Your “Fab Five” for Annual Report Content

By Nora Welch, Senior Leadership Development Associate at Joining Vision and Action

While I am likely to notice the visual appeal first, the content is also important to consider when you’re putting together an annual report. Content will depend on a variety of things, including but not limited to your intended audience, reporting requirements—and staff’s availability to create it! As far as the type and amount of info to share in your annual report, while there are no hard and fast benchmarks, there are some common considerations.

But before we get to the typical sections of an annual report, here are a few overall tips to keep in mind:

  • Be human. Annual reports can be so much more than just dumping a bunch of information on a page—they can tell the world who you are and why you matter. Take advantage of the opportunity!
  • Phone a friend. Seriously. Ask someone outside your immediate sphere to content review your report. Make sure they can understand what you’re saying. What you are tuned into might mean diddly squat to someone outside of your organization. An outside perspective will help sharpen your focus and hone your messaging.
  • Invite participation. If you’ve crafted compelling content through tailoring the information to your audience (and made it look pretty), your audience is likely to want to learn more, get involved or donate to your cause. Make sure you provide a way to get in touch via a call to action or at least your contact information.

Whether your annual report is four pages or 14, if you keep these tips in mind as you develop it, you’ll be in pretty good shape to create a valuable resource and showpiece for your organization.

OK, let’s dive into some details on what your report might include …

1. Welcome letter

What it is: Opening statement or welcome to the reader sharing key points or topics for the year and/or the report that follows.

How to use: This is a great (and often overlooked) opportunity to set the stage for your story and frame what your organization experienced over the past year, including challenges, successes and overall impact on or intersection with the community. Most of the time this is likely to be authored by your organization’s leader (CEO, executive director, etc.) or the chair of your board of directors. However, speaking again to the point of cueing up the rest of your report, this could be another key player whose perspective speaks to the highlights of your year.

Hot tip: I love to include a picture of the letter’s author to further connect the reader with a person. While a “headshot” is classic, and perfectly appropriate, you can also explore an “in-action” photo of the writer participating in programming. Adds a bit more color and connection to your cause.

2. About us

What it is: Description of your organization, including a history of how it came into existence and an overview of services.

How to use: Depending on your report’s intended audience, the amount and type of information will vary. For example, if you plan to share your annual report with local partners, funders you’ve worked with for years, or others who are likely to be quite familiar with what you do, you may not need much description here—perhaps just a quick sentence or two for good measure.

If you plan to use this piece as an introduction to new partners, funders or others to get buy-in (potentially literally), it becomes more important to share basic information to acquaint the reader with the organization and set a foundation for the rest of the report’s information.

Hot tip: While you don’t have to list your vision and mission statements in this section (you could do so on your cover, back page, contact page, etc. … as long as you include them somewhere), they are often a good fit here. The same goes for your logo.

3. Program information

What it is: Key statistics about and highlights from your accomplishments over the past year.

How to use: Largely data driven, this section is going to feature total numbers for the year related to your population served and services provided. The trick here is to make sure you’re only including useful, important and interesting information. Avoid using every metric you have.

Also, notice I didn’t say to use only “good” information. Sometimes your annual report can be a platform to bring to light challenging numbers and provide some context as to what affected a number not being what was hoped. Proceed with caution, of course, but also don’t be afraid to be honest.

Hot tip: I love to use the “by the numbers” andbehind the numbers” categories for this. It’s a great opportunity to not only tell how many people you served, for example, but to also share who those people are. What’s their story? How did your services improve their lives?

4. Financials

What it is: Information about your revenue and expenses, including specific sources of income and categories of spending, for your fiscal year.

How to use: While it’s not the most fun or exciting part of an annual report, including it is important for transparency and accountability. Classically, this looks like a pie chart or a bar graph, though there are plenty of other fun ways to visually convey your money in/money out, depending on your organization. If you work for a conservation organization, for example, perhaps you use a trail that is sectioned off for each type of revenue source or expenditure. It may not seem like it at first glance, but the possibilities are many.

When it comes to sharing categories of expenditures (direct services, hard costs, etc.) and revenue sources (individual donors, government, etc.), consolidate within reason. Give the general idea. Try not to separate into more than 10 subcategories; aim for five to eight. If people need more specific information, they can contact you directly.

Hot tip: Have a critical eye when it comes to how much information you’re including. Numbers are ripe for oversharing—while it may be true that you spent 64.735% on direct services, a flat 65% works just as well.

5. Acknowledgments

What it is: An opportunity to share and showcase people and groups who have contributed to your organization, through money, time or partnership.

How to use: Depending on your organization, this can include community partners, volunteers, donors, board members, staff or any other groups or individuals to which you can attribute part of your success over the past year.

Make sure you’re in keeping with your donor’s rights and client or staff confidentiality policies, specifically those around remaining anonymous, before going to print or publish.

Hot tip: While this section often includes a listing of partners and donors, I prefer to frame it through a lens of gratitude. This could mean titling the section “Thank you” or including the phrase prominently on the page.

Don’t forget your contact info!

This may go without saying, but make sure you’ve included your phone number, address, email and website at least once (if not a few times).

Have questions about how your specific organization can share your information best? I would love to hear from or work with you. Email me here. Let’s share your amazing good work with the world!

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