10 Best Practices for Creating a Great Annual Report

by | Mar 15, 2022 | good business, print

Open spread from an annual report

Organizations are so busy working on their day-to-day tasks it’s easy to forget all they accomplished in the last year. That’s why annual reports are such valuable tools. They give nonprofit and for-profit organizations the opportunity to reflect on, evaluate and celebrate the previous year. 

I’ve designed many annual reports, and they are some of my favorite projects. I’ve also learned quite a bit about what makes a truly memorable annual report – versus one that almost immediately lands in the recycling bin. Let’s take a look at 10 best practices for creating a great annual report.  

A truly great annual report is… 

Printing press spitting out pages

Even though we live in a largely digital world, good annual reports are printed. You don’t have to print thousands of them, but print enough for your large donors or key stakeholders. A printed annual report feels more polished and gives people something tangible to hold in their hands and read. 

I know I just said the best annual reports are printed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a digital version too. This way you can put the annual report on your website or add it to an email. 

Photography is a must. And while stock photography is a great resource to fill in the gaps, it can’t replace authentic pictures of your people. So when it comes to people, keep it real. The most engaging annual reports contain photos of your employees, customers, volunteers, and/or constituents. 

You can’t forget the data. But remember, like salt on your food, a little bit goes a long way. Use it to tell a story and make it exciting to look at with charts and infographics.

Don’t focus on just the numbers. Be sure to tell the stories of people inside and outside your organization. People buy from people. People support other people. So don’t neglect those powerful human interest stories. Yes, it’s great to say you raised $1 million or received a $250,000 grant, but what was the impact of that money? Tell the story behind the dollars. 

Not too long and not too short. You probably have a lot of great information to share about your organization, but no one is going to read a 50-page annual report. Narrow down the best content and then share it in bite-sized pieces. Keep stories short and concise. Use quotes or bulleted lists so your report is easily digestible. 

Did you invest time gathering great stories, compelling financial data, and fantastic photos and then cram it all in a Word document? Don’t do that. When someone picks up your annual report, they should experience the best your brand has to offer. That means the delivery needs to be as good as the content. You have their full attention, a great design will keep it. 

In the same way you need a professional designer, you also need a pro writer. If you don’t have a great copywriter or proofreader on your team, hire someone to help you. Sub-par writing and typos will discredit your work. And as a graphic designer, I can confidently tell you that great design starts with great writing.

As with all your marketing materials, you want your annual report to match your overall visual brand. You can get creative with the design, but be consistent when it comes to your brand identity – logo, colors, fonts. 

No two years are the same so why would your annual report look the same year after year? You can change a little or a lot, but change something. Give it a visual refresh that reflects the success of the previous year and celebrates all your organization has achieved. 

Annual reports take considerable time and energy to create. You want people to actually read your report, digest the information, and feel good about supporting the work of your organization. If you’re going to invest in an annual report, you want it to mean something. 

Need help with your next annual report? Get in touch and I’ll share some of the annual reports I’ve worked on. We can talk about ideas and how we can develop a truly great annual report for your organization.

Have a great week,