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 2019, so we’ve gone in and checked on our original favorite annual reports and refreshed their links. What’s more, we’ve added even more nonprofit annual report inspiration here below.
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. 2017’s color scheme was vivid and engaging, bringing you into the report like a fun party instead of a scary performance review. 2018 doubles down on the theme of impact with strong, but inviting fonts and a red that commands attention but also feels warm and inviting.
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.
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.
5. People for Bikes
People for Bikes’s annual report is another example of keeping it simple to sophisticated effect. While the coding it took to develop the page may be more complex than it seems on the front-end, we love the focus in 2017’s report on locations where the organization worked (in 2016, you would find one key impact metric at a time as you scroll down the page). If a reader is particularly interested in one key metric, there’s an option for that as well, thereby successfully navigating the tricky balance between information and overload.
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!
DoSomething breaks free from the traditional annual report by putting together quarterly dashboards. This is a great way to keep donors and volunteers engaged with your nonprofit on a more frequent basis with “more of less.” We love how the dashboard matches the nonprofit’s personality and millennial audience through the use of emojis and hashtags and by getting personal in tone and content. The dashboard not only gives financial updates and tells member stories, but it also allows the reader to get to know the staff by highlighting work anniversaries and new hires.
8. 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)
9. Arkansas Justice Collective
This annual report, titled Singing Through the Storm for 2018, is a bit more traditional in its PDF presentation but is well-designed and weaves in the storytelling of AJC’s work with the impact the organization. A great digital add is that they also include an audio option of their director reading the report, with full transparency about both their wins and their losses.
10. Nuru International
Nuru International, a humanitarian relief organization, publishes annual reports and quarterly dashboards, but their 2014 report received special attention when it was published in 2015 for a stunning visual design by Gabriel Schut. The physical copy is great, but we love how they rendered it for digital consumption, streamlining the flair and giving visual dashboards for supporters that gave an easy at-a-glance on progress towards impact.
NPR’s 2016 annual report, A Network Engaged, is beautifully designed and pairs the hard data of an annual report with the narrative artistry that the radio network has become known for. The balance of red and blue colors and recurring sound wave motif are smart design elements, and we love the call-outs for statistics, highlights, and did-you-knows next to the narrative of how NPR and its programs responded to the news of the year. We especially love how they juxtapose the stories that took up much of our mental real estate that year (such as the ongoing war in Syria) with the data around their reporting — from the number of stories to the number of listeners engaged.
12. Best Friends Animal Society
You could go to the Best Friends Animal Society’s website for some quick statistics of their impact in the last year. Or you could go to their full annual report and — wait, sorry, I overlooked all of the data because… PUPPIES! Who’s a good annual report? Who’s a good annual report? Big takeaway here: If you have great images that show your impact, let them speak their proverbial thousand words. Best Friends used Adobe Spark to build this report, making for a simple yet sleek design.
13. Volunteer Match
Our friends at Volunteer Match know that numbers don’t stop just because a fiscal year closes out. We love the real-time updates that factored into their 2016 impact report, speaking to this flux and making use of the fact that it’s a lot easier to update numbers online than it is in print.
14. Ashoka Scandinavia
Around the world, Ashoka is about impact and making global change. Ashoka Scandinavia combined a streamlined amount of data intelligently parsed out with a clean design that is quintessentially, well, Scandinavian. The actual financials come after the qualitative data around the global Ashoka Network, core values, and work that was accomplished in the previous year, so that the numbers are presented in the context of the impact they support. #numbersarepeopletoo
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.