Best Practices

Why Annual Reports Matter

By: Delaney Buenzli, Program Coordinator at Allow Good

Let’s face the facts: Giving is changing. According to The Balance, Millennials have more expectations than generations before. They are expecting that their investment in a nonprofit organization will be reflected in program metrics, higher instances of positive outcomes, and more people served. Millennials are also willing to volunteer more than just their money to an organization. Many millennials will lend their professional skills and personal networks to organizations working on social issues that appeal to them. If your organization wants to tap into this young, motivated, generous generation, then you have got to demonstrate impact, direction, and flexibility -- this all starts with a stellar annual report.

A well-organized, visually appealing, accessible and informative Annual Report is a simple thing that can set an organization apart. Whatever the size and operating budget of your nonprofit organization, it is becoming increasingly important for information about impact and financial reporting to be easily accessible to board members, annual donors, event attendees, and website visitors (read: prospective donors). According to a recent Firespring webinar, 82% of donors visit a website before they give. This makes your website a perfect place to highlight and store all of your organization's annual reports.

At Allow Good, we focus on empowering all youth through the tools of philanthropy to take meaningful action in their world. Our school-based program guides high school classes through a completely student-directed grantmaking process where the high school students are responsible for each step from identifying issue areas through actually granting $1,000 to a community organization. A portion of our curriculum teaches young people to evaluate nonprofits based on their leadership, community reputation, sustainability, quantitative impact, and mission statement to decide where they want to direct their grant. All too often, we encounter organizations that appear to be doing great work but have inaccessible annual reports.

Thankfully, technology has made it increasingly easy to design and produce visually stimulating, informative, and aesthetically pleasing reports and brochures, even with little to no graphic design experience. Many of the free tools also have options to extend features using a paid version once you have learned the basics. One of my favorite tools is Canva, a simple, user-friendly graphic design tool for social media posts, brochures, presentations, and reports. Canva also has free design resources, tutorials, and inspiring examples to get you started. You can even build your brand through setting custom colors and fonts. We also like to use Piktochart, another user-friendly graphic design program great for building infographics and reports. Now that I have used the tool, I recognize infographics built by this tool on Pinterest, company websites, and blogs.

When it comes to sharing your Annual Report, celebrate it! It is the amalgamation of all of your successes for the year. Make sure that you share it with more than just your board and donors; send it in a monthly newsletter, as a social media post, and highlight it on your website navigation. We recently switched over to Squarespace, a website platform that helps you to create a streamlined website that visitors will love. The platform makes adding new pages and navigation menu items a breeze. Whatever platform you use, be sure to add your annual report library to your main navigation. I recommend pulling the content out of your most recent annual report and posting it directly to the web page instead of uploading downloadable PDFs. That way the information is easily accessible and you get to show off the beautiful design that you worked on! 

Thankfully, as giving changes and donors demand more information, more tools are made available to make providing that information quickly and in a visually appealing format. Now that you are prepared to make a magnificent annual report, go out there and attract more donors!