When it comes to annual reports, pulling and analyzing the data, crunching numbers, and triple-checking everything feels like it should be enough. Being asked to make it funnnnnnn and cool on top of everything is a joke, right?
Hm. Would it help if we shifted perspective?
Your nonprofit's annual report is potentially the single most comprehensive documentation of impact, data, and action that your nonprofit will create all year. It's gonna be looked at for years to come, by a wide range of folks—board members, potential donors and funders, volunteers, fellow nonprofiteers, The Government, your staff, and general looky-loos.
And not only that, the information in that annual report is the type of stuff that future you and your staff is going to be relying on as you make impact reports, write email asks, decide on social and website content, and write the story of your nonprofit over time.
So... yeah! Creating an engaging annual report that has multiple uses is going to make your job easier in the long run. Whether it means you get the grant, bring in a major donor, or have starter copy written, a double-duty annual report is the way to go.
10+ Alternative uses for annual reports
- Already-written donor communications
- Pre-prepared social media content
- Templated report for organization branches
- Cleaned and prepped data for funding applications
- Feedback requests to jumpstart changes
- Celebration of successful proof-of-concept initiatives
- Introduction of a year-long impact story
- Established groundwork for the coming year's impact
- Redirection to donation form
- Year-round engagement loops
- Bonus! This isn't quite as visible, but your annual report should be a reflection of your values. Meaning, if you're an environmental org, don't print it and send it via direct mail. If your org is committed to promoting equity, hire BIPOC designers, artists, and photographers to create your report—and credit them (with juicy links!) in the finished product.
You see a donor outreach email on your to-do list, and it's coming up fast. Quick, what are you gonna say to get their attention (and donations?)
Easy, pop over to your annual report and rip off some copy!
Nope, this is not cheating—in fact, it's what content pros do on the reg. Reusing content also has an added bonus of reinforcing your message... so don't be shy; rip yourself off!
Social Media content
Whether you have a dedicated social media manager or it's just you, having pre-made social posts will feel like a burden has been lifted. Match properly-sized images with short-n-snappy copy from your annual report and schedule those posts out as far as you can!
Bonus! If someone regularly posts questionable content on your organization's social media, having pre-made posts with images and copy will mitigate those iffy posts and reinforce your nonprofit's brand.
If your organization has regional, national, or international branches, see if your home base has a template they'd like you to use. Time—and brand—saver!
If not, build the annual report of your dreams and offer the template with instructions to your fellow branches. And be brave: ask to be credited somewhere in the report!
You pulled the most recent year's data and got it all ready for the big reveal, but did you compare it to the previous year? Or the one before? Heck, when you look at that multi-year data, you may realize you have a bigger scoop to spill in your annual report.
Survey and quizzes
Use your annual report as a tool for engagement! At the beginning or end, ask questions relating to your programming, service, or future plans. See what your supporters have to say!
Cause for celebration
If you got new programming off the ground last year or implemented an idea that required proof of concept, give yourself a pat on the back in your annual report! Let all the skeptics see just how sweet success tastes.
"Nonprofits and for-profits need, each year, one or two stories that are the stories they tell all year long instead of trying to tell one hundred stories of one hundred different people"
Are you thinking what we're thinking? Your annual report is the perfect place to introduce the story you intend to tell all year long.
What's on deck
Annual reports are often rundowns of the past, but there's nothing that says they have to be. In fact, we're gonna say the opposite: Give your supporters a glimpse into what they can expect to see in the coming year. Not only will it hold your organization accountable, but it also is a great segue into...
It's definitely not the time or place to press hard, but being such a robust document, it only makes sense that you slip in a tiny little appeal.
Finally, when people take the time to read all about your nonprofit's year-in-review, don't let the interaction stop there. Find a way to create an engagement loop that allows you to respond each time they engage with your nonprofit, your website, communications, social media, clients, and so on.
There are some ideas earlier in this article, like the donation ask, the survey or quiz, and social media. Try out one or more and see if it increases engagement year-over-year. You may have a new metric to add to next year's annual report!
5 Examples of multi-use nonprofit annual reports
Boy Scouts of America's Heart of America Council
Bloomington Health Foundation
Back on My Feet
Because Justice Matters
Bonus! When you create cumulative reports, there will likely be individual impact stories that span the breadth of your organization's history. An iconic story or two may bubble up for you, making impact obvious.
As a youth-focused organization, The Bloc's programming and fiscal calendar coordinate with the school year, which means that a summertime annual report will have much more impact than a January drop. In Jamyle's words, "Producing our public-facing annual report in July allows us to speak to our progress at a natural time of reflection."
A method to your making
Now that you're on board with multi-use annual reports, how do you do it?
Well, look at what you have—we guarantee you have more assets than you think.
- Impact stories from past years
- Quotes from supporters
- Past annual reports
- Media spotlights (newspaper, website, podcast guest spots, etc.)
- Blog posts
- Supporter survey results
- Memorabilia like leftover swag, gala invitations, or prizes
- A sense of what worked last year!
Then add in your experimental ideas, inspiration, and the obligatory WTH board request. Once you've tallied it all up, figure out what makes sense to include in your nonprofit's annual report—if you were putting together a scrapbook of the past year, what would make it in?
Choosing a program or tool to build your annual report will help narrow it down: Yearly.report and Canva lend themselves to dynamic digital experiences while issu has a more traditional feel and therefore may do a better job carrying static images and bulkier copy.
Or... hand it over to a pro (assuming that's not you.) Find a designer or content creator that lines up with your values and pay them to create a kickass annual report. Remember, this is a document that you'll be using for years to come, so it's worth the investment.
Accessibility Reminder! Keep in mind that your supporter base will have different levels of accessibility to and comfort with digital content. Captions, translations, a variety of filetypes and color palettes, and clearly-marked paths to your annual report will ensure that your hard work will be easily digested by everyone under the sun.
Nonprofit Content Creation Takeaways
- Multi-use content like videos, short copy descriptions, images, and infographics make the most of your staff's time and resources.
- Keep it short and sweet to hold onto reader attention.
- Consider different levels of accessibility in your creation process.
- Rip yourself off! Content professionals reuse copy; you should, too.
More nonprofit report resources
- Nonprofit Annual Report Tools: Make an Impressive Report with Ease
- The Best Way for Your Nonprofit to Do an Annual Review of Your Fundraising Program
- 8 Must-Have Fundraising Reports Every Nonprofit Needs
- 13 Awesome Nonprofit Annual Report Examples and What You Can Learn From Them