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How To Make Your Annual Report a Success

An image of shapes and charts to represent an annual report

Annual reports are most common in the nonprofit space, but did you know that they can benefit all kinds of businesses and organizations? As customers raise the bar on what they expect from the businesses they support – prioritizing those that align with their values and drive positive impact in our world – brands can use annual reports to capture the story of their work and its outcomes in a persuasive visual format.

Creating a long-form report might seem overwhelming when most of your work comes in social-sized bites, but you can do it! Here's where to start.

1. Plan ahead.

We can't stress this part enough: The sooner you can start organizing, the better! While the best time to start planning your annual report may have already passed, the second best time is today. Collecting details of outcomes and impacts takes time, so working ahead throughout the year tends to be easier than working backwards in Q4. At a minimum, give yourself two to three months of lead time for a digital annual report, and three to four months for anything printed and distributed. You’ll want to wrap up the project like a gift with a bow before the winter holidays.

2. Start with a meaningful story.

Without thinking too hard about it, free-write the story of your organization’s accomplishments this year. What did you set out to achieve? What progress did you make? What obstacles persist, and how will you overcome them? Focus on tangible impacts in the lives of real people to create the most engaging stories. If you’re not sure, ask teammates who work most closely with your clients or customers to share their biggest wins.

3. Choose illustrations wisely.

The majority of readers will skim the report for pertinent info, interesting anecdotes and positive outcomes, so your visual aids need to draw attention to the most important pieces of your brand story. Round up the strongest photos, case studies, testimonials, graphics, charts and stats you can find. Better yet, make a point to save them throughout the year in a dedicated folder. A graphic designer can help you develop a unified brand style, so the final product looks polished.

4. Package creatively.

Annual reports can take many forms – printed mailers of various sizes, webpages or microsites, slideshow presentations, live or animated video recaps, and even brand kits or gift boxes. Packaging your annual report in a memorable way can inspire action and leave a lasting impression, but make sure whichever method you choose works for your intended audience. For example, don’t ship packages to an organization that’s working remotely through the holidays.

5. Distribute thoughtfully.

Some say print is dead, but mailed annual reports create tactile connections with prospective stakeholders or donors are tough to replicate online. That said, digital publications come with other unique advantages, like the potential for video or animation, and the flexibility to share access online with broader audiences. We say, why not both? Make sure to choose how you’ll distribute the publication before you start the design process to ensure appropriate dimensions and formatting.

Need a hand navigating the annual report process?

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