How to Create Your 2020 Annual Report

The nonprofit annual report is a mixed bag. Organizations do need to share accomplishments and show gratitude to their donors, but many annual reports are done poorly. They’re often too long, boring, and basically a demonstration of the organization patting itself on the back. There’s often very little appreciation for donors. It’s also time consuming to put together, even when we’re not in a pandemic.

COVID-19 and our other current situations have brought about many changes, or at least they should. You can’t create the same type of annual report you’ve done in the past. I think some of the changes I’m going to suggest should be carried out in the future, as well.

First, you don’t have to do an annual report, but you do have to share accomplishments with your donors. You might want to ditch the annual report and send short progress reports a couple of times a year or monthly e-updates instead. This makes a lot of sense now when things are changing rapidly and you don’t have time to take on a big report. 

If you decide to do an annual report, I encourage you to move away from the traditional multi-page one. Aim for something no longer than four pages. Shorter is better.

You also need to address how your organization is faring with the current situations – the pandemic, economic downturn, racial reckoning, etc.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to help you create an annual report that’s relevant during the current situations, won’t put your donors to sleep, and make it a little easier for you to put together.

Your annual report is for your donors

Keep your donors in mind when you create your annual report and include information you know will interest them. Also, donors have a lot going on, so that’s another reason to not create a huge report that they may or may not read.

You might want to consider different types of annual reports for different donor groups. You could send an oversized postcard with photos and infographics or a one-to-two-page report to most of your donors. Your grant and corporate funders might want more detail, but not 20 pages. See if you can impress them with no more than four pages.

Make it a gratitude report

Donors want to feel good about giving to your nonprofit. Think of this as a gratitude report. You may want to call it that instead of an annual report. Many donors have stepped up to help during this past year and deserve to be thanked for that.

Focus on thanking your donors for their role in helping you make a difference. Get inspired by these examples. I know these are on the longer side, but they still have some good examples.

Oregon Zoo Gratitude Report

Power of Storytelling | The most moving gratitude report I’ve ever seen

How are you making a difference?

The theme of many annual reports is look how great we are. They are organization-centered instead of being donor-centered and community-centered.

They also include a bunch of boring lists, such as the number of clients served. You need to share specific accomplishments that show how you’re making a difference.

Focus on the why and not the what. I know your organization had to make a lot of changes due to the pandemic, but what’s most important is why you needed to do that.

You can say something like this – In the past year, we have seen triple the number of people at the Northside Community Food Bank. We also had to make changes at our facility so we could continue to serve people safely. Thanks to donors like you, we were able to meet our demands and provide local residents with boxes of healthy food.

Phrases like Thanks to you and Because of you should dominate your annual report or any type of impact report.

Tell a story

Donors want to hear about the people they’re helping. You can tell a story with words, a photo, or a video. 

For example –  Leah, a single mother with three kids, lost her full-time job earlier in the year and has been trying to make ends meet with periodic work. Ever since the pandemic started it’s been a struggle for her family. She could barely afford groceries, rent, and utilities. Leah had never gone to a food bank before and felt ashamed to have to do that. But when she reached out to the Northside Community Food Bank, she was treated with respect and dignity. Now she’s able to bring home healthy food for her family.

Make it visual

Your donors have a lot going on and won’t have a lot of time to read your report. Engage them with some great photos, which can tell a story in an instant. Choose photos of people participating in an activity, such as volunteers working at a food bank or clients, if you have their permission.

Use colorful charts or infographics to highlight your financials. This is a great way to keep it simple and easy to understand. Include some quotes and short testimonials to help break up the text.

Be sure your report is easy to read. Use at least a 12-point font and black type on a white background. A colored background may be pretty, but it makes it hard to read. You can, however, add a splash of color with headings, charts, and infographics.

Write as if you’re having a conversation with a friend

Beware of using jargon. Most of your donors don’t use words like underserved or at-risk, and neither should you. Use everyday language such as – Because of you, we found affordable housing for over 100 homeless families. This is even more important during COVID-19, since living in a shelter or with other families isn’t safe. Now, these families have a place to call home.

Write in the second person and use a warm, friendly tone. Use you much more than we.

Planning is key

I know putting together an annual report can be time-consuming. One way to make it easier is to set aside a time each month to make a list of accomplishments. This way you’re not going crazy at the end of the year trying to come up with a list. You can just turn to the list you’ve been working on throughout the year.

You also want to create a story and photo bank and you can draw from those when you put together your annual report.

Creating a shorter report or an infographic postcard will also help make this easier for you. Remember, you also have the option of not doing an annual report and sending periodic short updates instead.

With everything changing at a rapid pace, I hope you’ve been updating your donors frequently. If not, you need to start doing that. 

Whatever you decide, put together an annual report that’s a better experience for everyone. Read on for more information about creating a relevant annual or impact report for 2020.

How to Create a Meaningful Nonprofit Annual Report in the Year of the Pandemic

Creating a Nonprofit Impact Report in the Time of COVID-19

8 Annual Reports We Love

How to Craft a 1-Page Nonprofit Annual Report

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