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!


Board members – do you know your organisation, do you know your Board?


Gabrielle Ritchie, Director: The Change Room

30th June 2016

This one is for board members.  It is easy to say “Yes, thanks, I accept nomination to your Board”, but board positions come with a lot of responsibility that many of us may not know about.  Here is a quick quiz for you and your fellow board members – you should at least know the answers to these questions below.  In fact, all organisational staff and board members should know the answers – and there are many more that could be added.

Use these questions to hold a quick quiz with your board and with the organisational staff team:

  1. what type of entity is your organisation?
  2. what type of document of formation/ founding document does the organisation have? (what is it called)
  3. what is the legal governing authority or registration body for your organisation?
  4. what other state institutions/ government departments is your organisation accountable to?
  5. what other registration documents does your organisation have or need to get?
  6. when was the organisation founded?
  7. who is the Chair of your board?
  8. how many board directors/ members/ trustees do you have?
  9. who are they, and what particular skills do they bring to the board?
  10. what official registration of directors/ trustees is required, if any?
  11. how long is a board member’s term of office in your organisation?  What are the rules on this in terms of the kind of entity?
  12.  who was your most recent funder?
  13. who are your organisational accountants/ auditors?
  14. what is your key responsibility as board member?
  15.  when last did the board sign off on a set of audited annual financials?
  16. how many paid employees does your organisation have?
  17. what is the name of your organisation’s flagship project or core programme?

For information on core governance practice, values and ethics go to for South Africa’s Independent Code of Governance for Nonprofit organisations.  For additional tips and information on governance more generally, go to for great resources.

For past blog pieces on governance and whether your board is fit for philanthropy, go to

Is your organisation fit for philanthropy and fundraising?

money 5
Gabrielle Ritchie, Director: The Change Room
27th May 2016
Are you fit for fundraising? What do you need to know to attract funding resources to your organisation?
A quick bullet list for you (ok, it might have got a bit long):
  1. There are no shortcuts in raising money. No quick fixes. No cutting corners.
  2. You have to have your governance in order. This is critical. No donor is going to fund an organisation with poor governance.  See  for the Independent Code of Governance for Non-profit Organisations in South Africa.  You can sign on to the Code.
  3. You have to have a plan – a plan for your work and a plan for your resourcing of that work. You know the line – failing to plan is planning to fail.  For a video discussion of the role and importance of planning in organisations see
  4. You have to be able to demonstrate excellent financial management – where everything tallies, regular financial reports are sent to your funders, and you have annual audited financial statements. There isn’t really any way around this.
  5. You need the skills and capacity to raise funds properly and professionally – however you parcel the work out, delegate to board members, get volunteers on board. Next week I will be posting on the basic skills sets required for effective organisational resourcing – keep a look-out.
  6. Your organisation must be clear about its mission, and must speak with one voice to communicate clear and coherent shared messages.  For good resources on this go to
  7. You must build a profile for your work – traditional media, social media, networking events, community forums etc. However you do it, you must share stories about what you do.  For a video discussion of this in the South African context go to
  8. You must have the required skills to implement your projects. Signs of poor project implementation means you either won’t get the money, or you might have to give money back to the donor.  For a short list of key skills go to
  9. Fundraising is an organisation-wide endeavour. Everyone is involved – either in providing excellent services, implementing great programmes, answering the phone professionally, writing good content and reports, managing the money, making sure your IT network functions, keeping your organisation’s premises clean. Everyone. Make sure they know that, and that they feel part of the team.
  10. Writing an annual report, no matter how short and simple, is a great way to make and keep friends.
  11. You must have a well-crafted case for support – so that you can explain simply and swiftly why what you do is important, and the ways in which your organisation provides unique value to the context in which you work. Know why you are special. Be able to speak about that with confidence.
  12. You know how everyone talks about proposal writing? It is one of the least important parts of the process of raising money. Well, it is not the most important – but for key things that donors look for in your approach to them, here is a short overview called The Power Pitch: non-profits on a mission to attract funding.
  13. The most important part is your capacity to speak passionately and expertly about your work and what you seek to achieve – to donors, to the people you work with, to potential partners, to relevant people in government, to the media.
  14. And finally (kind of…) – know how to engage professionally with your donors and your potential donors. Loads of people are wanting to access funding, so don’t mess your chances up by being sloppy, unprofessional, and by not following the basic rules.
  15. What are the basic rules? Communicate with your donors, be very very sure to thank them appropriately, acknowledge them in ways that work for both the donor and for your organisation, and keep them posted – on progress, on impact, on achievements, on milestones. Even on bad news, failures, things going wrong – don’t hide this stuff. Communicate! An e-mail, a phone-call, a handwritten letter, an image, an invitation to an event – it doesn’t matter how you do it, but keep doing it. Communicate.
  16. To do all that, you have to manage your donor contact data. You must know who supports you and how to contact them. Keeping this data up-to-date, with well-managed information on donor history with your organisation – critical.
Just to say it again – THANK and ACKNOWLEDGE. Communicate and keep contact data.

