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Nonprofit Annual Report: Creating Your Best One Yet! (+ 15 Examples!)

Tatiana Morand Avatar
Tatiana Morand
Published on December 16, 2022

Imagine: it’s the end of the year and you’re celebrating all you’ve accomplished with your team. You sit down at your desk, do a couple of good chair stretches, get ready to write up your nonprofit annual report and… you blank.

So much has happened this past year, so where do you even start? What should you include? What should you leave out? How should you structure the document? 

Making a nonprofit annual report can feel like a big undertaking! After all, it highlights all of your organization’s success, celebrates donation impact and lays out all the numbers to promote transparency. Plus, the story an impact report tells is key to promoting donor stewardship.

But don’t panic—we’ve got the answers and the tools to make it simple! 

Here’s everything you need to know about writing an annual impact report, complete with a nonprofit annual report template.

What is a Nonprofit Annual Report and What’s its Purpose?

A nonprofit annual report is an end-of-year document that highlights your organization’s achievements from the past year. From celebrating campaign success to sharing benefactor stories to producing financial transparency, your annual report is a snapshot of how you’ve supported your mission.

This document also serves as a great big thank you for donors and volunteers! After all, your successes would not have been possible without them. Highlighting what you’ve achieved together is key to fostering donor stewardship.

A nonprofit annual report is similar to an impact report or donor report, but there are a few key differences:

  • Annual reports lay out your accomplishments from the past year. They’re sent a couple of months after the financial year ends and provide a full overview of how you met your goals.
  • Impact reports are typically sent out quarterly and are somewhat less common of a practice than annual reports. An impact report example could be highlighting the success of each quarterly campaign, which motivates your donors to support the next one.
  • Donor reports are shorter, more frequent and very personalized. A donor impact report highlights—you guessed it!—donation impact and keeps your donors in the loop about what their support is helping you achieve.

Nonprofit annual reports aren’t technically required—an Annual Filing or filling out Form 990 are the only end-of-year documents you need to produce. However, that doesn’t mean annual reports aren’t important!

We won’t deny that making your annual report is a time commitment, which can feel difficult to spare during the rush of the end of year giving season. But with the way these reports build trust, donor stewardship and excitement for the year to come, you’ll feel the impact in both your wallet and your community.

10 Key Elements to Include in Your Nonprofit Annual Report

A year is long, and no doubt you’ve achieved all sorts of wonderful things! Here are some tips on distilling that information into what’s most useful for an annual impact report.

On a broad level, consider:

  • Tone. Nonprofits typically benefit from being warm and personable—but they also need an element of authority! Your audience should trust that you know what you’re doing.
  • Audience. Consider who you’re talking to. For example, if your demographic of donors are typically younger, they might prefer something more informal.
  • Branding. Lay out your report in your organization’s branded fonts and colors. The document is celebrating your nonprofit, so it should wear your nonprofit’s clothes!

Now, the details! Here are 10 key elements to include in your nonprofit annual report:

1. Start with a table of contents

If this list includes 10 elements, you can probably imagine that there’s quite a bit of information your annual donor impact report will include! Make the reading experience smooth by including a table of contents.

Some of your dedicated supporters will want to read through the report front to back. Others might have specific areas of interest. For example, if one reader donated a huge sum to a specific campaign, they might just want to see how it played out.

A table of contents lets your readers know how to find the information that’s most interesting to them personally!

2. Add a letter from the President or Board Chair

Letters or messages from the Executive Director and Chair of the Board are standard fare in an annual report! After all, it’s super important for those leading the organization to sign off on the state of affairs and share their own pride in your accomplishments.

The opening letter can introduce the theme, summarize the content and give a personal touch to the report.

