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Nonprofit annual reports are an ideal way to showcase impact through storytelling, and visuals, serving as a powerful tool to convey your mission, impact, and transparency to donors and stakeholders.

Annual reports are more than just a collection of financial numbers and statistics; they are a powerful tool for nonprofit organisations to showcase their mission, impact, and financial transparency. A well-designed nonprofit annual report can engage stakeholders, attract potential supporters, and ultimately contribute to the organisation’s success. In this article, we’ll explore the key elements and best practices for designing a nonprofit annual report that makes a lasting impression.

Why annual reports matter for nonprofits

Annual reports are more than just a legal requirement; they play a crucial role in the nonprofit sector for several reasons:

  1. Donor Relations: Annual reports serve as a communication tool to connect with donors and show them how their contributions are making a difference. A well-designed report can reinforce donor trust and loyalty.
  2. Accountability: Nonprofits are accountable to their donors, beneficiaries, and the public. An annual report provides a transparent overview of the organisation’s activities, finances, and achievements.
  3. Transparency: Transparency is a cornerstone of nonprofit governance. An annual report showcases how funds are allocated and the impact they have on the organisation’s mission.

Key elements of an effective nonprofit annual report

To create an impactful nonprofit annual report, consider including the following key elements:

  • Mission Statement: Start with a clear and concise mission statement that encapsulates your organisation’s purpose.
  • Financial Summaries: Provide a breakdown of your organisation’s financials, including revenue sources, expenses, and any surplus or deficit.
  • Impact Stories: Share stories and testimonials from beneficiaries, volunteers, or community members to illustrate the real-world impact of your work.
  • Program Highlights: Highlight the organisation’s key programs and initiatives, along with their outcomes and achievements.
  • Visuals: Incorporate high-quality images, infographics, charts, and graphs to make the report visually appealing and easy to understand.
  • Future Plans: Discuss your organisation’s goals and plans for the coming year, demonstrating your commitment to continued growth and impact.

SHOFCO 2021 annual report

Above: The SHOFCO 2021 Annual Report incorporated key elements of a impactful and informative annual report, while maintaining the brand’s bold and distinctive visual identity throughout

Design principles for nonprofit annual reports

The design of your nonprofit annual report is critical because it can either engage or deter readers. Consider the following design principles:

  • Visual Appeal: Use a clean, professional layout with a consistent colour scheme and typography that aligns with your organisation’s branding.
  • Readability: Ensure the text is legible and easy to skim. Use headings, subheadings, and bullet points to break up long paragraphs.
  • Imagery: Include high-resolution images that capture the essence of your organisation’s work. Infographics and icons can help simplify complex information.
  • Whitespace: Don’t overcrowd the pages. Allow for ample white space to create a sense of balance and sophistication.
  • Consistency: Maintain a consistent design style throughout the report, from cover to content pages, to create a cohesive look.

Data visualisation techniques

To present financial and impact data effectively, consider these data visualisation techniques:

  • Infographics: Use infographics to condense complex information into easy-to-understand visuals. For example, create a pie chart to show the allocation of funds.
  • Charts and Graphs: Graphical representations like bar charts, line graphs, and scatter plots can make data more engaging and accessible.
  • Icons and Symbols: Use icons and symbols to represent key metrics or achievements, making them visually memorable.
  • Colour Coding: Employ colour-coding to distinguish between different data points or categories, aiding comprehension.

Legatum Institute Prosperity Index 2016 Report Design

Above: The Legatum Prosperity Index report design used a variety of branded data visualisations to provide insight on changing global prosperity

Showcasing impact: Telling compelling stories

One of the most powerful aspects of a nonprofit annual report is the opportunity it provides to showcase the tangible impact of your organisation’s work. Beyond mere statistics and financial summaries, telling compelling stories is a way to connect with your readers on an emotional level and make the impact of your mission come to life.

1. Narrative storytelling

Narrative storytelling is a potent tool for conveying the real-world impact of your nonprofit’s efforts. Instead of presenting dry facts and figures, weave a narrative that illustrates the journey of a beneficiary or community member. Here’s how to do it effectively:

  • Identify Impactful Stories: Start by identifying individuals or communities whose lives have been positively transformed by your organisation. These stories can be about a child who received education, a family that gained access to clean water, or a community that experienced positive change.
  • Structure Your Story: Create a compelling story structure that includes elements like a relatable protagonist, a challenge or problem, your organisation’s intervention, and the resulting positive change. Use descriptive language to engage the reader’s senses and emotions.
  • Use Real Quotes: Incorporate direct quotes from the beneficiaries or those involved in your programs. Authentic voices lend credibility and emotional resonance to your stories.
  • Visual Support: Accompany your stories with high-quality images or even short videos that feature the individuals or communities you’re highlighting. Visuals provide authenticity and can evoke powerful emotions.
  • Impact Metrics: After telling the story, provide concrete metrics that demonstrate the broader impact. For example, if you told the story of a child’s educational journey, follow up with statistics on how many children your organisation has educated over the year.

