When the time comes to start drafting your organization’s annual report, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. What information should you include? How long should the final document be? What should it look like? Whether you’re drafting your first annual report or have been writing one for years, it can be difficult to get started.
With nearly twenty years of experience helping organizations tell their story through annual reports and other communications, we’re sharing six tips we’ve learned to help you create an impactful report that you’ll be proud to share with your stakeholders.
1. Define Your Audience
Before starting any major communications project, you should clearly define your audience. In the case of an annual report, you’ll typically want to reach multiple audience categories, including donors, board members, partner organizations, beneficiaries, and other stakeholders. Define each audience category and think about the information they care about the most. This list is the starting point to decide what to include in your annual report and what information needs to be gathered.
2. Identify a Theme
Just because you’re drafting an annual report does not mean it needs to be a dry, dull document. In fact, it shouldn’t be! Rather than simply viewing this project as a “report,” think of it as a golden opportunity to tell a compelling story about your organization and the progress you’ve achieved in the past year. Identifying a theme for your report will help you frame your story and keep it consistent throughout. For example, you could use the theme “forward progress” to tie together the entire contents of the report, from the data, to the stories, to the graphic design elements.
3. Showcase Key Accomplishments and Initiatives
Take the time to think back about what your organization accomplished in the past year. With any luck, you’ll come up with a healthy list of outstanding achievements. To make this process easier in the future, keep a running list of accomplishments that you add to throughout the year. As you consider what to include in the final report, you need to ensure you include highlights that matter to each of your key stakeholder groups, as well as any data that you are obligated to report. But keep in mind that attention is a scarce commodity. Your audience doesn’t have the time to read dozens of pages. Make it easy for them by producing a shorter report that only includes your most compelling data and success stories.
4. Tell the Story Behind the Data
Depending on your organization, your annual report will need to include hard data, such as the amount of money you raised, the number of new members you recruited, or the number of people who benefited from your services. While this data is important to include, you need to help your audience understand the impact of that data by telling the story behind the numbers. One excellent way to do this is by sharing testimonials from your beneficiaries, partners and other leaders in your community. Use quotes or short stories to create an emotional connection with your audience and demonstrate the positive change your organization helped bring about.
5. Engage with Imagery and Graphics
Your organization isn’t boring, and your annual report shouldn’t be, either. Create visual interest that will engage your readers by including photos and graphics. Put a human face on your organization by including photos of your beneficiaries, donors and staff. When choosing your images, select high-quality photos that represent the full diversity of your community. Beyond headshots, look for images that show action and depict the story you want to tell. (If you will be printing your annual report, it’s particularly important to ensure your images have a sufficiently high resolution - at least 300 pixels per inch.)
Infographics and other design elements will also significantly improve the readability of your final product. A wall of numbers screams “Don’t read this!”, but a properly designed infographic quickly communicates the key takeaways from your data. Similarly, design elements such as color, font and shapes help create a visual hierarchy in your document and lead your reader from one important point to the next, as we did with the North Fulton Community Improvement District in their 2016-2017 annual report.
6. Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Good Design
Your annual report is a reflection of your organization and a full year of hard work. It’s a very public document that you’ll send to all of your stakeholders. While the content of your report is crucial, so is the look and feel. With your report’s design, you want to communicate professionalism and expertise, giving your stakeholders confidence in your ability to deliver positive results. Unfortunately, a poorly designed report can quickly undercut your message before your audience even starts to read. If you need help creating a compelling, beautiful design for your next annual report, get in touch with us. We’re happy to help!