Your introduction should be:

  1. Short. A few succinct paragraphs will do the job. You don’t have to fill a page.
  2. Conversational. Don’t be afraid to let some personality shine through! Aim for a professional, but warm and friendly tone.
  3. Self-aware. If significant events are impacting your audience, organization or cause, briefly acknowledge that they’re there. Even a short nod to difficult circumstances, like, “Losing our building to a fire was incredibly challenging, but we’re still fighting the good fight,” can assure your audience that you’re in touch. 
  4. Candid. It’s okay to acknowledge setbacks and challenges. In fact, it’s not a good idea to say how great the year was if it wasn’t! Your donors and supporters don’t expect perfection, but they do expect transparency.
  5. Positive. Be honest, but project a hopeful, positive attitude. Hint at a few things you’re excited about for the coming year. Stay upbeat!

nonprofit annual report

Short and sweet gets the job done in this executive message from Sarnia-Lambton Rebound.

3. Put the mission front and center

Your annual report is, above all, an opportunity to showcase your mission. 

It might feel redundant to emphasize your mission to people who’ve already supported it, but your supporters spend much less time thinking about the details of your mission than you do! They joined your organization for a reason—remind them what it is.

Include your mission statement in the report so the contents can directly show how your work is actively pursuing it.

The Voluntary Sector Reporting Awards (VSRAs) established Best Practices in Charity Annual Reporting. They recommend:

  • Clearly stating the organization’s mission and tying it back to your activities throughout the report.
  • Linking performance objectives and targets back to the mission.
  • Disclosing your organization’s risks, issues and challenges in the context of the mission.
  • Telling the reader how your organization governs itself and how that governance structure reflects your mission.
  • Skipping out on individual committee reports in favor of a broad-based report that tells the organization’s story as a whole! The committee reports can be posted to the website if they are considered important disclosures.

nonprofit annual report

Sarnia-Lambton Rebound reminds their supporters of their mission right from the beginning.

4. Highlight your major achievements

Don’t overwhelm your readers with every single detail—instead, choose your absolute highlights to celebrate in your annual impact report!

Gather a committee (or work with your board of directors!) and ask yourselves:

  • If we could only tell donors about one thing we accomplished this year, what would it be? Don’t worry, you’ll be able to tell them about more than one! But see where the consensus is about your greatest successes.
  • What are our key messages? The accomplishments you choose tell a story. What is it? 
  • Is there a theme that might be fitting? How do your key messages relate to each other? Is there a theme, like growth, perseverance, hope or family?
  • How do these accomplishments relate to our mission? Spell it out, even if it feels very obvious! Again, clarity is key so that your supporters know exactly how you’ve helped support your constituents.

nonprofit annual report

Navos shares their year’s accomplishments with quick facts and engaging graphics.

5. Drive more impact with storytelling

The best way to showcase your accomplishments is through storytelling. A long list of achievements or collection of facts might be exciting to you, but it won’t necessarily capture your donors’ hearts.

Telling a story helps associate emotions to events. Choose which stories best highlight your accomplishments and your overall mission.

A good nonprofit annual donor impact report story:

  • Tells the truth. You can simplify a story and change details to protect privacy. However, the bones of the story should be true. After all, you’re using it as proof that you deserve support!
  • Focuses on a central character. As I mentioned before, it’s easier to connect with the story of one person than a group. Use one named person as the subject of your story.
  • Uses the person’s own words as much as possible to tell the story. Quotes and first-person narratives are most compelling.
  • Shows a change as a result of the nonprofit’s action and the donors’ gifts. Use a storytelling structure with a beginning, middle and end to show what changed.

If you created a new program, introduce readers to the problem it solved via one person’s story. A great example is this one from Nuru-International, which focuses on the story of Josphat, a single farmer. 

nonprofit annual report

6. Present data in a visually appealing way

Nothing makes peoples’ eyes glaze over like a long block of text! If you want to engage your readers, it’s essential to present your data in a way that’s visually appealing.

Your nonprofit annual report could include:

  • Attractive infographics. This will help your readers take in data at a glance! For example, breaking where your fundraising money went into a pie chart lets your readers see their donation impact without needing to dig.
  • Compelling photographs. A picture’s worth a thousand words, right? With the right photo, all you need is a simple caption to get your point across.
  • Consistent fonts. Don’t make your readers dizzy with a bunch of cluttered fonts! Stick to your branding all the way through to guide their eyes.
  • Headings and subheadings. These features keep your impact report accessible and easy to scan. Make it easy for your readers to find what they’re looking for.

