Annual report or impact report. Two pages or twenty pages. “It depends” is rarely anyone’s favorite answer to a question. But when it comes to annual reports, it’s a fitting one. As with all communications materials, there are several factors to consider – including what to call it!

Typically, annual reports provide a summary of significant organizational accomplishments over the past year – it can be a great place for stories of impact. It’s also an opportunity to recognize donors and share financial information with stakeholders. Which elements and how much information to include in your report depend on who you are communicating with and the actions you hope they will take. Considering your content options will help you develop a report that effectively tells your organization’s story and provide a meaningful connection point with supporters.

An annual report does not need to be is a high-cost, high production exercise. It is possible to share powerful stories and data without worrying about page count (like this one-page report we designed for Mental Health Crisis Alliance). Posting the report on your organization’s website and sharing via email and social media posts can save on printing costs. However, having at least a few printed copies available is a good idea for most organizations. Don’t overlook the opportunity to send your report via snail mail to key donors along with a hand-written note.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when developing your annual report.

  1. Incorporate graphics or visuals to help tell your story. Approximately 65% of all people are visual learners (Pearson Prentice Hall) and the right images can have significant impact in telling your story. See Ready Set Smile’s impact report for inspiration.
  2. Thank your donors. The Form 990 conveys a lot of information but it does not highlight donors. AmplifyDMC provided copywriting and graphic design for 180 Degrees’ annual report, which acknowledges individual, organizational, and governmental support.
  3. Use the report as a forum to share challenges that the organization faced during the year and how they were addressed. This is another way to demonstrate the organization’s capabilities and promote transparency.
  4. Include “calls to action” throughout the report, instructing people what to do once they are done reading the report. Give, volunteer, invite, etc.

Before starting on your annual report (for 2017 or planning ahead for 2018!) take the time to think through your objectives. Don’t fall into the trap that of “we need to produce an annual report because everyone else does” but create one because it can help tell your story, fundraise, or connect with stakeholders.