Children typically dread being forced to do chores. Adults usually feel the same. For nonprofits, government-required annual reports may fall into the chore category. Planning an annual report feels like busy work when you should be focusing on your clients’ needs and improving the company.
Instead of a chore, imagine annual reports as an integral part of marketing. Now look at your options: a single spaced, white page with lots of decimal figures or the engaging story of your nonprofit’s success over the past year. The first will fulfill the government requirement; the second will make donors proud of your work and happy they contributed.
The elements needed to turn Option 1 into Option 2 are simple and flexible. Plus, you already know these elements because every book you read has them.
Imagine your annual report as a book. Let’s see how that works.
In forwards or introductions, the author explains any number of things: how the book began, the purpose behind it, details needed to understand the following chapters or a juicy scene that readies the reader for Chapter 1.
Likewise, the first part of your annual report can vary. A CEO giving a brief statement is one simple option. Or, the introduction could highlight the key features ahead. You could even start with a story, something personal that shows on a small scale what your company is doing at a corporate level.
No single blueprint exists, but remember this report is for humans not machines. Be relatable and excited to tell the story of the past year. The essence of the report may be numbers, but the words matter too. Give your readers a preview of that story here.
Here’s the bulk of your report story. Just like James Patterson or J. K. Rowling, you start telling a tale that flows. Let your page design and words move the reader. Not every page will be riveting. Graphs and numbers are needed. But put them in the context of your story. Tell how the numbers caused action.
This section can highlight the main events, campaigns and successes of the year. You can be frank as well. Every year contains good and bad. Hopefully, your company had more of the former, but we shouldn’t shy from sharing unfortunate circumstances. Humans emphasize, and while exploitation of empathy is wrong. Being honest isn’t.
Find individuals you’ve helped and explain how the process began, where it went and if it has ended. Some nonprofits work with wildlife, tell the story of that wildlife or of your volunteers and employees who interact with it.
Every nonprofit has a story to tell. This is where you tell it.
Authors always seem like super thankful people. Some books contain a five-page acknowledgements section with every elementary teacher mentioned by name along with a cousin three times removed. Others stick to the essentials: husband, wife, children, publisher, editor, manager.
Some readers skip this section. But odds are that the family of the author read it. They know the author, know the toil put into the book, and know the author needed help to finish. This knowledge comes with a greater appreciation for all the helpers involved.
Similarly, your donors, potential donors, or interested community members realize that nonprofits receive assistance. Caring for your company, readers care those who help you. Plus, Mom always said to say, “thank you.”
Like books, the order can change. The acknowledgement section can pair up with the introduction before the main story or after the main story with the next section. Lots of these elements are interchangeable. Experiment and see which arrangement helps the report flow.
The Sneak Peak
With book series, the most exciting part is the one to come. The current book ends only for the author to tempt you with a chapter from the next book. Likewise, cause your readers to anticipate the year to come. What new projects will you undertake? What milestone is the company going to pass? How many new clients will you be able to help?
Unlike the year-long wait for a trilogy’s last book, the next part of your story begins immediately. The plans are finalized, the materials are ordered, the volunteers are signed up. So, what shape will the next year’s story take and what help is still needed? Precise numbers can wait. Give the overall arch and let your donor or interested reader get that inside scoop.
Your annual report can be more than a chore to satisfy Uncle Sam. Turn it into a marketing opportunity. Donors care about you, or they wouldn’t donate. Show them what that care accomplished. The numbers are important. Nonprofits are often judged on efficiency. But those numbers ultimately exist to help nonprofits do the work, which is one big story waiting to be told.
Have questions? Reach out and let us help. Schedule a time to talk by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the contact form at the bottom of the home page.