Bringing Creativity to Your Annual Report
By Leigh Tucker

Leigh Tucker
Leigh Tucker
For many nonprofit organizations, June 30 marks the end of the fiscal year, and, like fireworks in July or turkey in November, this date also comes with its own set of traditions, most of them financial in nature.

Here is a partial fiscal yearend checklist:
  • Complete next year’s budget
  • Process expense reports
  • Make sure that all payments are out and all receivables are in
  • Complete and print grant forms and financial statements
  • Prepare your form 990
But before you completely turn the page on your fiscal year, there is one more item you’ll need to check off your list: your annual report.

Unlike the other yearend responsibilities, your annual report allows you the opportunity to break from the routine and get more creative. It is, in reality, a marketing piece, loaded with enormous potential to inspire your donors, volunteers, and employees. It is where you describe all that you achieved during the year and illustrate exactly why your mission matters. So why not create a report that really shines?

Here are four tips to help you take this year’s annual report to a new level:

  1. Write an engaging, executive message. In 300 to 400 words, start with the overall focus of the year.
    Perhaps you had a theme that tied all of your accomplishments together. Use a conversational tone that is to the point, easy to read, and grabs the reader’s attention.

    Express gratitude for the people who helped you reach your goals, and briefly describe your aspirations for the coming year. Include a clear and compelling call to action.

  2. Consider an alternative format. You don’t have to stick with the standard PDF file on your website.
    Instead, a short video may be a more effective medium for sharing success stories and communicating with your constituents. Click here for an example of a video report from that really demonstrates all they are doing to build a stronger community.

    Videos take more time and effort to produce, but are more likely to be seen than traditional formats. You could also condense your report into a postcard or expand it into its own microsite, depending on the needs and preferences of your audience.

  3. Use dynamic visuals. Colorful graphs and charts will more effectively convey the data than running text.
    Where your revenue comes from, where it is spent, and information from your financial statements are all good topics to communicate with visuals. In fact, your entire report can be delivered as an infographic.

    A quick search on Pinterest reveals a number of examples that demonstrate how—in the hands of a skilled graphic designer—your annual report can really come to life. Click here to see.

  4. Tell stories. Nothing is more inspiring than the real-life stories of the people and the communities you have served.
    Their faces, their words, their experiences are the most powerful tools for engaging donors and showing the impact that your organization is having. In this report report from the Girls Inc. national office, participants describe how the program has positively changed their lives, giving donors a clear view of what their contributions mean to people in their community.
Leigh Tucker, managing director of nonprofit solutions at AMS. Email him at or call 781-419-9220.
June 2016