This will be our first annual report. Where should we start?

Writing an annual report can feel overwhelming and daunting, especially for first-timers. Perhaps that’s why you haven’t written one in the past.

Always begin with your key message and your achievements. What three things are you most proud of from last year? What aspects would you emphasize if you only have five minutes to tell a stranger about your nonprofit's good work? Your annual report should flow from the answers to these questions.

If your organization has been around for several years, but this is your first attempt at an annual report, you may be tempted to talk about all of your accomplishments over the years. In this case, we recommend that you call the document a “progress report” that spans a certain timeframe, e.g., 2004-2007. At the end of 2008, you would write an annual report for that year alone.

Should we talk about current activities and the future, or just the past year?

Annual reports summarize what has already happened. Don’t treat your annual report as a summary of your current workplan. You can talk about the present or the future in the executive message or in a small section near the end of the report. Readers will expect to read about recent accomplishments, not current activities or future plans.

If we only highlight our biggest accomplishments, won’t those staff members whose work is left out be upset?

The purpose of an annual report is to highlight the organization’s accomplishments as a whole, not the work of particular staff members or project teams. So it doesn’t seem like the annual report is the only place where good work is publicly recognized, look for other ways recognize the contributions of all of your staff members.