5 Free Design Tools To Build Your Annual Report

These design tools will help you create a stunning annual report that will wow your stakeholders — without spending a dime.

If you’ve ever tried to use a free program like Microsoft Word to build your annual report, then you know how frustrating and time-consuming this can be. Page numbers never work properly, lines indent themselves for some inexplicable reason, and inserting an image throws off the entire document.  


At the same time, professional design tools like Adobe InDesign can be expensive and come with a learning curve that can be intimidating. The good news is there are plenty of easy, free tools that can help you take your annual report design up a notch from the average Word doc. Keep reading to see five of our favorites:  

1. Canva

Canva is hands-down one of the best (and free!) graphic design tools we’ve found. We use it for creating everything from social media posts to printed flyers. Because it was built with non-designers in mind, Canva is exceptionally user-friendly. Professional graphic designers even use Canva to create assets like videos, infographics, reports, and presentations — so you know it’s powerful.  


Canva offers an enormous library of free templates you can customize for just about any print or digital design, including over 500 annual report templates! You can choose from styles like modern, corporate, minimalist, colorful, or creative. From there, it’s easy to drag-and-drop your content into the report, add your logo and images, and change the colors and fonts to match your brand. You can also browse Canva’s library of free stock images and graphics. When you’re done building your report, you can share a link with your team to review and add comments directly in the design.  


Nonprofits can even access Canva’s premium features for free! 

A sample annual report in Canva
Canva’s annual report templates can be easily customized with your text, brand colors, and images.

2. Adobe Express

Another free graphic design tool to check out is Adobe Express. In terms of functionality, Adobe Express offers similar features to Canva, including the ability to edit images and create graphics and reports using premade templates. The main difference between Canva and Adobe Express is that Express integrates with other Adobe products, which is ideal if your organization is already using programs like Photoshop and Acrobat.  


Adobe Express is a great tool for individuals who are building their organization’s annual report on their own. However, Canva might be the better choice for teams, since Adobe Express lacks some of the more advanced features you might need to share and collaborate on your annual report design.  

A sample annual report template in the Adobe express editor
Adobe Express’ editor has a clean, intuitive layout that makes it easy for non-designers to build an annual report.

3. Excel

Love it or hate it, Excel is still one of the most widely used software tools today. And while we don’t recommend it as your IDD management software, Excel does come in handy for creating charts and graphs for your annual report.  


Many people are familiar with how to create basic graphs in Excel (if not, this video will help!). But you can also take things a step further and spruce up the default, unattractive Excel charts so they complement your report’s design. For example, you can change the color and fonts to match your brand. You can also remove the gridlines in the background of your chart and hide labels so it’s less cluttered. These small changes can make a big difference to the overall look and feel of your annual report.  


Related article: Our Top Microsoft Office Tips & Tricks 

Two side by side charts, one is the default chart in Excel and one is styled to match the SETWorks brand
Both of these charts were created in Excel, but the one on the right is much more visually appealing.

4. Pexels

For the most part your annual report will likely include images of your clients and your team, but you might occasionally find that you need to supplement these with stock images. In that case, a single stock image can run you anywhere from $5-50 per image — making them prohibitively expensive for cash-strapped nonprofits.  


As an alternative, Pexels is a great place to find free stock images that you can use in your annual report design. Pexels lets you download, edit, and use their images for free for both personal and commercial use as many times as you like. Their searchable library includes over 3 million high-resolution photos — many of which were created by professional photographers.  

Search results in Pexels showing three nonprofit photos

5. Lightshot

Sometimes you might want to include a screenshot of a chart or graphic in your annual report. While you can try using the native screenshot tool on your computer and editing the image in another program, Lightshot is an even better alternative. 


Lightshot is available for both Mac and Windows. Use the keyboard shortcut to open Lightshot, capture a selected area of your screen, and then add elements like arrows or text for clarification. We’re willing to bet that Lightshot will quickly become one of your favorite tools.  

All the screenshots for this article were taken using Lightshot.

Start building your annual report

Building your annual report can be a big job, but these five tools will make the process much easier. The best part is they’re all free, so you can keep those dollars to use toward your mission. For more insights and best practices, download our free guide, “5 Ways To Become a Data-Driven Organization”.  

Free Guide: 5 Ways to Become a Data-Driven Organization
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