2. Before-and-after scenarios

Another effective way to showcase impact is by presenting before-and-after scenarios. This approach allows readers to visualise the transformation brought about by your organisation’s work.

  • Visual Comparisons: Use side-by-side images, graphs, or charts to compare the conditions before and after your intervention. For example, display a photo of a barren, arid land next to an image of a flourishing, green landscape to illustrate the impact of environmental conservation efforts.
  • Numerical Improvements: Include quantitative data to highlight the positive changes. For instance, if your organisation focuses on healthcare, showcase statistics like reduced mortality rates, improved vaccination coverage, or increased life expectancy.

3. Testimonials and quotes

Don’t underestimate the power of testimonials and quotes. Sharing the voices and perspectives of those directly impacted by your organisation’s work can resonate deeply with your readers.

  • Beneficiary Testimonials: Include quotes from beneficiaries who have benefited from your programs. Their authentic testimonials can humanise your impact and show that real people’s lives are being changed for the better.
  • Volunteer and Staff Quotes: Additionally, consider sharing insights and observations from your organisation’s volunteers and staff members who work on the ground. Their perspectives can provide a behind-the-scenes look at your programs and highlight the dedication of your team.

4. Visualise impact

Utilise visual representations to make your impact more tangible. Visuals can simplify complex data and reinforce the positive outcomes of your organisation’s efforts.

  • Timelines: Create timelines that showcase the milestones and achievements reached over the year. This can help readers visualise the progress made.
  • Maps: If your organisation operates in different regions or countries, use maps to illustrate the geographic reach of your programs. Highlighting locations where your impact is most significant can be visually compelling.
  • Infographics: Develop infographics that summarise key impact data. For instance, you can use a bar chart to demonstrate the increase in the number of individuals served or the percentage improvement in specific metrics.

By incorporating these storytelling techniques and visual elements into your nonprofit annual report, you can effectively showcase the profound impact of your organisation’s work. Remember, the goal is not only to inform but also to inspire and connect with your readers on a personal level, ultimately fostering continued support for your mission.

Project Mercy Annual Report 2022 - inner page

Above: In the 2022 annual report we created for Project Mercy, we used bold visualisations of key impact figures at the beginning of the report as a way to provide an ‘at-a-glance’ overview of the year’s successes

Case studies

DIY vs. professional design

When it comes to designing your nonprofit’s annual report, one of the crucial decisions you’ll face is whether to handle the design in-house (“Do It Yourself” or DIY) or hire a professional designer. Each approach has its advantages and considerations, and the choice largely depends on your organisation’s resources, goals, and priorities.

  • In-House Design: Cost-effective, but may require design software proficiency and access to quality visuals.
  • Professional Design: Ensures a polished and visually appealing report but can be more expensive.

Choosing the right approach

The decision between DIY and professional design should be based on your nonprofit’s specific circumstances and priorities:

  • Budget: Consider your budget constraints. If your organisation has limited financial resources, DIY design may be the more practical option.
  • In-House Skills: Assess the design skills and expertise available within your organisation. If you have team members with design experience, leveraging their skills for DIY design may be a viable choice.
  • Quality Expectations: If your nonprofit’s annual report is a critical piece for donor engagement and fundraising, investing in professional design can ensure a high-quality, visually appealing report that leaves a lasting impression.
  • Time Constraints: Consider your timeline. If you need a quick turnaround, DIY design may be more feasible. However, for a more complex and polished design, professional designers may be better equipped to meet deadlines.
  • Long-Term Goals: Think about your nonprofit’s long-term goals. If you anticipate producing annual reports regularly and wish to maintain a consistent and professional look, professional design may be a worthwhile investment.

In the end, both DIY and professional design can yield excellent results, but the choice should align with your nonprofit’s resources, goals, and the level of visual impact you want to achieve. Regardless of the path you choose, prioritise creating an annual report that effectively communicates your organisation’s mission, impact, and commitment to transparency. Your annual report is a valuable tool for connecting with donors and stakeholders and showcasing the positive changes your nonprofit is making in the world.


Nonprofit annual reports are a vital tool for transparency, accountability, and donor engagement. By following these best practices in design and content, you can create a compelling and effective annual report that communicates your organisation’s impact, vision, and commitment to its mission. Remember that your annual report is not just a document; it’s a powerful storytelling tool that can inspire and mobilise support for your nonprofit’s cause.

Are you ready to design your nonprofit’s annual report? If you have any questions or need further guidance, feel free to reach out to us for assistance.

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