Are you working on your annual report right now?

How can you make it better than last year?

Read on! Here’s an annual report review I did recently for a student in my annual report class.

Here’s what I generally do with my annual report reviews.

First, I look at the cover.

Annual Report Cover

1. The cover is confused. You need to pick ONE picture because your donor cannot take it all in.

Then I look at the language. With this nonprofit annual report, here’s what I said.

2. No donor-centric language. Throughout the report, it’s us us us, we we we, not you and thanks to you, and “With your help we did X”, and “If you only knew how much your support means to children like Jeremy” or “Thank you for being part of the daily bread family.” and “Because of you, we” See what I mean?

Then I look at if there are any stories or anecdotes with visceral language, at all.

3. No engaging stories. You need anecdotes. Jerry Huntsinger pointed to these solutions in 1992 as he reflected on his first 29½ years in direct response fund raising. He noted that “technology constantly changes, but human nature constantly remains the same . . . the reader is still going to respond most positively to a good old-fashioned human anecdote” (p. 220)

annual report statistics

4. For page 2, for example, tell the story in the woman’s voice, or the child’s voice, if they are receiving services. Don’t lead with statistics. Your donors do not give a toss if you served 700,000 people or 800,000 people. They care that that little child had food when he was going hungry. An anecdote might read,

“My name is Jeremy. I am three years old. Last week we were eating crackers for dinner. I like crackers but Mama looked sad. I didn’t want Mama to be sad. Then today Mama took me to this nonprofit. Where we got vegetables (yuck!) but we also got some chicken soup! (yum!). I am so full of good soup now! When she ate the soup, Mama smiled. Thank you for helping Mama smile.”

Then I look at the letter from the director. It is usually terrible. This is normal.

letter from the executive director

5. Letter from the director can be improved. How? The paragraphs are too long, it’s not donor-centric, i.e. it’s all us us us not you you you. For example, “Good economic opportunities are needed so that people can create a future for themselves that isn’t coloured by poverty” is a LOOOONG sentence and also passive voice. This is not how people talk. This is not how you write a letter to a friend. Imagine if the director could dictate a letter to a friend. Wouldn’t it sound different than this? (And wouldn’t it sound BETTER?)

Then I look at the titles. They are also usually terrible. Not donor centric or even story-centric at all.

6. Titles ALL need work. “Spring Season in Review” is not a very inspiring title. How about “You helped us feed X people with our spring drive, an increase of 50% from last year!” See the difference?

Then I read it to see if they highlight volunteers. Most nonprofits don’t highlight volunteers in their annual report. This nonprofit actually does.

volunteer highlight annual report

7. The volunteer section is so short! Instead, how about, “Lin-Lin knows what it’s like to be hungry. That is why she volunteers with our nonprofit” And tell the volunteer story.

I look at the graphic design throughout. This nonprofit’s annual report was particularly well designed. But it still needed work.

8. In general, try one picture, one page. It’s just running together to have so many pieces on each page. I can’t keep track, and the lack of stories makes it seem so impersonal and overwhelming.

Next I look at the number of donor stories. This nonprofit highlighted ONE individual donor who did something unique for Ramadan.

donor highight annual report

9. I like the highlight of Ziad’s story. Well done with that. That could be the whole page. How has giving affected him? Who else gives because of him? What does it do for people you serve?

With this particular annual report, I looked at how the report was broken up into sections. They decided to break it into seasons.

10. Breaking it up into seasons is… counter intuitive. I mean, chronologically it makes sense to YOU, but do your donors care what happened when? I don’t think so. What was the MOST important thing that happened in the year? You are going to have to choose. Don’t highlight every food drive. Instead, highlight donors, volunteers, and recipients with anecdotes, how giving has changed their lives, how receiving has changed their lives, how volunteering makes them feel good. Then you will get more donors, more volunteers.

And finally, I look at their financials and back page. Generally, nonprofits have too many details in their financials, and generally, you have no idea if the income or expenses are going up or down unless you look at their 990.

11. Financials do not tell a story. Is this more than was raised last year? Year before? what is the trend? Is it less? Then that is another chance to tell a story about lost government revenue or something. Is it more? Help donors join the winning team. Let them know they need to support you when you’re down.

So, now that you’ve looked at this, does it tell you what to do and what not to do? Does it give you any ideas?