Designing an Effective Nonprofit Annual Report

January 28, 2019

Whether you’re a regional non-profit, local school or an international ministry: Congratulations! You pulled off amazing things in 2018: more donors added to your cause, more volunteers added to the frontlines, more inspiring events bringing awareness of your mission, and more impactful projects changing people’s lives. And you did it all by staying within your budget! Again, you have pulled off the seemingly impossible. It’s time to look back and celebrate.

So what is the best way to celebrate the wins and share them with your loyal fans?


Traditionally the best way to summarize the previous year’s amazing stories has been through an Annual Report. But what comes to mind when we say the words “Annual Report”? Do you picture boring bar and pie graphs highlighting your revenue and expenses for the year? A line-by-line breakdown of each and every one of your financial ins and outs?

Financial Transparency? Check!
Storytelling? Nope!

“Your financial milestones are only a small part of your story.”

Although financial transparency is one of the cornerstones of your success, at the end of the day, your current donors, mobilizers, volunteers, church members, what they TRULY care about is IMPACT – whether or not you are an effective organization living out your calling and mission within the community.


Shore Christian Church

So for 2019, if your organization has always just done FINANCIAL reports, maybe it’s time to take the next step forward towards telling stories. One small step in this direction will have MANY ripple effects.

If this is you, perhaps you could try out these options for your Annual Report this year:

  • Identify 5 Celebration Stats from 2018 and create a 1-page infographic
  • Record a 1-minute recap video from your Executive Director, CEO or Lead Pastor highlighting 2018 wins
  • Design a small postcard that highlights an individual’s written story about how your organization impacted them. Use this as a mailer or if you’re a church, distribute it in your service

Embrace Empathy & Vulnerability:

What if you’re an organization that has ditched the old-school FINANCIAL Report model and has already been telling stories for the last couple of years? Do you feel like you’re not telling the right stories or things are getting a bit stale? Do you think your annual reports are starting to slowly miss the mark? Don’t worry! There’s still potential for improvement.

“It’s not so much about polished presentations as it is about letting our fans get into the trenches with us to see how challenging, yet rewarding our mission is.”

If in 2018 we had to be authentic storytellers, I believe in 2019 we have to be vulnerable storytellers. Vulnerability leads us one step closer to building bridges of true empathy with the people we are trying to serve. Real empathy leads us into a symbiotic relationship with our constituents. In this relationship they learn to understand our true intentions and our genuine struggles for our causes. This is where they open up to us and let us in. It’s not so much about polished presentations as it is about letting our fans get into the trenches with us to see how challenging, yet rewarding our mission is. This how your non-profit brand will persevere and flourish in 2019.

So if you’re ready to take your Annual Report to the next level in 2019, what top 3 things should you keep in mind?

Top 3 Tips for your 2019 Annual Report:

1. Balance Heart and Mind

First, don’t be afraid to embrace both the heart and mind of storytelling. Visible, measurable impact combined with vulnerable and authentic personal stories will have the most reach. Empathy and Credibility. One without the other can be effective for a short time but eventually your audience will start to ask one of two questions:

  • Can I trust this organization?
  • Do they care?

Use a strategic blend of heart and mind. Flex your credibility muscles when you need to with statistics and quantifiable impact. However, make sure that the quantifiable impact has context within people’s lives. Always speak human.

2. Use Print Design Wisely

Print has traditionally been the most popular medium used to share an Annual Report. You are probably one of the many organizations that has spent thousands or tens of thousands of dollars on print projects to get the word out about the good that you do. You’re probably wondering if you should keep spending those precious resources on print.

So is print dead?

No. It’s just evolving like everything else.

Anyone who tells you differently has completely ignored your audience. Print still works. It just works differently than it used to. Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re already implementing a multimedia strategy in your non-profit and you still have some sort of a print budget.

“Print still works. It just works differently than it used to.”

Consider using smaller print pieces that are strategically thought out for the WOW factor rather than just for the sharing of information.


South Ridge Community Church annual report


Less is more in this case.

If you’re a regional organization like a church or advocacy group, consider a smaller print piece to get the word out about your Annual Report, but not have it be all of your Annual Report (see example below in #3)

If you’re a national or international organization, spend those print dollars wisely and decide if a small postcard mailer will be more cost-effective for you.

So in conjunction with print, where should the majority of your Annual Report live? In 2019 we are seeing successful non-profits making the jump to Microsites and Video.

3. Inspire and Engage with Web and Video

You know this already. Engagement in digital mediums is a playground of potential. But how are some of the best non-profit organizations utilizing Web and Video to tell their stories better and celebrate their wins?

Liquid Church

Over the last few months, we had the pleasure of helping New Jersey’s fastest growing church, Liquid Church, tell their story through a dynamic multimedia experience for their first ever “Annual Impact Report”.

This project consisted of a small print piece that Liquid Church gave to their members that cast the vision of the “Annual Impact Report” and highlighted some top achievements from 2018. When the church members follow the web URL online, it takes them to a one page, easy-to-read, Liquid Church-branded Annual Report.

Not only does the website feature written stories of life-transformation and social impact, it also shows a handful of carefully curated video stories as you scroll down the page.

In this project you can see the balance of heart and mind, and a wise use of print as an entry point into a dynamic website and video experience.

As you can see, Liquid Church got into the Annual Report game with a bang.

Celebrate your wins. Cast your vision.

If you’ve been wondering whether Annual Reports are right for you, keep this in mind: anytime you use storytelling, whether that’s an Annual Report or a website or video, you are casting vision about your organization. You are directly or indirectly telling others whether or not to trust you, whether or not you understand and whether or not they should care about what you do.

If you’ve been doing Annual Reports for a while, perhaps it’s time to take step back and ask yourself if you are telling the right stories in the right ways.

Whatever you decide, remember: you have a cause that matters deeply to many people out there. Show vulnerability. Share stories. Celebrate your wins.

A great annual report can be a game-changer, and you only get one chance to show the impact you’ve made over the past year and cast a vision for the future of your organization.

If you need some help getting the ball rolling for your brand-new annual report, we are here for you.

Plan a Project with us today.

2019 will be an amazing year ahead for your calling and mission.

We’re praying and hoping for it.

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