The nonprofit annual report is most effective when it is written and designed with the importance and use of the document in mind. The document serves as a report card, acknowledgement to donors and other supporters, a chance to share information with the nonprofit community and a marketing tool to attract new supporters. Annual report readers look for quantity, quality and results information about programs, clients and income. Well-designed annual reports include a balance of narrative, photographs, lists and graphic representations of financial data. A well-written annual report tells the individual stories behind the pie charts and donor lists.

Step 1.

Determine the content of your annual report. Whether your publication is a thick, glossy magazine or a four-page newsletter, your readers will look for specific information in your annual report: a page-one letter from the nonprofit’s board chair or chief executive officer, reports on organizational accomplishments, reports from special programs or major divisions, financial reports, a list of board members and key staff, and a donor list organized by amount and alphabetized by name.

Step 2.

Use clear, simple and honest writing with an informal yet professional tone. State the facts plainly and use a relaxed and personal tone to write about accomplishments and the personal stories that describe the impact on clients and the community.

Step 3.

Choose words in your writing that convey positivity, pride and commitment to your mission. Avoid unnecessarily dramatic writing, but share information that engages the reader and appeals to donors who feel a sense of partnership in your work. For example, tell the story of one client to describe the accomplishments of a program and connect the activities to your organization’s mission.

Step 4.

Include a couple of sidebars to highlight important data from program reports, such as a breakdown of clients by age and ethnicity or the participants in a job search program and their status at the end of the year. This summarized information helps readers grasp the bottom line of the articles and also adds a human perspective.

Step 5.

Prepare the visuals for your financial information using the data in your financial report to show trends, totals and summaries. For example, create a pie chart that shows the budget percentage used by each department or a bar graph that shows changes in donations over the last four years. Use a text-box to list the total funds received from different donor types, such as foundation and individual. The financial visuals provide readers with memorable snapshots.

Step 6.

Choose the photos you will use to help tell the stories. You might use photos of a house your organization helped build, students in your after-school program, animals in your rescue shelter, trees planted at area schools or staff organizing a walk-a-thon.


Choose formatting based on the length and content of your annual report. A lengthy report might benefit from sections, such as programs, accomplishments, financial, and donors. You might choose to break up text by interspersing the photos and graphics throughout a running narrative separated only by headings.

The typical annual report reader is most interested in the letter from the CEO or board chair, the reader’s name on the donor list, photo captions and financial totals, according to Board Café at the Blue Avocado website.