As a disability service agency, your annual report is one of your most powerful promotional tools. If it’s not selling your programs and accomplishments effectively, then you’re missing out on an important opportunity to strengthen your reputation and increase support for your mission.
But don’t worry — you’ve come to the right place! Here at SETWorks, we see dozens of annual reports every year, and we’ve picked up on some consistent elements that help to differentiate the best reports from the rest of the pack.
In this article, we’ll share tried-and-true tips that will help make your next annual report more memorable. We’ll also look at some great annual report examples that will leave you feeling inspired. Let’s dive right in!
Many annual reports include either quantitative or qualitative information, but the best ones we’ve seen rely on a mix of both.
Detailed statistics and visuals strengthen your overall annual report and demonstrate measurable progress toward your goals. Stories draw attention to your organization’s purpose and convey your impact in personal ways.
Together, numbers and stories create a memorable report that piques their interest and tugs at their heartstrings.
This report from the Integrated Community Alternatives Network (ICAN) is a masterful example of how data and stories can work together. The report tells the story of how ICAN’s team came together to provide essential services during the pandemic. Data appears alongside each story to drive their point home:
The data you include will vary depending on the type of services your organization provides, whether or not you’re CARF-accredited, and so on. For example, ICAN’s report includes information about the number of individuals served, revenue and expenses, and so on. It also includes more detailed information, like the number of community education and training events delivered, and ICAN’s investment in staffing salaries over the past five years.
Stories can come from staff, clients, community members, or a combination of these. ICAN’s report includes all three, which gives readers a deep understanding of the organization’s work and makes them fall in love with ICAN’s mission.
The human brain processes visual data 60,000x faster than text. What’s more, 97% of people believe a claim is accurate and truthful if it’s accompanied by a simple graph — compared to just 68% for text alone.
As you’re writing your annual report, consider incorporating visualizations for key information throughout the report. Not only will this make your data easier to digest, but it will also be more persuasive and believable.
As you can see, data visualizations don’t have to be fancy to be impactful. You’re better off choosing a basic bar chart that everyone is familiar with than a histogram or bubble chart that takes a lot of mental energy to understand. Even simple charts like the ones above can go a long way toward making your report more engaging.
One of the best ways to breathe life into your annual report is to base it around a theme. A theme acts as a common thread that helps tie everything in your annual report together. And, of course, it can be a lot of fun!
You can see how they carried the theme “PCBS & You: An Unbeatable Team” throughout the report, from the director’s letter about teamwork during the pandemic, to the image of a basketball and other athletic graphics. Even their choice of vintage sports lettering fonts would look right at home on a school pennant.
We’ve all heard the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”, but the reality is that first impressions do matter. In fact, research shows it may take as little as a tenth of a second for someone to form an opinion. That’s why a professional-looking design is so important.
An eye-catching design makes your annual report more appealing to read. Not only that, but it’s a way of distinguishing yourself from your competitors and making your agency stand out.
Of course, good design isn’t just about looks. It can also impact readability — as disability service providers know very well.
Notice how Options For All uses a combination of images, blockquotes, and icons to break up big walls of text. There’s lots of whitespace, which makes the content more scannable and helps balance the design:
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a Photoshop whiz to design a beautiful annual report. There are plenty of free or affordable design tools that can help you create a professional-looking document even if you don’t have a graphic designer on staff.
Canva is our personal favorite because it’s incredibly easy to use. It also includes hundreds of free report templates, stock photos, and graphic elements that you can use to spice up your content.
By following the four tips above, you’ll create an annual report that wins the hearts and minds of your readers. They’ll have a clear understanding of your organization’s mission, what you’ve accomplished in the past year, and why your work is so important to the community.
Most organizations end their report here, but that’s a big mistake! Instead, this is your opportunity to let readers know how they can support your organization in the year ahead.
Do you want to build new partnerships with local businesses? Are you looking to hire additional DSP staff? Make sure you tell your readers what your goals are for the upcoming year and how they can get involved.
After thanking their prior year donors, ODC clearly explains how much money they need to raise, what the money will be used for, and how people can make a donation. Of course, there are plenty of other ways you could invite people to help, including:
The more specific you can be, the more likely it is that people will take action.
As you can see from the examples above, annual reports don’t have to be dry or boring. There are plenty of ways to spice up your next report, from including stories and data visualizations to building your report around a fun theme. Which ideas or changes are you considering for your next annual report?
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