How to Create an Annual Report That Won’t Bore Your Donors

What do you think of when you hear annual report? Are you picturing a long, boring document filled with wordy text and statistics? It doesn’t have to be like that.

You want to create an annual report that will engage your supporters and not bore them. But, before we get into how you can do that, here are few things to consider.

Does it make sense to produce an annual report? 
It might not. Nonprofit organizations aren’t required to produce an annual report, but they can be beneficial, if done well. Read on for more information to help you figure out if it makes sense for you to produce an annual report. Do Annual Reports Still Make Sense?

If you decide not to do an annual report, find another way to share accomplishments with your donors.

All your donors are not the same
You may want to consider different types of annual reports for different donor groups. Marketing expert Kivi Leroux Miller recommends an oversized postcard with photos and infographics. I think that’s great for most of your donors.

Your grant and corporate funders might want more detail, but not 20 pages. Aim for no more than four pages. Your funders are busy and don’t have a lot of time to read your annual report.

This Annual Reports Wiki includes some great examples including postcards and videos.

No matter what type of annual report you produce, here are some suggestions for creating one that won’t bore your donors.

Be donor centered. 
The purpose of an annual report is to show your donors how they are helping you make a difference for the people you serve.

Think about what your donors want (not what your board wants or what you have always done). They don’t want you to go on and on about how great your organization is. Share accomplishments like this –Thanks to you, 85% of the students in our tutoring program are reading at their grade level or above.

Make it visual
Find some engaging photos to include in your annual report. Photos can tell a story in an instant. Choose photos of people participating in an activity, such as a tutor helping her student with her reading.

Use colorful charts or graphs to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand.

Sprinkle in quotes and short testimonials to help break up any text. 

Tell a story
You can tell a story with words, a photo, or video. Share a success story about a person you have helped. For example, Cara used to struggle with her reading, but now reads at her grade level after weekly tutoring sessions with Amy, one of our volunteer tutors.

Be conversational
Write in the second person and use a warm, friendly tone. Ditch the jargon and passive voice.

Use everyday language such as – With your help we found affordable housing for over 100 homeless families. Now they no longer have to live in a shelter, motel, or their cars, and have a place to call home.

Break from tradition
Traditionally annual reports have included an introduction from the executive director or board chair. I find these often drone on and don’t entice you to read more. If you do include an introduction, make it brief, friendly, jargon-free, and filled with gratitude towards your donors for their support in helping you reach your goals.

Annual reports usually contain a donor list, which have pros and cons. Some donors want public recognition, but these lists take up space and most people aren’t going to read them.

You’ll have to decide if it makes sense to include one in print. You may want to include a list of donors at a certain level in your annual report and all your donors on your website. Whatever you decide, be sure to thank all your donors in this section and double and triple check that their names are spelled correctly.

Annual reports can be time consuming. Don’t let your hard work go to waste. Create an annual report that will capture your donors’ attention right away and not bore them.

Photo by Dion Gillard via Flickr

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