ways in which you can make the most use of your annual report:

  • Bring it. Meeting with a donor? Use your annual report as a talking tool, highlighting the program areas where their support has made the
  • Share it. Consider sending your annual report (or a smaller version of it) to your entire house file. Receiving a professional annual report, even when you’re not a large donor, can make a supporter feel important and involved.
  • Use it. Nonprofits often spend a lot of time putting together their annual reports only to send it around to donors, and then forgetting about it. Don’t let all the knowledge your organization has gained in putting this document together go to waste. Bring your annual report to your leadership meetings throughout the year to use as a guide for remembering how far you’ve come, and where you need to go this year. It can be a good foundation for a strategic plan.

Unbeknownst to many, annual reports can come in many different sizes. Depending on the size and budget of an organization, they can be as small and simple as a tri-fold brochure, or as large as War and Peace (although I wouldn’t recommend it).

These are six essential elements of a good annual report:

1. A letter from the president. Give readers a brief overview of what’s in the report and thank them for their support. Make sure to highlight the most important information you’d like the readers to know, as it’s very likely the only page they will read thoroughly.

2. Mission and vision should always be included in an annual report. No matter how many years a donor has been supporting an organization, it’s essential to remind them of why.

3. Real people. An organization is made up of its people—its leadership and staff, those whom it serves, and its supporters. Including profiles, powerful stories and testimonials, little anecdotes, pictures, and names of people in an annual report is essential to building a supporter’s faith in the organization and making them feel part of a community.

4. Programs. Let your supporters know what’s been going on during the past year and your goals for the year to come. Highlight your successes but don’t be ingenuous. If there’s a program that has been faltering, let them know. It might be an opportunity to invite them to bolster up the program with a donation.

5. Budget. Don’t bore your supporters with too much detail but provide them an overview of your organization’s revenue and expenses. Some organizations even give actuals versus projected budget for the year and slip in a subtle invitation to give by including their fundraising goals.

6. Recognition of support. An annual report should always be used as a way of saying “Thank you! Here’s what you’ve helped us do!” Take this opportunity to thank them. Readers remember best what they read last. So if you want them to put the report down feeling appreciated, remember that “thank you” should be the last line they read.

Remember that your annual report should be highly attractive and professionally designed. Be sure to incorporate charts and graphs, pictures, and icons whenever possible. And lastly, don’t forget why you’ve set out to create an annual report—to keep your supporters informed, thank them, and help bring them into the life of your organization. Happy reporting!

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It’s my personal and professional goal to help purpose-driven organizations achieve their fundraising goals, craft clear and compelling communications, and achieve greater influence. Please let me know if and how I can be of help to you. Feel free to shoot me an email at lpallares@americanphilanthropic.com or check out our services online at AmericanPhilanthropic.com. We also have ongoing fundraising seminars and events throughout the year.