Annual report season often brings a mix of emotions. There's the excitement of a new year of programming, educating, fundraising, and success stories to report on!
Then there's the trepidation of having to compile the data, get team members to provide needed information, and find people to tell those powerful stories. Oh, and did anyone take any good pictures at that fundraiser?
At their best, annual reports are a golden opportunity for nonprofits to showcase their accomplishments through storytelling and photos, thank their donors and supporters, and issue a clear call to action to readers for how they can help keep the momentum going. At their worst, reports are a ho-hum recitation of donor names (yawn), actions taken (so what?) and dry data (zzzzz).
Your job is to make your annual report do the former, not the latter. But there are so many formats and storytelling approaches — which one is best for your organization?
To help you answer that question, we've researched and shared some inspiring annual reports below, showcasing techniques you can use to tell your story. If you get inspired by these examples, get started on your annual report using our free nonprofit annual report template.
Winner: Girls, Inc.
Try to listen to Girls Inc. participants tell their stories of transformation without crying–it’s impossible. This annual report, published as online, multi-page content with a separate downloadable PDF, does a great job of putting the beneficiaries of the organization’s work forward as the most authoritative messengers about the program — and their own achievements. In the featured impact stories, they tell of overcoming abuse, stereotypes, and poverty.
In every story, the dominant feeling is hope and love — because every girl’s story centers on what they’ve been able to achieve with the support of their local Girls Inc. chapter. That’s a good move when you’re publishing an annual report. Donors are interested in the problem, but they want to see clearly that they’re contributing to a solution, and to real positive results for real people. This report also does a great job of incorporating calls to action; on every section, a "Donate" button calls out to the user to act on the good news they’re seeing, and keep those success stories coming.
Winner 1: Roundabout Theatre Company
Roundabout Theatre Company in New York has made great strides in their annual report storytelling over the years, moving from simple downloadable PDF to full-on digital microsite. Big, bold key performance indicators tell their story in numbers, while photos and phrases convey their programmatic priorities: accessibility, diversity, and community.
Winner 2: Girls Who Code
As you might expect from an organization that's about empowering girls to be programmers, Girls Who Code published their annual report online as a microsite with a dynamic, interactive design. The organization manages to create a report that feels both youthful and sophisticated, fun and functional. Its subtly animated graphics and data highlight the organization’s wins over the last year in a way that’s comprehensive without being overwhelming. A downloadable PDF is also offered.
Category: Digital Pioneer
Winner: Salvation Army
The Salvation Army was an early adopter of digital annual report technology. Years ago, they were able determine that nobody opened about half the 28,800 printed annual reports they sent to 7,000 field offices every year. They responded by going digital, and in 2009, for the first time, they produced a paperless annual report that included videos as well as interactive financials and statistics.
They were then able to parlay those videos into PSAs and community presentations, getting even more mileage out their content. Clearly, for this organization, the annual report isn’t a one-off or an obligation, but part of a continuum of channels they’re using to get their message out and generate support.
Winner: Special Olympics
In this annual report, the organization plays to the strengths of the microsite format with easy navigation and multimedia content. Section links along the left side of each page allow viewers to choose their own adventure in terms of what information to access and lends an easy-to-digest simplicity to the overall design. This makes it possible for users from their different key personas to access what's important to them.
And as you’d expect of an organization of its size and stature, the Special Olympics champions all of the elements of a successful annual report: strong storytelling by stakeholders, ample thanks to donors and supporters, great data, and multiple calls to action.
Category: Third-Party App
Winner 1: Best Friends Animal Society
This nonprofit uses Adobe Spark to put their best foot forward. In a word (or three words): PUPPIES and KITTENS. This annual report makes great use of awwww-worthy animal photos and narratives to drive home its message to “save them all.” Readers are never more than one smooth scroll away from an adorable animal, and the format, Adobe Spark, creates a visually appealing and informative document that couldn’t be easier to navigate.
Winner 2: Urban Ecology Center
This Milwaukee nonprofit uses great photos of their program participants in their blog year-round, giving them a great pool to draw from for their annual report. They use ISSUU to post their PDF online, making it a real page-turner!
Keep in mind that while apps like Adobe Spark and ISSUU can make it very easy to put your annual report online, the resulting content will not help your website's search ranking. For that, you need to publish your annual report content digitally as part of your website.
If you’re motivated by any of these annual reports and want help starting yours, this free digital annual report template is a good place to start. Or to have your report designed and produced by experienced, mission-driven professionals, check out Yodelpop's annual report design packages.