Paper vs. Paperless

An annual report can come in many forms. They can be physical paper reports sent by direct mail or they can be digital and shared through your website, email, photo galleries, infographics, videos, or even via a conference call.

Let’s take a look at your options and the pros and cons of each.

Take your Audience into Consideration

When choosing the best format for your nonprofit, the first thing you should consider is your audience. Your annual report will probably be geared towards individual donors, foundations, and perhaps other audiences, so consider the best ways to reach each of them.

For less engaged supporters, condensed versions of your annual report are appropriate, while your institutional and corporate funders will be interested in a more comprehensive report. Have both types of supporters? Then a hybrid solution might work best for you.

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Classic Paper Options

When Sabra first started working with nonprofits and designing annual reports, the traditional bound book was the primary format, but in today’s, post-COVID, climate conscious world, more and more of our nonprofit clients have chosen to go digital instead. That being said, paper formats still have their benefits.


  1. Paper copies have their advantages: they can still find their way to influence donors. Even famous investor Warren Buffett has been influenced by annual reports!. Grant Foundations and Corporate Sponsors also prefer traditional print and bound reports because they are more comprehensive and less likely to get buried in your email inbox.
  2. Bulk Discount Pricing: If your nonprofit prints a lot of materials throughout the year, consider buying your paper in bulk. Lucky Printer for instance handles all the printing for our client Martha’s Table. Martha’s Table prints > 5,000 postcards every month. Instead of ordering paper for each individual project, Lucky Printer will purchase and reserve 6-12 months supply of paper for Martha’s Table. The bulk discount on an order that large significantly lowers the printing cost for Martha’s Table and Lucky Printer doesn’t have to worry about fluctuating supply issues or price increases.
  3. Free Delivery (sometimes): The other cost associated to paper Annual Reports is the delivery fee. Mailing a large booklet to a bunch of people can get costly, but it doesn’t have to be. If you work with a local printer, ask if they offer free delivery. Many printers today, offer direct-mailing services and many will even do it for free, especially if the print job is a big one.


  1. Printing Costs: The cost of paper has risen significantly over the past 15 years and recent supply shortages have only made it worse. If you choose to print your report, we highly suggest figuring out how many pages your report will contain and to get an estimate from your printer. (If you’re printing a booklet keep in mind: Each spread contains 2 pages on either side = 4 pages per spread, which is why all bound books must be printed in multiples of 4 pages. That’s why many reports are usually 8, 16, or 32 pages long.)
  2. Physical Contact: Surprisingly, printing cost is not the main reason many of our clients have chosen to go digital. After COVID, people have become much more cautious about physical contact and unnecessary exposure. Digital reports completely solve that issue for our clients.
  3. Not Environmentally Friendly: The other main reason our clients have chosen to go digital is the environment. Many feel that it was hypocritical to speak about environmental and socially conscious topics in their reports when they are printed on 30 pages of paper.

Because of the draw-backs of traditional paper reports, nonprofits have been getting more creative with their annual reporting. Some have gone completely digital or have chosen a more hybrid solution, but despite the drawbacks, many donors still prefer paper reports. To accommodate those donors, some nonprofits have replaced the traditional booklet with a more streamlined report in the form of a self-mailer, postcard, or brochure.

Hard Copy Format Options

Here are the most popular formatting options for paper-based annual reports that our nonprofit clients like to use.

Traditional Bound Book

Traditional annual report booklets can range from a just a few pages to upwards of 40 pages long (we’ve even designed a report that was 200 pages!) and are great for containing a large amount of information in a substantial, tangible way. If you find yourself leaning toward this option for your annual report, just make sure to keep the content engaging–it’s not meant to be an essay!


Mailers are convenient because they don’t require recipients to open an envelope—the document is the envelope. This ensures that more recipients actually read your annual report. Self-mailers have enough room for a combination of copy, images, as well as a few infographics such as tables, graphs, or charts.


Still considered a quick read, brochures are a middle ground between a postcard and a book. Because the space in brochures are naturally divided by folds, topics can be broken up into panels, making it easier to figure out how much copy you can fit than with a self-mailer.


If you’d like to maximize digestibility, postcards are a good choice. With well-designed infographics, pictures, and statistics, supporters can understand how your organization did last year without putting in very much effort. Because of space limitations, you’ll have to sacrifice some copy, so if you want to tell detailed stories or include a long list of donors, stick to a longer-form option.

Digital Options

Is your nonprofit trying to increase efficiency, reduce costs, reach a wider audience, or attract more attention? Then going paperless is the right choice for you.

In order to keep operational cost low, many organizations have cut back on paper copies or supplement their print material with online resources. Others opt for a completely paper-free path, releasing their annual report as an infographic, interactive pdf, a video, or even a conference call.


