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How To Spice Up Your Annual Report (With Examples!)

Create annual reports that better demonstrate your success, engage with stakeholders, and bolster support for your organization.

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!

1. Balance numbers and storytelling

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:

 

ICAN’s annual report is packed with detailed statistics, but client narratives keep it from feeling dry or boring.

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. 

2. Visualize your data

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.

 

AtWork! does a great job of using data visualizations in their annual report:

 

On the left is a page about employment services with a bar graph showing the total number of people served. On the right is a page about commercial services with a pie chart of revenue sources.
Instead of having all the data on one page, charts and graphs are sprinkled throughout AtWork!’s annual report.

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.

3. Design your annual report around a theme

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! 

 

Just look at Vadis, whose 2020 report looks more like a Broadway playbill than an annual report:

 

Vadis’ report, titled “Star Performances of 2020” is complete with participant spotlights, premiere services by the numbers, and other red-carpet themed puns.

Previous years’ themes include a comic book and an album of Vadis’ “greatest hits” — proving that you can get creative with your annual report and still meet the requirements for CARF. Platte County Board of Services also took a themed approach to their annual report:

 

 

Front cover and director's letter from PCBS 2020 annual report. The cover image shows a banner and the second page shows a photo of the director and an image of a basketball.
PCBS chose a sports theme for their 2020 annual report.

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.

4. Invest in good design

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. 

 

This report design from Lifespan uses participants’ artwork to give their report a unique look and feel:

 

Front cover and table of contents from Lifespan 2020 annual report. The front cover has a pastel colored drawing of flowers and the table of contents has a colorful drawing of a giraffe.
Lifespan’s use of artwork in their annual report is a genius alternative to generic stock photos.

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:

 

Two pages from Options For All's annual report. On the top left is a screenshot from a Zoom call and a quote surrounded by blue above a block of text. On the right is a block of text with five orange icons underneath it.
Options For All’s annual report is a perfect example of how good design can help readers understand your message.

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.

 

A grid showing 11 different report templates in Canva.
Canva’s free report templates can be customized with your content, logo, and brand colors.

5. Include your goals for next year and how others can help you get there

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. 

 

Opportunity Development Centers (ODC) does a great job of this in their annual report:

 

Two pages of ODC's annual report. One is titled Generosity, and the other is titled Donate Once, Make Twice the Impact.
ODC recaps the support they received in 2020 and how it was used before asking for more donations.

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: 

 

  • volunteering
  • interning
  • referring applicants
  • referring local businesses
  • referring volunteer locations
  • supporting your agency via word of mouth or social media

 

The more specific you can be, the more likely it is that people will take action.

Your next steps

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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