Best Practices from the Experts

Now that you have a basic outline of what should go into your annual report, let’s look at some best practices that nonprofit communications experts follow to create an authentic voice and persuasive message.


Know your Audience.

Unlike other reports you create internally, your annual report will be read by many stakeholders: your board of directors, major givers, partners, volunteers, and other supporters. That’s why it’s important. It’s both accurate and well-designed.


Be honest and acknowledge both the highs and the lows.

Every article we researched for this piece, emphasized the importance of honesty and transparency when writing an annual report. Donor trust is key to donor retention. Don’t sweep your mistakes under a rug and try to sugarcoat it. Often your donors will appreciate your honesty and want to back your cause even more if they see a need.


Check your Facts.

Providing accurate data goes hand in hand with being honest. Make sure that all your facts and statistics are correct. Have an accountant or statistician at your nonprofit? Ask them to review your stats and numbers. If you do not have an accountant on staff, double check your facts using your financial reports. Do not rely on just one person to fact check it either. Make sure to circulate your draft to as many decision-makers in your nonprofit as possible to review your annual report and give feedback before going into the design phase.


Real People Telling Real Stories

It’s hard to forget a good story. Humans are narrative addicts. We love stories and our brains are designed to remember things in story form. While we might not remember the specific facts or details, storytelling is still one of the best ways to connect with other humans and share an experience. Direct quotes and first person narratives draw the reader’s attention and provide context for why your mission is important and how your nonprofit plays a role.

Planning on creating a digital annual report? Skip the writing and create engaging videos instead. Set up video interviews and let your clients tell their stories in their own words.


Keep it short, simple, and easy-to-read.

We researched a lot of articles so come up with this list of best practices. All gave a wide range of advice, but the one tip every expert is agreed on is to keep it short, simple, and easy to read. The more daunting the annual report the less your donors will read. Avoid writing novels and allow your report to breath by relying on videos, photographs, and infographics to tell your story.

Try to keep each section down to 200-300 words. Another great tactic is to limit each section or topic to one page or spread. Choosing imagery early, during the writing phase instead of the design phase, will also help you determine how much space you have for copy and how the imagery enhances your narrative on that page.

Having trouble cutting down your copy?

Try out the Hemingway Editor. This free website is designed to help us more loquacious people write like Ernest Hemingway. Short, sweet and to the point.


Give ample Thanks.

In addition to showcasing your organization’s success, your annual report is also about thanking those who helped you achieve your goals. Listing out and thanking your major contributors, influential staff, and board members is a necessary part of your report. Give your community of supporters the sense that you are embracing them as partners in bringing about all of the year’s accomplishments. This attitude of gratitude should permeate the entire report.

In traditional reports, nonprofits often list all of the names of donors, but in shorter formats, that’s just not possible. Instead, use the stories you tell, the profiles and photos you include, and your overall tone to convey how important their support is to your success.


Think to the Future.

Annual reports usually document what your nonprofit has accomplished in the past year, but consider including a vision of what lies ahead. It could be projects you plan to initiate in the upcoming year or a comprehensive 5 year strategic plan. Whatever you choose, make it your prelude to a call-to-action. Give your readers a glimpse into the future and get them excited about joining you on the journey ahead.

Tips from the Design Pros

You’ve heard from the 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.

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