Time (and money) well spent: crafting a brilliant annual report

Your annual report can be an amazing, multipurpose document that allows you to demonstrate the recent successes of your organization. It’s your moment to shine, your moment to dazzle stakeholders with all you’ve achieved over the last year. So why must they always be so boring?

Developing an annual report is often considered to be time-consuming and expensive, but it is a worthwhile investment if it’s well written and designed, and provides useful information.

More than a reflection of the past year, the annual report is also a powerful fundraising tool for the year to follow. Organizations are printing fewer and fewer copies of annual reports to save costs and trees. But always consider how best to use this communication tool for your target audience – printed reports for a select group of donors and partners, a microsite to wow an online audience or even video clips of different elements to share on social media. A report that accurately portrays your mission and impact can quickly become a useful tool to recruit quality staff!


Why most annual reports are such an undertaking

  • No clear strategy for the year (or for the organization), so the report has no clear direction
  • Limited staff to manage and develop the project
  • Limited funds to hire professionals to help with theme and creative content
  • Not knowing who to hire for the right kind of help

How to prepare an annual report people will actually read (and enjoy!)


It’s called an annual report, not a historical report
Always focus on the fiscal year and try not to go too far into details about the organization if it’s not relevant to your theme or the year you’re reporting on.


Tell stories
People remember stories, people share stories. They engage, inspire, and encourage people to act. For non-profits, they can be used effectively in just about any method of communication, especially the annual report. There is actual scientific evidence that stories have a significant influence on the perception people have of products and services. Stories stick.


Show me the money!
People are more likely to support you financially when they see solid evidence that their dollars are being used sensibly. In addition to the long pages of financials you have to include, create lighter infographic style visuals that will help every day donors understand where the money goes. Take a look at how the Jane Goodall Institute of Canada embraced visual style for their report.


Have an online component that is compelling
Consider a microsite annual report instead of simply adding a PDF download of the report on your website. Try converting your print annual report into a video annual report. The Nature Conservancy of Canada did a great job humanizing their annual report by letting the president and CEO give a video message directly to supporters of the organization. Get the most out of your hard work by reusing elements of your content throughout the year in other parts of your communications such as social media, blog, and emails.

Working with designers and consultants

  • Define your expectations: be clear about what you want, when you want it and your budget. 
  • Ask if out-of-pocket expenses are marked up or billed net. 
  • Ask the questions that will help you stay on budget and give you a sense of the hours needed to complete different tasks. 
  • Determine at the start who will be your contact. 
  • Agree on milestones, deadlines, payment schedules and additional costs if deadlines are missed.

Don’t start too late

An annual report is not something you want to rush. Plan ahead and give yourself enough time for each step. Take a look at how Phil goes about creating a standard annual report for clients.

How much should I budget?

A formal 16-page typical annual report can cost anywhere from $7,500 to $20,000. Having staff take care of internal coordination and writing can lower the price to a $6,000 – $10,000 range.

If your annual report needs to be bilingual, add 30-40% for producing the second language. The price can also vary quite a bit if you choose to do an online component or video production.


Think before you print
The printing costs obviously vary depending on the length of the annual report and type of paper. But now more than ever the cost of printing has seen major fluctuations because of supply chain management issues related to pandemic market disruptions. Printing timelines are directly affected by this current reality. 


Saving on stamps
To save costs on mailing, consider giving out the annual report at an event that you know many of the stakeholders and board members will attend. If you want to save on printing and mailing altogether, try a microsite and invite people via email and social media to visit your site.

The most important thing to remember about budget is that you need to set one, right from the start.

Have fun!

Instead of looking at this project as something you have to do, think of it as something you get to do. Highlight the success and determination of your staff and volunteers, and don’t be shy to address what your goals are for the next year. Let people know where you’re heading and what they can do to help you reach your next set objectives.

Contact us now to get started on your annual report. It takes roughly 3 months from start to finish to produce high quality results. Take a look at recent reports we have created for mission-driven organizations. 

We offer the following services related to the creation of your annual report: 

  • Communications strategy
  • Art direction
  • Design & production
  • Editing, writing, & proofreading
  • Translation
  • Microsite creation
  • Social media promotion
  • Printing & mailing


Reach out today to get the guidance and support you need!