Seven Essential Steps to Creating a Winning Nonprofit Annual Report

How do you create an impactful annual report? Many nonprofit professionals struggle with this question—and it’s not hard to see why. An annual report can be a useful tool for spotlighting your organization’s recent achievements. But it’s tough to work with your colleagues to determine which accomplishments to feature and how to present them in a way that will resonate with supporters.

Your nonprofit’s unique characteristics—such as your fundraising processes and donor demographics—should influence how you approach your annual report. However, regardless of these details, there are several key steps that all organizations should take to produce a report that truly hits the mark:

  1. Analyze the landscape. Review annual reports published by other nonprofits to gather ideas for how to present your content. Seek out reports from top-performing nonprofits and peer organizations—especially those in your sector and in your community. Ask your colleagues to share any impressive annual reports that they have encountered.
  2. Identify top stakeholders. Determine who you need to win over with your report, both inside and outside your organization. Is your primary reader a current donor or a prospective donor? Which of your colleagues must sign off on the report?
  3. Pick the right format. Consider the communication needs and preferences of your readers and how you want to share the report. A printed brochure could work well with an older audience. A digital report is your best bet to engage younger supporters. Consider offering a couple of formats if you have different audiences that are equally important.
  4. Document the process. Develop a step-by-step plan for producing your report and edit your document throughout the process as your expectations converge with reality. That way, you won’t have to reinvent the wheel when you create next year’s report.
  5. Seek frequent feedback. Request input from your colleagues throughout report development to get their buy-in. Before you begin, ask how they plan to use the report and what they liked or disliked about past reports. During report development, share draft content to find out whether they think it will be compelling to readers. After the report is complete, ask if the report was helpful and if they received any feedback.
  6. Create donor-centered content. Make your reader the hero in the story. Avoid using jargon to talk about your organization. Instead, use simple yet emotive language to address the reader directly, emphasizing how his or her generosity is fueling your mission. Include technical information if necessary, but keep it to a minimum.
  7. Create a strong communication plan. A robust communication plan will ensure that your report reaches as many people as possible. Consider which channels to prioritize to reach your primary reader. Depending on the format(s) you choose, you may be able to share the report via your website, social media, email and mail, as well as at conferences and in meetings.

It’s not easy to create an effective annual report. Few other projects require a nonprofit professional to not only understand an organization’s overall impact, but also communicate it in a concise and compelling way to its most important raders. However, if you follow these steps, you’ll produce a report that makes a meaningful impact where it matters most.

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