Activities v. Accomplishments in Annual Reports

This is the time of year when I start to get lots of questions about nonprofit annual reports. The fiscal years of some nonprofits end in June or September to coincide with state or federal fiscal years and those folks are working on their reports now. Even organizations on the calendar year are starting to think about how they want to look back on 2006.

If you are tasked with writing an annual report, there is one bit of advice that is far more important than any other: focus on your accomplishments, which are not the same thing as your activities.

Maybe you attended lots of meetings with local business leaders, for example. That’s an activity. But why do you go to those meetings? What are you trying to get done by attending them? How do you justify spending all that time in those meetings? That’s what we want to know — what does your participation in those meetings accomplish and how does that relate back to your mission statement?

You revamped your website this year and added a blog. Great, but so what? Just about everyone else did that this year too. As a potential donor or volunteer, why do I care? What can your organization do better now that the site has been upgraded? Are you offering faster or more efficient service to your clients? Does the site include new tools that make it easier for you to connect with your community? Tell us how your new website and blog relate to implementing your mission.

During my annual report e-courses, we do an exercise where participants write down their activities and then convert them into accomplishments. I am constantly saying, “And that’s important because . . .” to get the students to connect all the dots between their activities and their mission statements. What’s in between are the accomplishments for the year.

Here is example of this conversation, and the thought process you need to go through.

Nonprofit: We hosted a golf tournament and a silent auction as fundraisers.

Me: And that’s important because . . .

Nonprofit: The events raised $20,000.

Me: And that’s important because . . .

Nonprofit: We need the money.

Me: For what?

Nonprofit: Our scholarship fund.

Me: Which is important because. . .

Nonprofit: These kids can’t afford college otherwise.

Me: And how many scholarships did you fund with $20,000?

Nonprofit: Five.

Me: So which sentence is the accomplishment that should lead the section on this area of your work?

We held a golf tournament and a silent auction.


We helped five students attend college.

I hope it’s obvious that the right answer is the second sentence.

It’s easy to get caught up in all the work you are doing and lose the focus on why you are doing it. In your annual report, it’s essential that you step back and remember why.

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