6 Proven Best Practices for Crafting a Compelling Annual Report
Not a lot of people get excited about creating an annual report. Yay! Let’s dive into last year’s operational metrics! If you and your colleagues fall into that camp, this statement should help stoke a little enthusiasm:
Your annual report (also known as an “impact report” at many nonprofits) can be pivotal in earning the trust and support of key stakeholders. Read on to learn how a strong story, good design, and the right format can transform your company data into an invaluable outreach tool.
Why the Quality of Your Annual Report Matters
A good annual report communicates more than just financial performance and forecasts. It provides stakeholders with a deeper understanding of what you do, why you do it, and how well you do it — and gives them a reason to trust, invest in, and/or work with your brand.
This is crucial for nonprofits that rely heavily on fundraising or volunteers, or for-profit companies that need to attract and retain investors and employees. In the health and wellness sector, it’s a key opportunity for organizations to show how they’ve followed through on their commitments to contribute to the health and wellness of communities.
With an engaging design and thoughtful content, an annual report can be a powerful tool for fundraising, marketing, and recruiting. Done well, it’s also a good way to strengthen your brand reputation.
By contrast, a poorly done annual report can downplay your strengths and successes. It can also diminish your brand image, particularly if your website and other channels are more thoughtfully designed. In that case, the annual report may feel like an afterthought to readers who rely on its information.
How Your Annual Report Can Engage Key Audiences
While current and potential donors or investors tend to be the primary audiences for annual reports, there are a number of other stakeholders to take into account. Employees, customers, alumni, partners, and community leaders are all part of the ecosystem that benefits from, and drives value for, your organization.
Creating a multi-faceted report with content that speaks to different audiences can help you earn the trust and support of a range of key stakeholders. Here’s how.
Strengthen your investor or donor base
With an easy-to-digest record of accomplishments and impact, your annual report can help convince current and potential donors, sponsors, or investors that your organization is a solid investment. It’s also a great way to recognize those who helped you achieve your goals over the year or to reconnect with disengaged supporters.
Motivate your employees or volunteers
An engaging report can congratulate your team on their wins and highlight the innovation, commitment, and cooperation that underpin your success. By showing people how their work affects everything from stock value to community impact, you’ll reinforce why the work they do every day makes a difference and how they fit into the bigger picture.
Capture more customers or clients
Whether they’re buying your products or receiving the benefits of your services, most people want to do business with brands that genuinely care about them. Your annual report can include stories and visuals that showcase your mission and core values, as well as highlighting initiatives that put customers or clients first.
Enhance vendor or partner relationships
External partners want to know what they can expect from you and what’s expected of them — and just about everyone wants to feel appreciated. Your annual report can leverage data to show your financial strength and longevity while highlighting the level of quality and commitment you expect from vendors and partners. It can also spotlight those who went above and beyond, reinforcing those relationships.
6 Best Practices for an Engaging Annual Report
It’s not easy to distill an entire year’s worth of data into a single report that’s digestible, engaging, and convincing. The best annual reports tend to combine clear and purposeful storytelling with a little creativity.
Choose a unifying theme
One of the best ways to craft a cohesive narrative for your annual report is to choose an overarching theme and create relevant content around it. Centralizing your accomplishments around a main message will keep the report focused and better support your core objectives.
Some organizations anchor their reports by opening with their mission statements. Others use marketing-driven catchphrases like “Poised for the 21st Century.” We love the 2021 annual report from AIDS Foundation Chicago — it’s built around the theme “A Better Normal,” opens with a leaders’ letter, and includes a list of strategic priorities linked to different report sections.
Use visual elements to express impact
It’s easy for a message to get lost if it’s not presented in the right way. Design matters! Use things like photos, infographics, and other visual elements to bring your goals and successes to life. This will also help keep readers engaged with your content. In a nutshell: aim for more visuals and fewer words.
The Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island 2021 Annual Report does a great job of using impactful imagery and colorful visuals to illustrate their mission and key accomplishments.
Make it interactive
At the end of the day, you want people to read what you’ve put together. One of the best ways to keep readers engaged is to create an immersive experience with interactive features. Let your audience click through slides, watch videos, or expand graphics for more information.
TOMS’s 2022 Impact Report combines videos and dynamic visuals with lots of clickable content to cover a ton of info without making readers wade through long blocks of text.
Create a web page, not a PDF
While PDFs are easy to share online or in print, they can be clunky to interact with, they’re hard to read on mobile, and they’re notoriously inaccessible.
Here are some important advantages to building a web page instead:
- Web pages can be optimized for different digital devices
- You can use SEO techniques to help increase exposure
- They can easily meet diverse accessibility needs
Plus, since they’re native to web browsers, web pages make it easier for readers to navigate to additional resources or take action. And, well, PDFs just aren’t as much fun to scroll through as the 2020 Mailchimp Annual Report.
Employ data visualization
Numbers alone are easy to skim right over. Visual representations of data, however, get readers to think about the content in a more constructive way, like identifying trends or significant changes. Visualizations also help transform complex data into easy-to-understand information that’s more enjoyable to read.
Start Network’s 2019 Annual Report shows how to use color, graphics, and animation to bring life to your data.
Connect the data to real people
This is especially important for nonprofits and for-profit social enterprises, where it’s crucial to convey the impact of your work. You can humanize facts and data — and make an emotional connection with readers — by including stories and images showing how your product or service impacted the lives of real people.
For a wonderful example of how to incorporate real stories, check out Fairtrade Foundation’s 2019 Annual Report.
Why It’s All Worth It
Think about all the marketing and outreach methods your team uses to attract support for your organization. Of all those methods, the annual report provides a unique chance to showcase the full breadth of your value and impact. To unabashedly brag about yourselves, if you will.
For health and wellness organizations in particular, an annual report is a great opportunity to share community impact over the past year and highlight important investments or initiatives that impact the health and lives of the individuals they serve.
Is it a significant investment? It can be. But if you invest in making your annual report as engaging and compelling as possible, it can pay for itself by helping to fulfill your fundraising or recruitment goals — and spotlighting the crucial role your organization plays in the world at large.
Need help crafting your next annual report? Reach out to us today.