While the data itself is super important, how it’s laid out has an equal impact! If you know all the data but aren’t sure how to make it pretty, consult with your marketing or design experts.

7. Be transparent with a financial statement

It’s important to share your financial information in a way that makes sense to your audience. Give them an overview of where the revenue comes from and how it is spent.

You could do this with traditional financial statements, visual charts and graphs or infographics. By using plain English and clear visuals, your readers should understand the meaning behind the numbers in your annual impact report. Most importantly, they should always connect back to your mission, vision and values!

nonprofit annual report

Aurora Cultural Centre promotes accountability, but doesn’t overwhelm their audience with their financial statement.

nonprofit annual report

They also demonstrate what your numbers mean with visual organizers like charts and graphs.

8. Celebrate your donors

Many organizations decide to print the names of the year’s donors and the levels of their gifts in their annual report. This is a way to say thank you and show donors that they’re part of a large community of supporters!

Still—it’s a list of names, which means it’s likely to be skimmed. People look for their own names, but rarely read the entire list. Consider interspersing quotes and photos to get more value out of the pages.

And of course, make sure all spelling, titles and giving levels are correct. Double and triple check!

9. Recap events and milestones

Think of your nonprofit annual report as a celebration of your year’s greatest hits. What were the events you’re still talking about? What campaign moments had your whole team cheering?

Your members, donors and supporters have not had the same inside look into the organization as you. No matter how much they care about your mission, it’s very likely that they missed something during the year!

Brag away, and really lean into the impact these milestones had for your community. If these milestones link back to fundraising, lean into talking about donation impact.

10. Call to action: Keep the party going!

The work doesn’t stop with the annual report—in fact, it’s just beginning! The best impact report should inspire your donors to keep getting involved with your nonprofit.

Give them a next step with a strong call to action, reiterated throughout your report. 

For most organizations, this will be an ask for donations, but don’t limit yourself! Inviting people to volunteer, follow your social media or advocate for your cause is just as good of a way to help your organization grow.

nonprofit annual report

SC Thrive closes their report with more ways to get involved.

A Sample Annual Report Table of Contents 

Setting up a table of contents is a great way to lay out expectations for readers—and to give you some structure starting out!

Annual reports are structured differently depending on the format and your organization’s goals. A traditional, printed report typically looks something like this:

  1. Welcome Letter/Introduction
  2. Summary of Highlights
  3. Financial Information
  4. Multiple Stories of Accomplishment
  5. Donor List

When it comes to your table of contents, you can either keep things simple and straightforward or get creative. Check out this annual impact report example from Feeding America.

nonprofit annual report feeding america

This beautifully branded table of contents is attractive while also being super informative! You can easily see how long each section is at a glance.

How To Choose an Annual Report Format

With all of the room here for creativity, you might be wondering how to begin structuring your annual donor impact report.

Should it be printed and mailed? What images should you include? Is it really necessary to have every donor’s name listed? 

While the answer to a lot of these questions will depend heavily on your organization, here are a few things to consider throughout the process. 

Online Vs. Printed?

Before the age of the internet, annual reports were documents to be printed and mailed.These days, simply going digital is becoming more popular.

This is because posting your annual report online:

  • Is cheaper
  • Is more environmentally-friendly
  • Saves you admin time
  • Makes them easier for prospective members to read

If you have a group of donors who expect to receive a printed piece, feel free to make that option available upon request. It might also help you to conduct an online survey to get an idea of what your audience is looking for. After all, these reports are meant to connect you with your supporters!

What About Visuals?

As we mentioned earlier (and demonstrated in the Feeding America example!), visuals can be incredibly beneficial to your annual report. They keep the report dynamic, accessible and skimmable. Plus, who doesn’t love a good branding opportunity?

