Nonprofit annual reports play an important role as we head into the end of the fiscal year or the onset of giving season. Although they are not an IRS requirement, compelling annual reports can sway potential donors and show current donors how their money is helping your organization to make an impact. In our data culture, we suggest your nonprofit takes the time to put one together as a means of showing your organization’s transparency — and bragging about your success in the past year.
However, throwing a million charts and graphs together or writing a 10,000-word essay on why your nonprofit is the best isn’t going to be so effective (or worth anyone’s time). Your annual report should communicate the success of your organization and its financials in a concise, visual way. It can be tough to find the right balance between information and overload. We’ve gathered seven of the best nonprofit annual reports that strike this balance. We hope they give you inspiration for your own nonprofit’s annual report.
Update: It’s 2021, so we’ve gone in and checked on our original favorite annual reports and refreshed their links. What’s more, we’ve created an annual report template so you don’t have to start from a blank slate and can rather focus on illustrating your impact!
1. DREAM (formerly Harlem RBI)
DREAM’s annual report is doing everything right: beautiful images, student stories, and (of course) thanking their donors. We especially love how they paired a full-page image of a student with key stats that support the organization’s overall mission, a mix of showing and telling. Moreover, the image is focused on an individual which allows the reader to empathize with the child and imagine her succeeding — and the key stats about the DREAM community suggest she will! DREAM also hosts its annual report on Issu, a great third-party platform for a well-designed digital reading experience.
2. ICA Fund Good Jobs
There are two fundamental things we love about ICA Fund Good Job’s annual report: The table of contents and the graphics. It’s easy to underestimate the importance of the table of contents — many reports treat them as an afterthought. However, you want the reader to know what they can find inside the report. We like that this particular report’s table of contents is interactive, allowing readers to skip ahead to the sections they are most interested in. We also love the evolving design for each year’s report. 2018’s impact report emphasizes impact with strong, but inviting fonts, and 2019’s report doubles down on that theme with a high contrast black, blue and white color scheme to deliver information via sleek graphics.
3. Girls Who Code
It shouldn’t be surprising that a nonprofit focusing on closing the gender gap in technology has a beautifully-coded annual report built right into its website. The influx of nonprofits building annual reports into their websites offers two huge advantages: 1) It takes transparency to the next level if the report is a living, breathing section of the website. 2) It makes it easier for the user to interact with the report, which can save space and help keep things concise. We love how Girls Who Code built an interactive map of the U.S. that allows readers to change years and see how their program market has increased over time. In a traditional PDF, this would take 5 separate charts and even then we wouldn’t get the same effect of watching this program grow on a national level. That said, Girls Who Code does have an option to download the whole report as a PDF for those who still like the old-school version.
Annual report template
Save time on design and focus on showing your impact
4. Charity: Water
Sometimes it’s best to keep it simple. Charity: Water’s annual report is the perfect example of keeping it simple, but effective. The nonprofit lets the impact stand on its own on certain pages – no pictures, very little language, and lots of white space. We love how they showed the lineage of that $25.1 million: we raised X which equaled Y and resulted in Z. This is an easy to follow “formula” that your nonprofit could use as well.
The annual report from 350.org combines a lot of the elements we love from the reports above: Fun colors to keep the reader engaged, interactiveness, and a sticky table of contents that follows the reader as they scroll down the page. A unique element to this report that we don’t see very often: video. The grassroots climate justice advocates at 350.org integrated videos throughout the report so readers can get more information about two of their campaigns — Exxon Knew and Break Free — all while keeping the word count down. We think that’s a win-win!
6. Power Poetry
Full disclosure: This is from our founder George, who also co-founded PowerPoetry.org, the largest teen poetry platform in the US. Power Poetry developed this quarterly/annual report in a customizable way from a Google Data Studio template built by Whole Whale. The dashboard lives on PowerPoetry.org/data, a URL shared with supporters.
