The easy approach to producing your non-profit annual report

Gabrielle Ritchie| The Change Room | 19th June 2017

It’s that time of year again when everybody is likely scrambling to get their annual report conceptualised, written, designed and published.  In fact, most of us are probably just trying to get it written.

But the development of your organisation’s annual report does not have to be a massive mission.  What it does need is to be well thought through, properly conceptualised, attractively designed, and timeously published.  Amongst South African non-profits, our reports need to be submitted to the NPO Directorate within a few months (maximum 6) of our financial year-end.  Our continued status as a registered non-profit depends on the timeous submission of annual audited financials and a narrative report on your organisation.  For those organisations registered as public benefit organisations (PBO), you also need to submit your report to SARS, and for non-profit companies you will need to submit yours to CIPC.

Why else would we produce such a time-consuming piece of work?

Well, for a few reasons, actually.  These include that:

  1. A good annual report makes an excellent marketing tool, to share with donors, friends, supporters and beneficiaries
  2. Your annual report communicates your major achievements over the previous period
  3. It is an opportunity to share your financial status with anyone who cares to look, promoting transparency about the organisation’s state of financial affairs
  4. It is an important reflection of a well-functioning and expertly governed organisation
  5. It is a great opportunity to share stories, images and infographics of your work and of the difference you make in your community (however that may be defined).

So what makes a “good annual report”?

The answer to this is relatively straightforward – and you could simply follow the tips and steps outlined below.  The key questions that need to be asked in approaching the development of your annual report are detailed below and can be used as a discussion guide, with responses serving to shape an action plan.

  1. Who will be part of preparing the report? Which staff/ board members/ contracted service providers need to be involved?
  2. Should we engage an external freelancer (writing and/or design)? Do we have someone you use already?  Or someone in mind whose work we like?
  3. Will the Executive Director write the introductory overview, or would we prefer the Board Chair? Or both?
  4. Have we been gathering photos all year, and do we have easy access to these for use in the publication? Are they all ours or do we need permissions to use some of the images?
  5. Do we have an accurate, up-to-date, spelling-corrected donor list from the previous period, covering all donations? Are we going to mention all donors?  Do we have specific donor categories depending on donor-type or donation size?  What needs to be done to develop such a list?
  6. What will be our annual report’s theme? [There are many resources online to help you think through what kind of theme might suit your organisation, your work, and your annual report]
  7. Will we distribute in print and/or online? Both? What format will work best for us? Who is our audience and what works best for them?
  8. What are our best stories to share in this annual report?
  9. What are our key organisational messages, and where will we include them?
  10. Should we use video in our report?
  11. When will we launch or distribute our annual report?
  12. What are our three major accomplishments/achievements for the past year? And how can we ensure these link to the key messages?
  13. Who is going to triple-check our reported financials and donor list to ensure 100% accuracy?
  14. What calls to action should we include?

Answer those questions, and you will have the beginnings of a plan!

Key components of your report

Once you have a plan in place, you can consider the key components of your annual report.  Traditional components are based broadly on a Letter from Chair, an overview  from the Executive Director, a programme report from the Programme Director, perhaps some staffing and HR information on skills development  etc, the financial report, and a donor acknowledgement section.

A shorter, sharper approach could be (but not necessarily in this order):

  1. Table of Contents
  2. Executive Director letter (include mission: what you do and why)
  3. Accomplishments/Achievements (past year only)
  4. Stories (profiles) to highlight successes
  5. Photos all the way through the report
  6. Donor list
  7. Financials
  8. Board of Directors / Trustees
  9. A call to action

And use your report to THANK people: your donors and funders, your supporters, your partners – and your beneficiaries who have trusted you and your work!

If you need any advice on how to make this happen, drop me a line or ask a question here in the comments section.  Write well and make your annual report ROCK!

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