Annual Report DOs and DON’Ts

Annual Report DOs and DON’Ts


One of the things I think about in June is the organizational Annual Report. Done well, the Annual Report can reinforce the theme you chose back in January and the decisions your members made last year to support your work. It seems obvious, but a little thought given here can make a world of difference.


Fundraiser’s Almanac – June


The most important value for an Annual Report is as a sales piece. Keep that in mind and make sure it tells your story in the way you want it told. Here are some DOs and DON’Ts for Annual Reports.

  • DO list your members. There’s a limit to how many is practical, but people like seeing their names in print. Take the time to double-check spelling!
  • DON’T list memorial gift donors (unless they gave otherwise, too).
  • DO break the list out by range of gift amount. Use somewhat broad categories, such as $35-99, $100-249, $250-1,000 and so on.
  • DO break out a strongly branded donor club separately (See On Donor Clubs).
  • DON’T list donors who have requested anonymity. And don’t list the word “Anonymous,” either. It looks dumb and gives other people the idea (See Anonymity isn’t Necessarily Friendly).
  • DON’T include landscape photos.
  • DO include photos and profiles of individual people, and use them to tell your story. A Board Member, for example. Or a land donor, a key volunteer, a member of your stewardship staff, an intern, and so on.
  • DON’T use “full-bleed” photos, meaning photos that run all the way to the edge of the page. Avoiding this means that you will be able to print a few at a time as you need them.
  • DO mail hard copies to Major Gift Prospects, including foundations, businesses and event sponsors, and important individual donors. I favor mailing it to everyone, but doing so can get expensive. At least mail it to everyone listed in the report.
  • DO post it on-line, too, but keep in mind that doing so does not substitute for the paper copy.
  • DO feature a particular acquisition preserve or event in words and pictures. Again, use photos of people enjoying themselves.
  • DON’T list your organizational accomplishments using numbers. Use stories instead.
  • DON’T tell stories about how deals were done. Use stories about what difference the conservation work made and to whom. Some favor showing how lives were changed. If you have good stories about how lives were changed, use them, but not every acquisition results in a changed life.
  • DO present your financials in graphic form (pie charts and so on) that tell the story you want told. The numbers do not need to match your 990 in anything but the highest level sense. If you raised money and spent money buying an iconic farm or natural area, break that expense out separately.
  • DON’T over-complicate the financials. Less is more here.

Here are two takes on Annual Reports that I like a lot. Sustainable Conservation’s report is larger and more complex than most organizations can think about, but notice the simplicity, their choice of photographs, and how they use the report to tell their story. And to the opposite extreme, consider this new take on Annual Report formats from Kivi Leroux Miller’s blog. The piece was actually written by a guest blogger. Note how they use numbers but in a more creative and graphic way that tells the story they want told.

What are you doing with your Annual Report?




Photo credit: Jeptha Lake Fen, courtesy of Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy.


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