Fund Times

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I (Want to) Know What You Did Last Summer January 4, 2011

Filed under: accountability,foundations,individual donors,transparency — fundtimes @ 2:57 pm

Ok, so maybe the title of this post is a little misleading. We all can agree that nonprofits work hard each and every season to fill in the service gaps that our local, state, and federal governments cannot. But for current and potential donors (individual and institutional), they really want to know what your nonprofit has accomplished in the previous  year.  Hence, the need for a well-designed annual report.

While I fancy myself a fundraising guru (wink), I know little about publication and graphic design. So I decided to ask my friend, Halima Aziza Jenkins to share some trade secrets on what it takes to produce a compelling annual report.


Q: How important is an annual report to a nonprofit’s ability to market itself in the context of fund development?

A: An annual report is an invaluable marketing piece that serves two purposes: (1) it offers a detailed year-in-review for current donors and members; and (2) showcases a nonprofit’s goals and accomplishments for potential donors. Remember, an annual report need not be a black-and-white, picture less, dry-as-melba-toast publication.

When planning the look and content of an annual report, do keep in mind that most nonprofits solicit and receive funds from a mix of individuals, dues-paying members, foundations, and/or government agencies. The demographic of the donors or potential donors may steer how an organization wishes to present its information. Will the publication have a conservative look with few colors, clean lines, and standard serif font? Will the readers better engage with an off-beat design, bold colors, and angled photos? In the same way that an organization brands itself or creates ads, it will want to project a desired image through the preparation of the annual report.

Over the last ten years, graphic design, word processing, and desktop publishing software have grown more accessible and easier to use. Also, printing prices have fallen and the distribution of documents via the web has skyrocketed. A polished, comprehensive report shows donors that an organization is accountable, responsible, and cares about its mission.


Q: Nonprofits usually include information on their staff/board, financial statements and previous-year accomplishments in their annual report. What are some additional qualities that nonprofits should promote about their impact in an annual report?

A: As cliché as it sounds, everyone likes a good story that conveys some triumphant aspect of the human condition. If there is a heartwarming, personal story that happened as a result of a nonprofit’s work, be sure to include it along with photos and captions.

Also, don’t forget about visual interest. Any organization can and should produce an attractive, effective report complete with all the images, charts, tables, and a splash of color to hold readers’ attention.


Q: Depending on the size of a nonprofit’s budget, would you suggest that staff create their annual report in-house or solicit an outside consultant/company to create this?

A: There are advantages to both methods of producing the annual report. By producing the annual report in-house, the organization saves itself the hassle of relaying both report details and relevant institutional knowledge to an outside consultant. Further, desktop publishing software has grown more accessible and easier to use. Also, many printers will now accept PDF submissions in lieu of Adobe InDesign or Quark Xpress files, making it even easier to design and print material.

Hiring an outside consultant/company to produce the annual report often alleviates the burden of juggling the often “dreaded” annual report and end-of-year work backlogs. Other times, an organization may be looking for an outsider to revamp its publication style or image. Consultants can offer experience, freshen a perspective, and/or provide insights to the best way to reach an intended audience.

If a nonprofit does decide to solicit the help of a consultant, ask around for recommendations and do check references. Also, make sure that your consultant has nonprofit experience as opposed to general corporate or freelance experience.


Halima Aziza Jenkins is a freelance writer, editor, and graphic designer with more than ten years’ experience based in the Washington, D.C. area. Her web site is


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