postheadericon 10 Things You Can Do to Create a More Effective Nonprofit Annual Report

Make it an Impact Report

It’s not about reporting your financials or your donor list, it’s about showing the impact your nonprofit has had on the world around you, even if it’s a small world. I love this trend, as we see Impact Reports replacing Annual Reports, not always in title but in content where more value is palced on what matters most – what kind of results you are getting with your programs. The impact report is shorter than the annual report and focuses more than 50% of it’s pages on programs.

This example focuses more in impact than donor lists...

This example focuses more on impact than donor lists…

Show Your Impact More Often

While we’re on the subject of Impact Reports – I like the idea of doing these at least twice per year as part of your annual campaign. OR as a quarterly mailing. Think how results-oriented we’d be if we knew we had to pull together a report quarterly? For those of you reporting quarterly for a grant – you are already ahead of the game – just make it pretty and mail it out.

Mail It to Everyone

Yes – you heard correctly – mail SOMETHING to everyone  I know the price of postage went up recently, but people’s mailboxes are far more empty than their email boxes and it’s more likely to get noticed and read when they have it in their hot little hands. Plot out a logical mailing strategy. Mail the full printed report to your top donors and mail a postcard summary to everyone else that points to a full pdf version of the report online.

Think Multi-Format

Which brings me to all the different things you can do with your report. Instead of thinking of The Annual Report as if it were a separate (usually printed) entity, we need to be focusing on “responsive annual report design and delivery” just like we do with responsive web design (although not as automated) – creating a report that is communicated via different channels differently. Whether you decide to print a larger full version, at the very least you should have something online  (and something that you mail – even if it’s just a summary). It can include any combination of a landing page with summary, a pdf version, a video version,  a microsite version, an interactive digital version, and/or a mobile friendly version. But the key is a COMBINATION – meaning more than one format. Check out Wild Apricot’s article: Choosing a Format for your Annual Report  (for some format ideas) and our Branded4Good PInterest board: Annual Report Inspirations.

Check out this online version from Children's Hospital of Chicago

Check out this online version from Children’s Hospital of Chicago


A beautifully done annual report combination landing page with video that is part of a microsite for the summary of the annual report - and you can click on the full annual report in digital format!

A beautifully done annual report combination landing page with video that is part of a microsite for the summary of the annual report – and you can click on the full annual report in digital format!


Land it Well

In keeping with our “responsive annual report design”, I like the idea of using all your resources at hand to deliver your report – through an Annual Report landing page. The landing page can include the highlights or summary (possibly the same summary content you’ve mailed) and then links to additional online versions. Once you’ve created the full report, it should not be that challenging to pull the content into most of the other formats. The coolest thing I’m seeing on landing pages? The Annual Report video. What a great introduction to your full report.

a great landing page featuring a video from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews

a great landing page featuring a video from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews


Re-Purpose the Content

Everyone talks about content marketing and how you can create one piece of content and use it in various formats (long and short versions or remixes) and through various channels – why not do the same thing with your annual report? It’s likely going to be the most important piece of content you create during the year and perfect justification for doing a fuller report. Take your Letter from the President (or a mini version of it) and send it as a separate email announcing the report or pull a quote from it for the website. Take the photos and quotes and create a photo gallery for your website. Pull out one of the stories to feature on your blog or on Facebook with the photo. Pull the statistics and some of the graphics you used into an infographic about your nonprofit’s impact. Create a separate pdf of just the financial portion of the report to place in different sections of your website. Grab your biggest and best photo and add an Impact Report available message for your Facebook cover.

Put Your Infographic Hat On

I’ve also noticed annual report content looking more like the infographics that are all the rage right now; I think this is a really great thing – as it makes it much easier to convey the information in a brief amount of space. I’m not talking about making the infographic your entire report, just using similar graphics within your annual report.

Don’t Cheat On Space

What is up with this whole “4-page report” thing? Yes – I’ve seen some nicely done 4-pagers, but let’s not use this trend as an excuse to slap something together that isn’t going to really convey your impact well. I think it works well for nonprofits that have never done an annual report and want to get their feet wet or smaller nonprofits that have less activities going on. And I like the idea of controlling spaces – I do that a lot – giving yourself the goal of squishing everything into a finite space really makes you pull in just the most important parts. But I think it’s more important to get your messages across clearly without worrying about the space. If the printing cost is the biggest factor, create a report that is appropriate for your size and activity level and put it online – and just print a summary report.

Dump the Donor Listing

I know everyone loves their donor listings, but honestly I don’t think the Keeping Up With the Jones’ theory (people checking to see who else donated to spur them on to donate) is really as relevant. People really don’t have time to read that 10 page donor list in 6 pt font (OUCH) other than to scan for their own name if they donated. And I love this Impact Report trend (with smaller reports) because that donor listing has been the first thing to go! You can at least narrow your list to just the top-level donors which may bring about a more effective “I want to get listed so I better donate more” behavior.

Add a Timeline of Accomplishments

I can’t help it. I love timelines. They are like the precursor to infographics – a great way to show your stuff with lines, photos and graphics. And we can call it an infographic if you want. I just think it’s the most interesting way to view an organization’s achievements over a short period of time or over a longer historical timeline. The timeline or infographic would not have to be part of the printed report but possibly on the report landing page! Then it can be moved over to the About Us section (for repurposing!)


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One Response to “10 Things You Can Do to Create a More Effective Nonprofit Annual Report”

  • Deb Marsteller:

    You’re so smart! As usual, you always bring such bright and shiny ideas to the forefront. Thanks Julie

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