Note that digital annual reports also make it possible to use as many full-color images as you like! Another benefit to taking the online route.

15 Nonprofit Annual Report Examples to Get You Started

Want a little inspiration? Here you’ll find examples from charities, membership organizations and chambers of commerce. We’ve included organizations big and small, so there’s something for everyone!

These are 15 of our favorite annual impact report examples:

1. Feeding America

nonprofit annual report feeding america

What we like (again!):

  • This annual impact report example is beautifully designed with a cohesive and engaging motif throughout. Text and easy-to-read visuals alternate.
  • Real photos accompany the stories of people who benefit from the organization’s work, with a “special thanks” section which acknowledges the people who made it possible.
  • Financials are creatively done with stacked plates.
  • Lots of space is used to display the logos of corporate partners—they’re not squeezed onto one page, but spread over 23 pages.

2.NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

nonprofit annual report nasa goddard

What we like:

  • This annual impact report example has viewing options for either a pdf or interactive report hosted on issuu.com.
  • Striking visuals of scientific accomplishments, complete with comprehensive explanations for supporters who might be less familiar with scientific terminology.
  • The financial section is done with engaging, branded visuals and graphs.
  • The impact is broken down by the scientific field it is relevant to.

3. Buffalo Niagara Partnership

Buffalo Niagara Partnership

What we like:

  • This annual report is a slideshow embedded on the organization’s website.
  • Sponsors and partners are given priority by placing their gratitude content on the third page of the report. There is also recognition space in the last few pages.
  • Lots of photos with brief but descriptive captions, avoiding lengthy blocks of text.
  • The webpage where the annual report slideshow is embedded also houses a summary video and yet another list of key sponsors.

4. BC Cancer Foundation

BC Cancer Foundation

What we like:

  • Instead of making a webpage, The BC Cancer Foundation has created an entirely separate website just for the annual report. Different sections of the report are accessible through links in the header, which stays in place as site visitors scroll through.
  • The website is full of moving photos and animations, creating an engaging experience for the visitors. 
  • A large “Donate” button is always present in the top right corner, inviting people to donate as they read the inspiring stories within the report. 
  • Each section is collapsed to save scrolling space, but visitors can expand content if they’re interested in reading it in full. 

5. Save the Children

Save the Children

What we like:

  • This annual impact report example is done as an interactive online slideshow. Viewers can not only click through slides, but also click to read captions, play video and audio content or click through mini galleries of photos. 
  • The report is full of moving stories and powerful photos. Because this is a report from 2020, the lead page shows a child with a mask, marking the way COVID shaped the year for the mission.
  • Statistics are displayed over photos rather than just as graphics. 
  • Messages from the organization’s advocates are recorded as audio and can be played by clicking on their photos.

6. Florida Farm Bureau Federation

nonprofit annual report florida farm bureau

What we like:

  • This annual report is hosted on issuu.com.
  • The annual report is framed with the theme “Rooted in Resilience,” with each section broken down into what that means. For example, being rooted in policy, community, membership, leadership, etc.
  • There is a consistent plant-based theme and branding strategy.
  • The report ends with photos of people working in grassroots initiatives.

7. American Dance Festival

nonprofit annual report american dance festival

What we like:

  • This annual report is hosted on issuu.com, with the option to download the slides. The link can be easily accessed from their About page on the main website.
  • The numbers and stats are broken down in an attractive and readable graphic.
  • Stunning images of the dancers in action are highlighted throughout the report.
  • ADF Fund contributors are listed at the end, broken down by their level of giving.

8. It Gets Better Project

nonprofit annual report it gets better

What we like:

  • The It Gets Better Project has an attractive branded annual report with optimistic messaging that reflects the organization’s mission, vision and values.
  • A media representation timeline shows the full year’s reach and impact in an easy-to-understand visual.
  • The financials are broken down into straightforward numbers in a colorful chart, and include a pie chart to further represent what it looks like.
  • The report ends with a Year Ahead section which expresses hopes and plans for the future of the organization.