Researching South African Philanthropy – for growth!

by Gabrielle Ritchie, Director: The Change Room

1st April 2016

Image source: CAF Southern Africa: I believe I can make a difference. Report on Giving in South Africa. 2015

In the last few weeks in South Africa – preceding the 31 March 2016 milestone ruling in South Africa’s Constitutional Court regarding #Nkandla – we have seen a couple of important events in South African philanthropy.  In some senses the #ConCourt judgement is as much a victory for philanthropy in support of democracy as it is a major victory for democracy itself.

Much has been happening in local philanthropy, aside from the extent to which Constitutionalism in our country has so fully been strengthened with philanthropic funding. The first event I refer to was the launch of a unique new online knowledge resource (at which offers insights, thoughts, expertise and knowledge on practices of grantmaking in South Africa, and an overview of the current state of the local philanthropy field, with a particular focus on funding in support of human rights and social justice.

This is the first resource of its kind, offering a comprehensive look at the “as is” in local philanthropy, as well as documented insights and views from a range of key practitioners in the social justice and philanthropy fields. In addition, the resource offers illuminating insights into the innovative grantmaking practices and approaches of The Atlantic Philanthropies, a limited life Foundation which has now exited from its grantmaking in South Africa after funding more than $355million in projects, programmes, initiatives and capital developments in the Southern African region.  Remarkable stuff.

The second event I refer to is the launch of South Africa’s first Chair of African Philanthropy at Wits Business School (announced last year and launched recently), a long-overdue energy shot for building the field of philanthropy, not only in South Africa but also more broadly across the continent. This is most exciting, and a pan-African seminar has been held to kick-start the development of the academic programme under this new Chair.  With Professor Alan Fowler leading this development, the knowledge environment is seriously opening up for the local philanthropy field.

These are both clear signs of the growing energy and interest in the field of philanthropy in South Africa and on the rest of the continent – not just in the forms of giving, but also in who gives; what people commit their support to; the intentions behind giving; the reasons for wanting to contribute to a particular cause or organisation; how this giving takes place; and trends in amounts invested in social issues and in particular causes.

While these research initiatives and this energy are absolutely critical in the strengthening of the environment in which philanthropy is built and broadened, there is a range of other features required for local philanthropy promotion and growth.

The global experience in growing philanthropy indicates a number of key requirements for encouraging and improving the levels of philanthropic funding investments in social change.  These include the provision of encouragement and motivation for philanthropy; fostering an interest in and understanding of the field of philanthropy; developing a strong research-derived knowledge base in this area; and building a strong professional infrastructure around the business and practice of high net worth philanthropy. Additional to this is the requirement to ensure that the legislative framework for philanthropy actively enables and encourages giving, rather than inhibiting it.

To build, maintain and strengthen support for a strong change-focused agenda for civil society in South Africa, the following (amongst many others) are important enablers:

  • Active citizenship – the commitment and active engagement of South Africa’s people in the identification and removal of obstacles to rights and justice
  • The freedom to build democratic participation through social movements and civil society organisations
  • The willingness of philanthropists, nonprofit organisations and social activists, to define and implement programmes for social and political interventions for change
  • A Constitution which outlines the inalienable right to human dignity and equality, and which can be called upon directly in support of efforts to access rights
  • A legislative framework that facilitates the space for civil society activists to speak, organise and demonstrate where they deem necessary, without fear of sanction (or worse)
  • The political will of the state to ensure that civil society can operate openly without restriction, within the boundaries of the Constitution
  • A post-secondary education system and structure geared to engage responsively with the needs and requirements of a strong democratic culture, and not only to respond to the needs of commerce and industry
  • A progressive media that seeks out news and stories on issues of rights, civil society initiatives, and the watch-dogging of government and big business (for rights violations and other transgressions around good governance, transparency and accountability)
  • The financial resources to conduct the work required – to support the organisation of initiatives, the design and implementation of campaigns, the physical space where organisations can do their work, legal challenges in court, and the many other tactics that might be employed by a movement or organisation to achieve access to rights and justice.

