It’s that time of the year again. Annual Reports are due. Yikes.

But there’s good news here too…Your annual reports are obviously important for your funders BUT they are also an ESSENTIAL opportunity to present your accomplishments to supporters and the general public.

Yet, deciding what to include, how to represent it, whether it will meet the expectations of staff, donors, volunteers, community stakeholders, organization partners, the people you serve, board members, your executive committee, potential donors… might feel daunting.

It’s a lot and it’s a tall order.

BUT it can get easier.

Here are 5 tips you can use to make this year’s process run a bit smoother:

Tip #1: Focus on Accomplishments, not Activities

I have no doubt that you have A TON of great stuff to share.

So how do you decide what makes the annual report and what gets spotlighted somewhere else? Two ideas…

  • The stories you pick need to match up with the values of your organization. Take, for example, The Lending Cupboard. Their mission is to provide equipment to people that will enhance their quality of life by helping them to maintain mobility, independence, and dignity.

That said, it wouldn’t make sense for The Lending Cupboard to showcase a staff awards night in the annual report. BUT including a speech given by a client who stayed mobile, independent, and dignified because of a particular staff member’s work would make A LOT of sense..

  • The numbers you use should quantify how you achieve your values. So, using The Lending Cupboard, they could report how many people kept moving because of the equipment they received. They could share stats on 5 activities that they define as essential for independence or dignity, and report on those.

As a bonus, non profits can also notice and record how their work connects with what their donors and supporters want to see throughout the year, and design metrics to report on that as well.

In the end everyone should be looking for the 80/20 magic mix:

  • 80% of content should feed your audience’s inner angel – Stories, quotes, newspaper clippings, interviews, and photos that connect on an emotional level
  • 20% should feed your audience’s inner bookkeeper – Numbers, stats, and bottom lines should support the stories that you share and, when used well, they present you as reliable, transparent, and trustworthy

Tip #2: Get Visual

The best advice we can give here comes in 6 words: “Less is more. Show don’t tell.”

Here’s why those 6 words matter: People don’t consume visual content like they used to.

Now what they want is an impact overview: infographics, commanding headlines, compelling images of real people (not stock photos), and white space – yes, white space.

Ultimately what people need is enough understanding to make one decision: Do I want to get or stay involved with this organization?

Keep that question in mind as you finalize your draft and you’ll find it will help you make those tricky design decisions.

Tip #3: Tell Stories

Stories generate empathy. Remember Cinderella’s story?

She starts in a hard circumstance through no fault of her own, and does all she can to make the most of the opportunities she has. Despite her best efforts, Cinderella needs help to create her happy ending. She needs a Fairy Godmother, and she needs a persistent Prince.

And the fact that she cannot do it alone is something people relate to.

But there’s way more going on here than just that…

People are hardwired to dramatize, to imagine, and to be pulled into good stories! - Kerstin Heuer Click To Tweet
There are two big reasons why:

Reason #1: When we hear or see a story, lots of different areas of our brain have to turn on in order to make sense of the information we’re receiving. All these neurons firing together (and wiring together) force us to do a better job remembering.

Stories are a biological hack that reach even the most forgetful among us.

Reason #2: Oxytocin, our bonding hormone, is actually released in our brain when we connect with a story we hear or see.

Think of the last James Bond movie you watched. Did you find yourself at all relieved when he walked away from a near-death experience? Or excited when he got the new gadget that would make all the difference? That’s because the story had pulled you – and your hormones – in. Your brain was releasing oxytocin as you watched to make you genuinely care about James (even though he’s a fictional character and a bit of a jerk most of the time…).

So, here’s the grand formula:

Great stories = More Memory + More Empathy (and hopefully more support for your non profit)

Tip #4: Splinter and Shamelessly Self-Promote

You have spent a lot of time and energy building your annual reports and you should maximize that investment. Your report is uploaded to your website, emailed to your supporters, you might have send out a press release. But there is one tactic that many non-profit organizations forget:

Sharing bits and pieces from the report through social media.

We call that splintering.

Splintering – just as you would suspect – is all about breaking off bits and pieces of your content to share on their own. And it lets you get more mileage out of work you’ve already completed.

So, as you are putting together your report, think editorial best practice: How can I break this apart so that it will be relevant next week, next month, in six months, and next year? How can this report and parts of it be used inside my organization? How might stakeholders use the content I create moving forward?

What headlines, quotes, images, questions ore stats can be pulled out the report and posted on social media? The best thing is that this content will be evergreen for the next couple of months and you can use more than just once.

Tip #5: Add a “Call to Action” and tell donors how they can help.

Okay – you’ve inspired your readers with great stories and the numbers that support them in your report. You’ve shared content that aligns with your values and the values of your stakeholders. Your impact has been showcased.

So you’re done, right?

Well…not quite…there’s a cardinal rule that ALL non profits MUST remember at all times:

Never leave a potential supporter hanging, wondering how they can help you. Be direct. And give options. Click To Tweet
How can they support you with their money or time? Ask them to volunteer. Show them how to plan an event or fundraiser. Remind them of planned giving options or the donation channels you use. Tell them about gifts of stock. Show them how they can use their credit card to donate. Check out Charity Water for some some great ideas.

Need more inspiration?

Check out these links to get started:

Canadian Women Impact Report – Great balance between narrative and numbers.

YMCA Canada Annual Report – A bit long BUT a fantastic job of showing how their organization impacts individual lives

United Way Central Alberta – Great use of real pictures of real people to accompany the copy. Nice job on the headings too.

CARE Canada – TONS of open space that divides up the content very well. Great images, mission focused.


In the end, it’s your strategy that counts.

As you build your annual report, dig up the content that showcases your values and lace together the words and numbers in a way that makes sense and that will resonate with your audience. To help with that “resonate” word, do everything you can make your message visual, informative, and full of great stories.

During your process, decide how you will work (and re-work) your content to reach different groups of people in your community. And, finally, make sure your supporters know how they can help deepen their impact.

Do all that, and you’ll end up with an annual report that communicates what matters.

About Kerstin:

When Kerstin makes a wish, this is what she hopes for: that people will be more conscious of what they do and really understand the impact everyone of us can have. She (actually) believes that we can change the world with one random act of kindness every day. And so Kerstin helps non-profits extend their kindnesses across our world using the skills she has: brand creation and strategic marketing. Her business creates the roadmaps that non profits need to connect emotionally with their supporters, get better results from their programs, and attract more funding. Get in touch. She wants your message to get out. kerstin@non-profit.today

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This