9. Salt Lake Chamber

Salt Lake Chamber

What we like: 

  • This annual impact report example is housed on a dedicated page on the organization’s website.
  • It starts with a video message from leadership.
  • The “Highlights” section contains brief paragraphs, with links to read more. 
  • The report contains lots of embedded videos from events and award presentations. 
  • Public policy and membership statistics are clearly represented with engaging graphics. 

10. Raising Readers in Story County

Raising Readers in Story County_Page_2

What we like:

  • This annual report has a unique infographic format. It’s very concise—only three pages!—but still showcases just as much impact as more lengthy reports. 
  • It includes achievements from the past year, program highlights, impressive statistics, quotes from parents and list of supporters. 
  • The design of the report is visually appealing and is representative of the community this organization serves: young children and their parents. 

11. Greater Chicago Food Depository

Greater Chicago Food Depository

What we like:

  • This annual impact report example is housed on its own website, with a bar on the right hand side to show visitors’ progress through the homepage. Plus, the homepage ends with a call to get involved. 
  • Many video elements: a welcome video from leadership, a video background on the homepage and video snippets to accompany impactful stats.
  • Stories are presented as headlines and brief descriptions, with links to read them in full on other pages of the website. 
  • Sections like “About Us”, donor lists and financials can be found on other pages of the website through links in the header.

12. The Humane Society

The Humane Society

What we like:

  • This annual report includes lots of large, impactful photos.
  • Because this report is from 2020, it highlights the impact of the initial COVID-19 outbreak on the mission.
  • It contains a spread summarizing the organization’s top achievements from the past year.
  • Every story reminds us of both the short- and long-term visions that the story supports. 
  • There are lots of interesting facts and statistics throughout the report.
  • The last page of the report is a brief summary of financials (a more detailed version can be downloaded from the organization’s website). 

13. ChildFund

ChildFund

What we like:

  • This annual report is full of impactful stories about donors and people who have benefited from the support. 
  • It has lots of powerful photos and mini stories in their captions.
  • Engaging graphics showcase statistics and impact.
  • Colorful fonts reflect the fact that the beneficiaries are children.

14. Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce

Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce

What we like:

  • This nonprofit annual report contains a page with a summary of key objectives and achievements from the past year, as well as how they align with the organization’s mission. 
  • There are lots of statistics and photos to accompany them.
  • The report provides statistics about important areas of the organization such as membership, events, communications, resources, advocacy and partnerships.

15. ACTED

ACTED

What we like:

  • The report starts with the organization’s reach and scale, their mission and values and their code of conduct and policies. 
  • Each impact story is accompanied by a few key statistics and a quote from someone who’s seen the organization’s impact first-hand. 
  • Worldwide impact is shown by visually connecting each country’s story to where it is on the world map. 
  • Full spread photos divide the report into sections. 

Your Annual Report Checklist

Before you get started on your annual report, it can be majorly helpful to create a checklist of everything you need to know to make it happen.

Your checklist should help you determine your:

  • Team members: Is there a project leader, committee or board support?
  • Objective: Who’s your key audience, and what action do you want your report to inspire them to take?
  • Format: Digital, print, video? A bit of everything?
  • Outline: What do you want to include, and what will your Table of Contents end up looking like?
  • Key messages and themes: Which accomplishments do you want to highlight? What is the story that this report tells?
  • Budget: How much do you want to put into expenses like content development, graphic design and distribution?
  • Production schedule: What’s your target release date, and what workback schedule do you need to hit it?

For more detail on what you might need, we’ve made an easy-to-follow annual report checklist to take away the guesswork!

Nonprofit Annual Report Template to Get You Started!

If you’re looking for a bit more guidance, download our nonprofit annual impact report template. It includes all of the information you need, so all you have to do is fill it in and get creative!

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Don’t Fear Your Annual Report

Creating an annual report can feel like a big task, but remember that all the information you need is already available! You already know how to tell a good story, communicate impact and show gratitude to donors. All that’s left is to follow a structure and get creative.

(And download our annual report checklist if you want a little extra help!)

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