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How to Write an Annual Report

Are annual reports required by law? Yes. Do they have to be purely obligatory, serving no other purpose than meeting a legal requirement? No. If you're going to spend time creating an annual report, or spend money outsourcing it to a consultant or graphic designer, it should be able to serve as a valuable member of your marketing material library. In the past, I've worked with nonprofits to develop Annual Reports that were also used as "leave behind" materials for meetings and public spaces, as well as Annual Reports that resembled magazines, while others were formatted as calendars and mailed out directly. No matter how you plan to format your report, or how you will distribute it, here is a checklist that will help you create a compelling document that tells the story of your organization and meets all the legal requirements.

How to Layout Your Annual Report:

Let's start with the cover. If you're going to use this document as more than a profit and loss report, your cover needs to effectively speak to your brand and mission of the organization. For example, when working with a client whose nonprofit focused on housing the homeless, the cover of the report highlighted hard-hitting photos of homelessness, and the center photograph was a warm, welcoming front door to a home to illustrate the central focus of the organization.

A Letter from leadership. The next page is generally a letter from the CEO, Executive Director, or some other position of authority in your organization. The letter speaks to key accomplishments in the past year, the plan for the future, and the value of the organization and purpose it serves.

Who you are. Typically, a general description of who your organization is comes next, including how your organization began, mission statement, and the like.

Then comes the good stuff: success stories. This is where a compelling annual report that can be used as a valuable piece of marketing material is made. In the next page (or few) tell the stories of the people whose lives are made better by your organization.

Next comes the required financials. Over the next however many pages, you will lay out your audited statements of income, financial position, cash flow, donations, and donors. If you're wondering how to lay out so much data, feel free to take a look at the Annual Report I mentioned above, here.

Leadership and the board. Here, you will list the organization's executive officers, as well as the board of directors. Tip: To make this page more interesting, I always pull quotes from key members of the board and leadership and feature them in breakout boxes to break up the monotony. (This can be a half page, shared with a key accomplishment or highlight from an event.)

How to get involved. You want to always include a call to action (CTA) in all your marketing materials, digital or print. This is where you will lay out volunteer opportunities, events, how to give, and how to stay connected through mailing, social, or email.

Back cover. This one is quick and easy. Include a spot for mailing, your return address, and some pleasant graphics and you are finished!

Hey there! I hope you enjoyed reading about my process of laying out an annual report. Have more questions? Let's connect through the comments or on my contact page. Don't have time to create a report like this on your own? I can help with that too. Let's chat and see how we can work together to make your life easier and marketing better.

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