  1. You can Link any kind of material you want! With a digital report you can include more than just images into your report. Interviews, transcripts, podcasts, videos, photo galleries, PDFs (with links embedded), Screenshots or links to presentations (Prezi, PowerPoint, e-zines). Basically if it has a link you can incorporate it into your report. Never seen a pdf with videos and links before? Here is a great example of a fully interactive pdf report, that we just created for School Readiness Consulting.
  2. Webpages are Flexible and Easy to Update. Stats change constantly. If your annual report is a webpage on your nonprofit’s website, you can login and make edits at any point in time. Plus when it’s time to create next year’s annual report, your job is already halfway done! Our client Martha’s Table chose to go fully digital this past year. We designed and developed a special webpage for their report, which took some time, but next year they plan to reuse the formatting and layouts, which will require very little intervention on our end. All we will need to do is duplicate the last year’s webpage and swap out the old images and copy with the new information, which will take a fraction of the time. Here is a great example of a fully interactive annual report webpage we created for Martha’s Table.
  3. Digital Formats are Environmentally Friendly. Many individual donors appreciate a more environmentally conscientious approach and if your nonprofit addresses climate change or other environmentally focused issues, it would seem a bit tone-deaf not to go digital.
  4. No Printing or Shipping Costs! Digital reports still have some relate costs, but you’ll have more room in the budget if you don’t have to worry about printing and shipping.


  1. Technology doesn’t always save money or time. If you choose to go completely digital and plan to create it in-house, make sure your team members have prior experience creating digital reports. Otherwise, your employees will need to purchase and then learn how to use the design software and plugins necessary to create and present your report online. The time and money spent learning and developing the product may take just as long as creating print materials. Finding the right partner to help you develop a webpage or digital pdf is key to keeping your annual report project being on time and costs low.
  2. Video and Animation can get very expensive. Creating a video or animation can be very time consuming and expensive. Donors want their money to go towards helping your cause, not a fancy video production, which is why our nonprofit clients rarely choose this format. If your nonprofit is interested in creating an animation or video, make sure you have ample time for planning and development. Your annual report will need to be broken out into a script and a storyboard. You will need to find a voiceover actor, record the script, and have all your audio finalized before you start animating or video editing. If you do choose to go the animation or video route, we highly suggest DreamItReel. They take care of everything in-house, have camera crews all over the world, and have unbeatable pricing for the gorgeous work that they do.
  3. Not everyone is computer-savvy. Older donors who are used to getting a booklet in the mail might not feel comfortable with the new digital format. If you choose to go digital, make sure that it is easy to access. Don’t make your readers download or search for it.

Digital Format Options

Here are some of the most popular digital formats that nonprofits are using today.

Interactive PDF

Digital PDF’s are our clients’ favorite solution. If you want the room that a book offers, but don’t want to print, PDFs are perfect! You can make them as long or short as you like, plus you have the benefit of embedding other digital content like links, videos, PowerPoint presentations, etc… Plus if you have some donors that prefer a printed document, you still have the option to print up a handful for select people or by special request.

Never seen an Interactive PDF before? Take a tour of some of our creations.

Here are some examples of Interactive PDF’s that we’ve created for our nonprofit clients over the years.

All of these examples were printed as booklets as well.
So, if you’re looking for a hybrid option, an interactive pdf might be the ideal solution for you.


Video annual reports are effective because they show rather than tell the audience what you’ve been able to accomplish. Keep in mind that people watch a lot of videos and can be very discerning. Make sure your final video comes across as professional—pay close attention to everything from scripts to lighting and camera angles. We highly suggest working with a professional team like DreamItReel to ensure quality results. In the video and animation field, freelancers often embellish their abilities and fall short of expectations.

Interactive Webpage

Don’t shy away from dedicating a page on your website to an interactive annual report. Your audience can click through slides, expand graphs for more information, or hover over GIFs and videos to play them, making for a more tailored experience of your report. We love creating Interactive Webpage Annual Reports! They are often more succinct which usually speeds up the writing and editing process for our clients. Also, our clients can link pre-existing content, easily make edits at any time, and their donors tend to feel more engaged because they can click around and interact with the interface. Plus you can add accessibility options that allow readers to switch languages, enlarge text, choose color-blind friendly modes, etc… With a web-based annual report, the sky’s the limit!

Never seen an web-based annual report before? Take a tour of our latest creation.

Martha’s Table decided to go fully digital with their annual report this year.
The webpage we designed and built for them can be edited or updated at anytime, which means
next year it will take a fraction of the time to publish their annual report and share it with their donors. 

Hybrid Options

The Best of Both Worlds


If you choose a hybrid of paper and digital, you really can’t go wrong.
It allows you to customize your report and cater to the varying needs of your audience.



If you take the approach of using multiple methods, consider who the audience is for each type.

  1. If you have older donors that you fear might be daunted by a digital solution, but want to avoid the high costs for print, create an interactive PDF and just print a small batch for those select donors.
  2. For less engaged supporters, condensed versions like a brochure or postcard might be appropriate, while your institutional funders will be interested in a more comprehensive report.
  3. Also consider providing paper copies upon request or offering a pdf version on your website that people can download and print themselves.

Not sure what formats to choose?

That’s what we’re here for!

Before you put pen to paper, set up a creative consultation with Sabra. We’ve worked with nonprofits for over a decade and can help you find a hybrid solution that best suits your audience and budget.

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