Currently in South Africa, most of the above enablers exist – and some require a more demanding and vociferous public than others, for the realisation of the enabler.   While human rights and change-focused activism takes place all over the world regardless of the existence of any of these conditions, it is these which most directly and actively support the attainment and realisation of rights and justice.

However, it is the area of financial resourcing (outlined above), that surfaces as a key challenge in South Africa.  Any South African news channel will provide ample indication of the ongoing urgency for financial support for social justice initiatives at a local, provincial, national and regional level.

For example, we all want a free media but we need to learn to pay for it. So as my sign-off, I am providing my organisational PICK OF THE DAY for strong investigative journalism:

Amabhungane at Support amaB. Support Democracy.



It’s 2016! Some early thoughts on South African philanthropy.

Gabrielle Ritchie, Director at The Change Room:  4th January 2016


It’s the start of 2016 and South Africa has got off to a rocking start with a number of key hashtags in response to the ongoing, appalling, tiresome, tedious, offensive racist vitriol that white people seem to think it okay to spew all over social media.  Sigh. The first excellent hashtag is #TheYearWeMispronounceBack – a strong statement about the insistence amongst white people (turns out this is experienced the world over) to find “black names” too challenging to bother with.  It’s not that the names are too challenging.  We know this. But rather that so many of “my people” just frankly don’t consider it important enough to bother with black names.  Shocking horrible dismissive arrogant racist stuff.   The # takes the mickey out of traditionally white names, while making a key political point about respect, language, culture, supremacy, privilege and a range of other social factors and dynamics at play.

The second hashtag is #PennySparrow. Or #JustinVanVuuren. Or #ChrisHart. Or #DennisDyason.  All of whom are white South Africans who have spewed forth some ugly ugly stuff in the last 36 hours or so.  Not repeating any of it here, as it doesn’t warrant further sharing.  The bottom line out of all of this is that #RacismMustFall, and it is the responsibility of white South Africans – me included, obvs – to speak out loudly in support of anti-racist measures, to call racism out when we see it, and to stand up and raise our voices against any form of racism (yes, even our own). And we can’t expect any accolades, medals, or awards for it.  We must simply get on with it and do it. If white South Africans have any work to do, it is being constantly vigilant about our own behaviour and that of those white folk around us.  No complaints. Just get on with it.

So what does all of this have to do with philanthropy in South Africa?  A good question, you might be thinking. And this is really directed at us white South Africans.

Okay, so philanthropy is about someone giving financial support for a cause/s which that person believes in. It is about “doing good”.  It is – as has been shown in a number of recent South African research reports – about believing that one can “make a difference”, that by giving one can “contribute to change”.  Giving therefore has to start with the questions “what do I care about?”, “what is the change I want to see?” and “what difference do I want to contribute to making?”.  Asked and answered honestly is where the line gets drawn, between those who want to be “helpful to those less fortunate” (and I am not knocking that, really) and those who actively want to see change.

One of the key areas of real change required in South Africa is that #RacismMustFall.  Spend a good few minutes thinking about that, and thinking about how your own giving and your personal philanthropy can contribute to tackling your own prejudices – not just in what cause or organisation you support, but also in the way in which you offer such support.  The real impact is often felt in HOW we do things, and philanthropy is no different.  The HOW of philanthropy is crucial in effecting real change.

If you are looking to support any social justice cause this year, and you are also looking to ensure that your own racism and that of those around you is tackled, then your support needs to be committed; your approach will be consultative; your ears will be tuned to listen to the voices of those doing the work (rather than to your own voice); and you might look to contribute to work already happening rather than foregrounding your own way of doing things.

There is so much going on out there – amazing initiatives by incredibly energetic and creative people.  And they need your financial support.  Think about what you want to support this year, and how you are wanting to offer that support.

Please share any thoughts you have on this 🙂   Our young democracy depends on you.




How do we know when FREE is worth the effort, or just a waste of time?

Non-profits generally love FREE!!  And donors usually get really excited about low-cost/ no-cost opportunities for their grantees to access skills-exchanges and new knowledge.

But How do we know when FREE is worth the effort, or just a waste of time?

