First off, why should you do a year-end or annual report? It may seem like an old idea to some newer organizations and nonprofits to put your time into writing one (and initially a lot of time). With the competition organizations face today, your year-end report will help foster trust between you and your members, donors and other supporters.
Writing an annual report can also help you cultivate partnerships, retain donors, and demonstrate your accomplishments. You can refer back to it throughout the year for pitches and membership renewals, or let it live on your website and speak for itself. However you choose to use it, your annual report is an important tool in creating transparency within your organization.
What format should you use?
Before you decide how to present your report, you should decide what you want to do with it. Year-end reports can be in PowerPoint, video, printed and mailed, or postcard, to name a few. If you are presenting to a Board of Directors or using it in future pitches, you should consider PowerPoint.
Printing and mailing is an extra expense, but you may consider this to top donors and board members. Keep in mind you can always email everyone who isn’t a “top-tier” partner. A video is a great way to share with your social media followers what you have accomplished this year, even if you do this in addition to a printed report.
However you decide to present the information, it will be important to include visuals, pictures and design. You may want to sit down with a creative team or someone who will be in charge of creating it and figure out a design up front.
When should I write it?
It seems that this would have a simple answer, at year’s end. However, you need to consider what your “year-end” looks like. Maybe your top donors finalize their budget for the following year in October, or the majority of your member dues are paid in February. Having your report done for these times will help you retain these important people. Once you know what your deadline is, give yourself at least a month to collect the important information and design it.
You may want to wait on December numbers and put out your report in January or February, or you may want to capitalize on year-end giving. Whatever your strategy, make sure to plan ahead. You don’t want to be in December needing those members or donors and wishing the report was ready.
It could be helpful to keep a document and folder throughout the year. Use the folder to drop in photos as they arise and the document to keep track of important data. You could track events, member numbers, website clicks, etc. and then pull from it any time of the year when you need specific information. Throughout the year, tracking this information will mean you don’t have to sift through everything when you sit down to write your annual report.
What to include (and not include)?
The task of writing a year-end report may seem daunting when you first sit down to write it. A few things to consider adding are: a letter from your president or CEO, financial overviews, donor lists, year over year stats and growth, and thank yous.
When you sit down to comb through your year, focus on high-level accomplishments and key initiatives. Include your monetary year, event overviews, and your most important projects. This can include a website redesign, new programs implemented, members retained, etc. Maybe you finally upgraded your internet or copier in the office, and while that may be a big win for you, it isn’t important for your year-end report.
At the nonprofit level, your biggest sell will be mission moments throughout the year. Use lots of pictures alongside your data to reinforce why what you are doing is worthwhile. If people have an emotional connection to the information, they will be more likely to remember it and donate in the future. You may want to pick one or two stories to focus on that help you paint the picture of your organization.
Make sure to include your fundraising totals, but be sure not to weigh it down too heavily with fundraising data. One of the top reasons nonprofits lose donors is the lack of follow up after an initial donation. You can use your year-end report to include a call to action, like donating, volunteering, or partnering, but include it at the end after your mission-focused approach.
As an association or membership organization ie. a Chamber of Commerce or Union, you will need to include your member benefits. Figure out how many opportunities were given to network, have professional development or learn together and total them up for your report.
What key initiatives or projects did you accomplish this year? Did you have a special committee that accomplished something big? Be sure to include those in your report and feature those key committees. Attempt to get quotes from members to feature as testimonials, too. Your goal here is to show members the ROI of their investment with you and why they should do it for another year.
Creating a year-end report for the first time may seem like a big task, but once you dive in, you may find you already have all the information you need. Building your year-end report into the following year’s strategy, will make it a helpful tool all year round. You can also repurpose it into content for your upcoming marketing strategy.
Having it done will help you throughout the year, and creating next year’s will be even easier!
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