How to write a non-profit organisation Annual Report


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How do you think about putting together your organisation’s Annual Report? Is it something you do because you have to, but begrudgingly? Do you think about it as a dry and dull document that nobody will read? If that’s how you approach it, that’s probably what you end up with.

But it can be so much more.

Done well, your Annual Report captures the essence of the year just past. It engages and inspires those people who are already close to your organisation, who already believe in ‘what you’re about’, and who are most likely to take action (or carry on taking action) to support you.

An exciting, accessible document can also be used in loads of different ways, both when you publish it and throughout the year. Yes, you can print it and put it on your website. But what else?

  • You could email or text a link to it to anyone signed up to your distribution lists.
  • You can use it as part of the induction for new staff, volunteers, potential supporters or possible investors.
  • If you include a summary page you can turn that into a banner, into a poster, into a visual for social media.
  • You could blog about it. Even better, you could turn each section of it into a separate blog.
  • You could use the images or infographics from within it as part of your social media content strategy.
  • You can turn it into a video.
  • You can hold a launch event.

The list goes on…

But first, before you do any of that, you need to produce that inspiring Annual Report itself. Here are my pointers:

Tell a story of your year.

Don’t think of it as a report. Think of it as a story. Take your reader on a journey of your year. The highs and the lows. How you overcame the lows. What happened as a result. Where are you now? If it’s an anniversary year, you might even want to go beyond the boundaries of the last 12 months and include a brief look back at your organisation’s history. It all helps build a richer picture for your reader.

Talk about the difference you made, not just what you did.

This is really important. People get really hung up on recording exactly what they’ve done and how they’ve spent their year, but what your audience are REALLY interested in is the difference you’ve made, the impact you’ve had. This is especially true in charities and non-profit organisations. While your donors might take a passing interest in your new processes and office space, they’re much more driven by the impact those changes had on the work you do. How many more people did you reach as a result? Did the time or money saved by your new processes or premises mean that you could offer more support to local people, or more grants to other organisations? That’s where the value is.

Use case studies to bring it to life.

People like stories, they’re used to following stories and they find them easier to digest. If you’re trying to illustrate a big new initiative you’ve kicked off this year, why not focus in on a really local part of that as an example and then scale up from there. Use photos and quotes and focus on the human story behind the jargon and project plans.

Focus in on individuals.

People like to hear about people. This is similar in a lot of ways to using case studies – there’s a lot of cross-over here – but you could focus on individual members of staff, volunteers, service users or donors too. Mix it up. Give people a voice. Those individuals are more likely to share the document if they’re featured, too, giving your circulation an added boost for free.

Break it up.

Don’t make it just about words. Use pictures, quotes, diagrams and infographics. And don’t forget that white space is important on a page! Nobody likes reading a big block of text. If you can break it into manageable, easily digestible chunks that’s great. If you can add in variety to those chunks by mixing up the type of content (visual, diagrams, different kinds of stories) all the better.

Use great headings.

They’ll help people to navigate the document. Be honest with yourself, a lot of your audience won’t read the whole document.

Have you honestly read every word of this post so far?

I didn’t think so. Using headings makes it easy for people to scan down the page and pick out the bits they’re interested in. If you write them well, you’ll make sure that they also get the key messages from each section just through the headings. Engaging headlines will also encourage them to read more sections than they might have otherwise.

Keep your focus on what matters.

Talking about targets is great and has its place, but targets often won’t motivate your potential donors or investors to give. If you’re meeting your targets, that has an important role to play in reassuring someone that their money would be well used, but the more powerful motivation comes from seeing why the money is needed, and the difference it can make in the real world. Focus on these.

Make the dull stuff come to life.

Let’s face it, some of what’s in your report will be (on the surface at least) a bit dull to most readers. A lot of people will skip over the financials, for example. But if you can bring them to life with real examples alongside them they’re more likely to take the time to look at the detail and understand what you’re showing them. You just have to hold their hand and explain what they’re looking at a bit, help them engage with the numbers.

Inspire your reader to action.

You’re not just looking back on the past year in a static document. Use the opportunity to include information about how your supporters can help, how they can get involved, and why they should. You can encourage people to donate, to volunteer, to spread your messages, to follow your social media, to attend your events, to buy your products, even to apply to work for you. If someone’s taken the time to read your Annual Report the chances are they’ll be open to more involvement. Even if they’re already involved in one way, they might well be open to another way. Your donors might also be your volunteers. Your staff might buy your merchandise. Your investors might share your messages through social media, if you show them how.

Look to the future.

Yes, an Annual Report is about looking back. But don’t be afraid to look forwards as well. Show that you’re a dynamic organisation with plans and energy for the year to come. Get people excited, engaged and proud to be involved. Show how you’re using what you’ve learned in the last twelve months to drive and direct the next twelve and beyond.

If you need help writing your Annual Report, I’m here to help take the hard work out of it, and I even offer a discount to non-profit organisations! Get in touch for a free chat to find out more.

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