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Best Practices for an Engaging Annual Report

It’s that time of year again. The dust has settled from your holiday marketing campaigns and it’s time to reflect and report on last year’s activities. As you probably know, both for-profit and non-profit organizations produce annual reports. An annual report is a formal financial statement sent to shareholders and other interested parties. It’s a comprehensive report on an organization’s activities from the preceding year that also discusses the view for the year ahead. But how do you start the process? What actually goes into an engaging annual report? Keep reading for a few best practices and tips. You can discover more in our handy checklist, available at the bottom of this page.

Annual Report Best Practices

Wait to create your annual report until after your yearly audit.

That’s typically why they get created a bit later. Sometimes during the audit things will change (the auditor may say something can’t be credited that way, or needs to be in another account, etc.) which can impact the financials.

Keep it short!

No one wants to read an exhaustive list of all your accomplishments. Don’t brag; aim for including only the highlights of your financial success. Your stakeholders are more likely to carefully read and absorb the information if the report is short and concise. 

Focus on the financials.

This report reflects the financial health of your organization so that should be its main focus. Be transparent in your explanations of your financial performance! Showcasing your company’s financial statements allows board members, supporters, employees and others to determine how well the company has performed in the past and its plans for growth. Plus, it helps establish trust among your supporters by showing your organization can manage funds responsibly.

Edit, edit, edit.

This may be the writer in me, but please, be sure to – at the very least – run your report through spellcheck. You really ought to go through the entire piece with a fine-toothed comb to check the spelling of names, to check the grammar, and ensure all data presented is correct.

Make it visual.

Make the financials as visual and interesting as possible to grab the attention of your readers. If your report is digital, use interactive or dynamic graphs. If it is print, incorporate bold colors from your brand palette. 

Tell a story.

The idea is that not only are you reporting on the financials but you’re showing what all you accomplished in the last year. (This shouldn’t be in conflict with keeping it short.) Write captions that tell a story of last year’s wins. Use a combination of qualitative and quantitative data to justify the point you are making with your story. 

Print or digital?

This decision is important; make it early on! What format will your report be in, digital or print? You may want a combination of the two: a smaller printed version that leads to a dedicated online report. Be sure to gear it towards the best way to reach your audience. Keep in mind that you may want to publicize your annual report on your website so donors and stakeholders will be able to view it. 

Here are common options for both print and digital reports:

Print:

  • Traditional bound book: Although a bound book can be on the pricier side, they are great for including a large amount of information in a tangible way. Make sure all the content is necessary and engaging if this is your preferred print method.
  • Postcard: Postcards are a great way to showcase your information in a concise manner. Although, you will have to sacrifice some copy so make sure to include well-designed infographics, statistics, and pictures.
  • Brochure: If you are looking for something in between a postcard and a bound book, brochures are a great option. They are quick to read and still have enough space for you to include infographics or images.

Digital:

  • PDF: If you are going digital and want to include the same amount of information that a book offers, PDFs are a great option. They also give you the ability to add links, videos, and images. If you are sending out a digital press release or want the room that a book offers, but don’t want to print, PDFs are a good solution. You can make them as long or email, PDFs can be easily linked and re-shared.
  • Video: Video annual reports do a great job of showing instead of telling. If you have videos that you have collected over the past year, showcase to your audience what you have collected. Make sure your video is professional and pay close attention to video quality, camera angles, lighting, and scripts.
  • Interactive report:  shy away from dedicating a page on your website to an interactive annual report. Interactive reports are a great way to keep your audience engaged. Dedicate a page on your website to your annual report. Your audience can click through slides, look at detailed graphs, play videos, and tailor the experience to what they would like to see. 

If you take the approach of using multiple methods, consider who the audience is for each type. For less engaged supporters, condensed versions of your annual report are appropriate, while your institutional funders will be interested in a more comprehensive report. It is up to you to decide what will fit your organization and your donor’s needs, but be conscious about each supporter’s level of interest. 

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