Here is one virtual online conference you can be sure will be worth the effort.  Organised and hosted by Resource Alliance, an organisation with a global reputation for its excellence in capacity development products and services for non-profits (particularly their conferences!), you can’t really go too wrong 🙂

This two-day event is being held on 13th and 14th May 2015 and all you need to do to be part of this fantastic learning event is register here. Over the two days, 16 sessions will be presented by leading experts in digital marketing, online fundraising and social media marketing, from within and outside the non-profit sector.

Full details on the programme are available here and include the following:-

  • Six practical methodologies to enable you to get started – Dr Scilla Elworthy (UK)
  • Charities don’t tweet, people do – Euan Semple (UK)
  • Adapting to a changing world: the innovation imperative – Colin Habberton (South Africa)
  • Seven ways to use mobile to build your supporter base – Nick Allen (USA)
  • Integrating digital into your old fashioned fundraising stuff – Sean Triner (Australia)
  • Crowdfunding for fundraisers – Ronald Kleverlaan (Netherlands)
  • Five learnings from masters of social media you can use in your fundraising today – Touko Sipiläinen (Finland)

According to Resource Alliance, who host the regular Netherlands-based International Fundraising Conference,over 2 000 delegates from 120 countries participated in last year’s Fundraising Online, which once again aims to help charities of all sizes successfully navigate the shifting sands of technological change.   With a focus on “empowerment and bridging the gap between online and offline initiatives”, Resource Alliance explains that this online initiative makes it possible for delegates to “benefit from the expertise of renowned speakers in the comfort of their own workplace, wherever and whenever it suits”.

Gotta go now … off to register 🙂  I am not missing this one!

South African PhilanthroFacts 1

Not enough is known about South African philanthropy.

We don’t have access to the kind of information that would make possible a deeper analysis of knowledge, attitudes and practices of South Africans who do (and who don’t) give their own money towards social development. I am going to write a series of blogs, then, to deliver up an insight into what we do know. There is some information available – what I would call “surface information” – so let’s at least get that up on the table.

First, a quick list of categories of information that we know we are able to access:
1. we could get information from non-profits on the amounts or relative percentages of funding support received from individuals and from foundations and trusts in South Africa. This would require a bit of research (some of which is currently being undertaken by @Inyathelo
2. we can access generalisations on who gives and why they give
3. we have access to research on giving in South Africa, conducted for example by Nedbank Private Wealth and published in The Giving Report (of which there are two studies conducted to date). This is self-reported giving and comes therefore with its own challenges (how do people report their giving, how do we account for individuals wanting to be seen as more generous than they actually are etc)
4. we know what academic research has been done and can readily compile a comprehensive reading list of this research – mostly for Masters and PhD degrees
5. we can access the local media coverage of South African philanthropy, South African wealth, the richest men, the richest women, and an idea of those who give publicly and who are known to give
6. we have access to a great list of philanthropy role-models in South Africa – across the broadest range of the South African demographic in terms of age, geography, culture, religion, colour, gender, cause and so on – go to
7. there are new initiatives afoot to promote different kinds of giving, and to develop a strong case for support for giving to social justice causes – see for example the Social Justice Initiative at
8. we could review the work of the Private Philanthropy Circle (, the first forum of private South African philanthropy foundations, which has a number of foundations as members and represents only the tip of South Africa’s “foundationberg” (see what i did there?)
9. we know of other foundation networks, for example the network of community foundations in South Africa
10. which means we could also do research on the concept of a community foundation and its applicability in the South African context
11. we know and can analyse the tax environment for philanthropy in South Africa, and what does and does not support the growth of individual philanthropy
12. we have access to databases of funders in South Africa and can trawl and analyse for philanthropic foundations associated with South African individuals
13. we can access information on the growth of philanthropy based on the increasing numbers of banks and wealth management companies offering philanthropy-focused services, and on the increasing numbers of people becoming part of the field of philanthropy advisory services (myself included).

In South Africa we don’t have access to tax records, for example. This source of information is where researchers in the USA are able to draw such comprehensive analyses of giving patterns, top ten lists, and the kind of giving detail that researchers are able to write about and profile. That said, the list above shows that we do have access to vast amounts of information that, while perhaps carrying insufficient specific detail on who is giving and how much they are giving and what they are giving to, nevertheless does provide us with enough information to draw patterns and extrapolations and conclusions.

Forward, onward then – to developing a fuller picture of South African philanthropy and individual giving in our country. Watch this space for South African PhilanthroFacts 2.