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 twelve months. 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. In an effort to save costs, organizations are printing less and less copies of their annual report and only giving them out to board members and important stakeholders.  The biggest mistake is not considering sharing it with future donors and corporate sponsors or partners. It can even be used for recruiting top talent.


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 resources and funds to hire professionals to help with creative and content
  • Not hiring a creative team to establish a theme for the report
  • Not knowing who to hire to help produce the piece


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 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.

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.

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.

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.


Paving your Path to Success

The Enterprise Foundation, Inc. published A Detailed Guide To Creating Professional Annual Reports, from which we extracted the following tips:

  1. Keep good records
  2. Appoint a project leader
  3. Establish a budget
  4. Develop a theme
  5. Present a professional appearance
  6. Be accurate — from facts to financials
  7. Picture your work in words and photos
  8. Choose a good printer


Working with designers and consultants:

  • Define your expectations: be clear about what you want, when you want it and how much you can afford. 
  • Ask for an estimate or establish a not-to exceed figure for your job. Ask if out-of-pocket expenses are marked up or billed net. 
  • Good questions help you stay in 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 and additional payment if deadlines are missed.


Don’t start too late

This is not a document you want to rush. Plan ahead and give yourself enough time for each step.

Estimate budget – 3 months out

Prepare detailed schedule – 3 months out

Recruit sponsors – 3 months out

Brainstorm theme, content, photos – 3 months out

Select consultants (if needed) – 2.5 months out

Draft, refine, proofread copy – 2.5 months out

Approve initial design concept – 2.5 months out

Draft layout – 1.5 months out

Route for final approvals – 1.5 months out

Request quotes from printers – 1 month out

Choose printer – 1 month out

Prepare final art for printer, proofread – 1 month out

Send to printer – 3 weeks out

Receive finished reports


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 these costs from $4,500 to $10,000.

If you mail copies, don’t forget to add the stamp cost for each mailed copy, plus envelope.

For a leaner, more basic 4 page annual report the price can range anywhere from $2,500 to $6,500 including coordination, writing, design, printing and other expenses.

If your annual report needs to be bilingual, add 30-40% for producing the second language.

The printing costs obviously vary depending on the size of the organization and price can also vary quite a bit if you choose to do an online component or video production.

If you need to save costs on printing and 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 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. What is more rewarding than to look back on your achievements for the year? Give yourselves a pat on the back! 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.