Creating an Annual Report for Your Nonprofit- No Matter Where You Are!

Whether you are just starting out with creating an annual report or if you are ready for more advanced tips, we have you covered.


To get started with your annual report, you need to make three decisions.

1. What are your accomplishments for the year?

What were the results of your work last year? Why did you spend your time and money the way you did? What differences did it make? Try to put your list of accomplishments in order of priority -- what were the top three?

2. What do you want supporters to remember about this year?

If you had to summarize your year in just a sentence or two, what would you say? What’s the “take home” message that you want your supporters to remember after reading your report? This is not the same thing as your list of accomplishments, but a way to frame them.

3. What format will the report take?

Think about how this annual report will fit into your current communications and fundraising plan. For example, if you typically send a lot of direct mail to your donors, you may want the report to include a printed version, perhaps supplemented with an online PDF, video or infographic. If you communicate primarily online, you may want to skip the print version, or do something very short like a postcard.

How to Create a Nonprofit Annual Report

This 63-page e-book is the clear, practical, and easy-to-follow guide you need to produce an annual report for your nonprofit. Whether you want to try what we call the "New and Improved" shorter annual report formats, or you'd rather stick with something more traditional, this e-book has you covered.



Once you’ve decided on your accomplishments, think about the best way to reinforce the message you want supporters to remember about your year.

Incorporate Real Voices. Supporters want to hear powerful stories about the impact of your work that feature real people, so include people pictures, profiles, testimonials, and little anecdotes that let those voices shine through. Get away from the institutional voice of the 501(c)(3) doing the talking, and make your report a more personal communications piece.

Use Good Photos and Other Visuals. Rather than shrink a dozen photos down in order to make them all fit, pick the three or four you think really say the most about your work. Write really good captions for them that can stand on their own (remember, lots of people will read your headlines and captions only, then put the report down).

Financials Tell the Story Too. Don’t leave the numbers in your report open to interpretation. Your financials will tell a story and you need to make sure the story lines up with the one you are telling in the rest of the report.Instead of printing your financial statements, use some really good pie charts or graphs to tell your financial story visually. People also love trends, so consider showing how your income and expenses have changed over time. Always include a few bullets that explain your financials in plain English.


Create a More Shareable Version and Repurpose the Content. Don’t let all the hard work you put into your report go to waste! Even if you stick with a long annual report, consider pulling out the most compelling parts of your report and creating a companion infographic or video. Graphs, photos or other visuals created for the report can be used for social media updates. Testimonials from clients make great newsletter articles. And behind-the-scenes stories from staff or volunteers can be published on your blog.

Prepare for Next Year. If you keep your annual report in mind throughout the year, it will be much easier to write:

  • Have an annual reports folder where you can store progress reports to your board.
  • Keep a journal detailing your thoughts and feelings to preserve the emotion and excitement of working at your organization.
  • Take lots of photos throughout the year.
  • Decide in advance what elements of your work are easy to track with numbers and come up with an easy system to manage the data.

Develop a Theme. Themes can reflect major events in your organization during the year, or events in the world around you. Or they can simply be a creative structure in which to tell your story more powerfully. Carry your theme throughout your report. Changing the theme from year to year is a good way to make your report seem fresh, even if your accomplishments don’t change much over time. (You can find 14 interesting themes used successfully by nonprofit organizations in the How to Create a Nonprofit Annual Report e-book).


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