Annual reports can be a powerful tool in securing support – here’s how to get the most out of them.
We’ve just been through annual report season in Australia and no doubt your organisation was relieved to send theirs off to print.
Annual reports are a huge amount of work, ticking important governance and reporting boxes and delivering an annual consolidation of your nonprofit’s activity. But they are also one of your organisation’s most significant pieces of marketing material and, if done right, they can play an important role in your fundraising.
How? By communicating your impact (and therefore the impact of your donors), by demonstrating your efficacy and ability to achieve your mission, by acknowledging funders, gifts and volunteers, and by inspiring readers to take clear actions.
Now that you’ve got (almost) 12 months up your sleeve to work on your next annual report, we’ve rounded up some useful tips, some examples of best practice, and some articles for further reading so that you can make this vital document work hard for you.
- Make your supporters the hero. Less ‘we’ and more ‘you’. When you write about some of your organisation’s biggest achievements, be sure to always put your supporters front and centre: “With your support, we delivered clean water to 10,000 people”, “Through your generosity, we cared for 5000 sick and injured animals”, “In 2019/20, you reached 20,000 families in need with essential material aid”. You get the gist – when you proofread your annual report, be careful to check that your work reads as something that has been made possible by the community who supports you, not as something that has happened within your four walls without them.
- Feature your donors and volunteers. Because there’s nothing better that peer influence to inspire people to donate and give their time. Feature a case study of a regular giver, profile a major donor alongside the project they funded, or show a lovely volunteer photo along with a quote about why they are involved.
- Use beautiful visuals. Your annual report should evoke feeling. You work for a nonprofit that is dependent on securing funds and support by tapping into people’s emotions. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your annual report needs to look and feel like a boring governance document – it should feature touching images (preferably professional images of your work, beneficiaries, volunteers and staff, rather than stock images), interesting infographics that make data-heavy information easy to digest, and attention-grabbing headings. And it should always have a clear, easy-to-read layout.
- Be honest! If you’ve had a challenging year, then say so. But use it as an opportunity to say how you overcame those challenges and how your supporters helped you. Some projects won’t go as planned, but this is a chance to show you are willing to innovate and try new things, what you learned from them, and how you will implement those learnings in the future.
- Show board giving. Your annual report is a good place to show that your board members give financially (or otherwise), which is becoming increasingly expected and researched by potential funders, as we recently discussed in our overview of Noble Ambition’s report on NFP leadership. Your board members may not be in a position to make major gifts, so why not encourage all of your directors to become regular givers and then feature them in a dedicated monthly donor list in your annual report (obviously this does not work for regular giving programs with a cast of thousands!). In a nutshell, it’s safe to assume that trusts, foundations and philanthropists will look at your annual report to see how your board give, fundraise and support your organisation when making their decision about whether they, themselves, will support you.
- Consider how you can digitise your annual report. Because it can be a living and breathing document with interactive maps and infographics, expansion on sections you had to summarise in print, and video. Here’s a great example from Girls Who Code.
Best practice case studies
We found this great article by Whole Whale about 13 US nonprofits who are getting it right with their annual reports. Look at these beautiful snapshots taken from the:
And here’s our Top 3 picks from Australia and New Zealand annual reports.
Notice that the very first information page (page 3) is dedicated to donor impact. And those photos…
Boom! Partnerships, acknowledgment of your support, and togetherness mentioned on both the cover page and as the lead to the CEO’s message. This is how to make your supporters the hero.
For its clear communication of impact and strategy. There’s no doubt what this organisation is trying to achieve with donor support.
First Foundation (New Zealand)
First off, can we just talk about this organisation’s home page? Is there any doubt about what their call to action is?!
And then their annual report. Both a PDF version and an interactive version (that links to videos, case study pop outs and beneficiary profiles) are offered. Page 2 is dedicated to thanking supporters. Images are warm and moving. Stats and figures are clearly visually depicted. Beneficiary stories are shared with both words and infographics. And the interactive version includes a clickable Donate Now button! 10 out of 10 for this annual report.
We hope this has given you some ideas for your next annual report. As a fundraiser in your organisation, remember that you are a key stakeholder in the creation of this document. As it’s being produced, apply a donor lens to it; is it something that will make them feel appreciated? Will it inspire them? Does it show them how you have spent their money to create impact? Does it tell them that your own board and leadership team are committed to your mission through their own giving and participation? And does it communicate the need for their ongoing support?