Fall is a time when many nonprofits start to plan their next annual report. Have you thought about how your next annual report will help or hurt your donation efforts? Will the visual design of your report strengthen your credibility and truly showcase your impact and value?  Here are five tips to creating an effective annual report.

1. Take a big picture approach. As you plan the content, examine your annual outcomes and consider how to link these back to your vision, mission, values, and overarching organizational goals.  Celebrating how your organization achieved its mission this year will demonstrate your effectiveness and efficiency to those who are already excited about your cause.  How can you use this important communication piece to better meet your long-term development goals?

2. Consistency across all communications lends credibility to your cause, and builds trust with your supporters. Take a look at all of the ways that you communicate with your supporters and determine how your annual report design fits in. What other materials do your supporters see (online and offline)? How can you integrate your upcoming annual report design with your past reports? Continue to refine and update your organizational style guide through the years (fonts, colors, use of imagery, voice) and be consistent with the general style guidelines in your Annual Report.

3. Looks matter when high value donors consider large gifts. According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there were approximately 956,738 public charities in 2012. In the face of this extreme competition for funding, your challenge is to reassure donors that you strive for excellence. Professional typography speaks volumes about the way you manage and run your organization. Small refinements, such as using lining figures (width uniformity of numbers in table columns, so that numbers align neatly and tables are more easily understood) and designing more meaningful and engaging charts and tables, can help you stand apart in a crowded field.  Cheap typefaces, clip art, home grown design and poor reproduction might make readers wonder if you are a viable organization worthy of larger charitable donations.

4. A photo really is worth a thousand words. If your annual report is simply running text, how can you keep a casual reader engaged? The trend is towards visually immersive page layouts with captions and infographics. How can you convert numbers and data into engaging and easy-to-digest infographics? In this grab and go society, visuals are the key to telling your nonprofit’s story quickly and effectively.

5. Go digital. Once a printed publication is designed, consider creating an interactive PDF for a more user-friendly online viewing experience. Ask your publication designer to link all of the items in the table of contents, hyperlink to websites you have referenced (including your own), and link to supporting video, including a video message from the president. Once the interactive PDF is posted, feature it across your social channels to expand your reach.

Annual reports should be more than a dry list of numbers and a record of donors: they can express a compelling story that attracts, informs and engages high-value donors.  Annual report design matters because the quality of the design expresses the character of your organization.

MillerCox Design, located just outside of Washington DC, has specialized in designing annual reports and policy publications for nonprofits for over a decade. For more information about and to see how we can help you with your annual report design, please visit millercox.com.


Heather Miller Cox

MillerCox Design

October 2013

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