Tips from the Design Pros

In the last article you learned the 7 Best Practices for writing an annual report from communications specialists.

Now let’s look at your annual report project from a designer’s perspective and see what tips we can glean from professional designers to ensure your project runs smoothly and your annual report looks gorgeous.


Give yourself ample time to write and prepare your annual report.

If you’ve never written and designed an annual report before, start by first creating a project schedule for yourself. Look good? Ok, now triple it.

Drafting an annual report takes a lot more time than most people realize. The review process and rewriting phases can get bogged down. Nonprofit employees are busy people, so it will take time to receive feedback from all your decision-makers. Then you have to compile all their inputs, go back and forth about wording, and come to a consensus, before rewriting all of it. After which you’ll need to repeat the process all over again.

Take pressure off yourself and everyone involved by giving ample time for the writing and editing process.

How to Streamline your Editing Process

Use google docs to share your draft online with other people on your team. A live draft will get rid of any confusion over which is the most current draft and where to find it. People can use the comments feature to leave edits, discuss solutions, and to assign sections that need to be fleshed out by someone else. You will receive an email any time a comment has been left and all your decision makers can check in and see your progress in real-time.


Make sure ALL your decision-makers have a chance to review your draft and give feedback.

Having multiple people review your annual report not only smooths out the editing and fact-checking process, it ensures that the key players in your nonprofit have a chance to share their perspective and bring your words to life.

Have multiple programs? Ask the heads of each program to review the section about their program.

Have a separate communications and development team? Make sure both teams have had a chance to review it. Your development team is expert at talking to donors and your communications team are the storytellers and voice of your nonprofit. It only makes sense to combine forces on such a major project.

After the heads of your programs, development, accounting, and communication teams have reviewed it; send it to the top. Ask your CEO, CFO, and COO to do one final review of the entire annual report. They may be too busy initially, but make sure they get a chance to review and give feedback before you reach the final design phase and go to print.


Finalize your copy BEFORE enlisting a designer.

This goes hand-in-hand with including your decision-makers in the writing process. We’ve seen many projects delayed because key decision-makers did not get a chance to look at the copy until the very end.

Sometimes it’s just a few tweaks, but often whole pages need to be added or cut. Making copy changes after a page is designed can affect the layout and take 4x longer to update than if you had made those changes while still in the draft phase.


Use Visuals to tell your story.

The use of graphics and photos is an effective way to divide the space and produce more visually appealing layouts.

Start picking out your imagery early and add them into your word document. This allows other decision makers the chance to approve them or make other suggestions.

Infographics are a wonderful way to share statistics as well. Have statistics you want to share, but not sure how to illustrate them? Include your designer early on in the brainstorming process for fresh and creative ideas that you might not have thought of on your own.


Less is more.

Too much copy on one page is not only daunting to read, it leaves very little space to design beautiful layouts and include photographs.

Here are some rules designers follow
to keep their layouts looking fresh and airy:


Keep your word count down to 500 words max per page and 1,000 words per spread. 500 words per page should be your absolute max. If it’s more than 500 words, design a spread instead. The ideal word count per page is 200-300 words. For designers, less words means more white space and more room to add infographics or photos. More importantly, fewer words means better readability. A wordy document has the inverse effect on readers. The more words on a page, the more likely your readers will skim it.

Having trouble cutting down your word count?

Try the Hemingway Editor. It will help you get rid of superfluous words.

Turn your numbers into infographics.

A photograph says a thousand words. Replace wordy descriptions with photos.

Create a cliff notes version of your report. If someone were to skim through your report what key facts would you want them to glean?

Get a second pair of eyes to help you. Have someone else on your team read your draft and highlight what they think are the key bits of information. This is a great exercise to see what stands out to other readers and what information got lost in the weeds.


Consider what else you want to include on the page. If you have an infographic or photo you want to share, you will need to leave extra room. Pick out photos and add them into your word document while writing your draft. Don’t worry about placement. This is just a great way to remind yourself what else will take up space on that page and to ensure that the images you choose enhance what you have to say. A designer can go through your image library and pick out photos they think will work, but you know your nonprofit inside and out; and are better equipped to choose meaningful imagery that tells the whole story.


Don’t be afraid to leave some white space. 20-25% of each page should be white-space. White space improves readership and acts as a spotlight for information you want to highlight. It also gives your designer some wiggle room for later edits. With so many people reviewing your annual report internally, imagery, copy, etc are likely to change. If your design is already maxed out, it leaves little space for your designers to add in a sentence or enlarge an image.

Choosing the Best Format
for Your Annual Report

Paper vs. Paperless

Alright! You have your final draft and your design team is ready to begin.
What format should you use for your annual report?

Refer A Nonprofit