Annual reports:  what’s not to love?

 I love annual reports for any nonprofit organization, as they are the ultimate retrospective and sales piece for continued investment in the organization.  Annual reports take many forms, but the most lasting are those that have good statistics, lots of photos and show the clear impact of your work.  Please include plenty of photos of people, especially of clients or stakeholders participating in your events are best.  If you can include captions with names and dates that helps too (get permission to publish these photos first).  Most are creating annual reports in a PDF format that can be sent to donors, funders, potential board members, elected officials in an email.  You might see a reason to have a handful of these printed if you are doing larger scale fundraising projects. Having just looked at two dozen annual reports for a client, here are some suggestions about component parts that you do not want to forget to include in your annual report for 2012.  

  1. Welcome letter—from the board president and/or Executive Director with photos of each person, highlighting major accomplishments.  These letters should be no more than a page. The Board president letter can take a broad perspective on the organization’s impact; the ED’s letter can deal with major internal accomplishments.
  2. Major project descriptions—Short paragraphs with photos describing key projects from the past year. Thanking specific donors in the text is helpful.  Make sure you describe the specific impact and statistics in the text or in accompanying charts or graphs showing growth or reach of your programs.
  3. List of all of your board members with affiliations and title i.e. Jane Smith, VP People’s Bank.  It is great if there is a photo of the entire board with names of everyone listed –including those not in the photo.  If you have an associate or honorary board or other committee of former board members or prominent citizens, include these names in the annual report too. A photo of these folks helps too.
  4. List of all committees, with name of the chair of each committee.  Again it is best if there is a photo of the whole committee with names of everyone on committee but not in the photo in the caption.
  5. List of all staff.  It would be nice if you could list when they joined the organization to show longevity—also nice to have a quality photo of each person
  6. List of donors by giving level.  This is essential for any annual report.  Please do not list all the donors alphabetically without regard to giving level.  Show off those donors who give more, and organize the list by highest giving category first, then each category below.  If you had any kind of special appeal or special fundraising event, list those donors or projects separately, don’t mix these together.
  7. Financial statement.  Include last year’s and this year’s on one page to show the program highlights and hopefully growing balance sheet and increase in reserves from year to year.  Include a link to your annual audit and IRS 990 posted on your web site, to promote organizational  transparency. If you wish to include the approved budget for the year, that is ok too but it should also be one page or less.
  8. List of volunteers by hours donated.  This list can be organized by hours or if you do not track hours, then a list of all volunteers listed alphabetically.  You can call out committee chairs, task force chairs, board members or Associate board members, if you have them, in this list.

Finally, include quality photos throughout the document and credit the photographer.  Graphs and charts can also help make your impact real, but they must be colorful and simple to understand.  Include a caption under each chart to reinforce the substance of the chart’s information.

Circulate your annual report widely.  If you do an annual report at the end of your fiscal year (June) you can use much of the text for your end of year appeal. So much of what you write for your annual report can be reused throughout the year for funding proposals, press releases and other materials, that it is worth doing if nothing else to organize your stats and best photos together in one place.  Good luck! Tell us if this list is helpful to you.