(click to advance through pages of report)
7. Fight CRC
Fight Colorectal Cancer (CRC) is a health impact organization dedicated to ending colorectal cancer and supporting those affected by the disease through patient support, funding research, and impactful policy change. We love how their web-native 2019 Impact Report looks great straight from the browser. No cumbersome download required, this report knows its audience by calling out important impact efforts without bogging down the casual user with superfluous detail and text. We also found the embedded videos to be a dynamic and useful inclusion, and appreciated how good the report looks on a mobile browser! (Full disclosure: Fight CRC is a Whole Whale client, but we really do love their annual report!)
Based in Bangladesh, BRAC is one of the largest international development organizations in the world, and their 2018 Annual Report uses innovative design elements to present their numerous programs and initiatives in an accessible way. Instead of presenting all their programming and reporting information at once, BRAC’s interactive report allows you to click through to subjects or campaigns of interest. Partners, researchers, and power-users can read through their comprehensive 112 page traditional report, but for everyone else, Brac provides the highlights in a well-designed and accessible way.
9. Pencils of Promise
Pencils of Promise is an international development organization focused on education, and we love their 2018 Annual Report for its simple but informative design. Their annual report is highly skimmable — it’s easy to find the most important numbers like “teachers supported” alongside more detailed program descriptions. Their use of joyful photos of individuals or small groups helps personalize the program descriptions, as does highlighting an employee’s efforts, like those of Margaret Mary Debre, PoP’s Lead WASH Coordinator in Ghana.
10. National Public Radio (NPR)
NPR (National Public Radio) does an excellent job of making their annual report relevant. NPR’s 2018 Annual Report boasts a classic red, white and blue color scheme and clean design. What stands out about NPR’s report is how timely it feels. The report does an excellent job of using real-world events to highlight how NPR’s reporting and programming respond to the moment. NPR emphasizes how its “Muslims in America: A New Generation” series explores the multifaceted experiences of muslims living in a post-9/11 America, while its Hidden Brain episode “Why Now?” offers a profound analysis of #MeToo.
Keshet provides community and support to LGTBQ Jews, provides Jewish organizations with the knowledge and skills to create spaces where LGBTQ Jewish youth feel seen and valued, and works to advocate for LGBTQ rights nationwide. Their 2018 annual report does an excellent job of carrying through design elements from page to page, weaving bright colors and solid rectangles through the various stages of the report.
12. Natural Resource Defense Council
Sometimes, you just need some good photos to take your report from good to great. Cue the giraffes. The Natural Resources Defense Council makes good use of beautiful photos in their 2018 Annual Report. Who doesn’t love innocent looking deer, bears, or giraffes? The answer is no one. The photos are the centerpiece of NRDC’s handsome report, and they compel readers to read more about the programs and advocacy projects of NRDC in their effort to protect our planet. The magazine-like quality to the report makes it accessible to high school kids and corporate sponsors alike.
13. International Rescue Committee
The International Rescue Committee responds to humanitarian crises around the world by supporting refugees and communities affected by violence and disaster. Their stellar 2018 Annual Report helps distill the operations of a very large International NGO into a readable and well-designed report. We especially like how the IRC uses branded colors to build call-out boxes to give us the low-down on important statistics or the outcome of a program. While you’re at it, read about the IRC’s awesome partnership with Sesame Workshop, BRAC and NYU to develop the largest early childhood intervention program in history with the support of a LEGO Foundation grant!
14. Donate Life America
Donate Life America helps Americans easily register to be an organ donor. With so many people on the organ donation waitlist, every donation counts! Donate Life’s 2019 Annual Report uses fun design elements to highlight their work in a style that resembles the accessibility of a magazine. We especially love DLA’s report for highlighting how their digital marketing funnel of engagement drives conversions. They even give Whole Whale a shoutout! (Full disclosure: Donate Life America is a client of Whole Whale.)
We hope these nonprofit annual reports gave you some inspiration for your own nonprofit’s annual report — and this is just the tip of the iceberg, check out our master list of nonprofit dashboards. Do you have any favorites that we missed? Please share them with us on Twitter with the hashtag #WhaledIt! We’d love to see what reports are sparking your creativity.
Bonus: Annual Report Template
Hey! You read the full article. Your organization does great work. Show donors, boards, and the public what is happening behind the scenes using a dynamic and customizable annual report template that we crafted to help you show your org’s impact.