Home NonprofitNonprofit Accounting The Look And Feel Of Your Annual Report

The Look And Feel Of Your Annual Report

by Alex Acree

When publishing an annual report for your nonprofit, you will want to create a strong presentation of the information you choose to include.

Present A Compelling Story

The look and feel of your annual report matters because it should accentuate the story your nonprofit seeks to convey. Therefore, you will want to:

  • Tell success stories of human interest.
  • Use direct quotes, first-person narratives, or testimonials.
  • Include photographs (or video).
  • Profile a member, donor, volunteer, staff member, or board member.
  • Use language that shows you understand your target audience.
  • Let Aplos Accounting financial reports help paint the picture.

Format And Layout

Your annual report doesn’t need to be pricey. Even your volunteers can help prepare it, so consider the format that best fits your budget, audience and organization:

  • Traditional Annual Report (multiple pages, hardcopy)
  • Mini Annual Report (such as two-page or four-page layouts)
  • Online Annual Reports
  • Video Annual Reports

Also, you may want to create an Annual Report that can convert well to multiple formats. For example, an organization that produces a traditional hardcopy report may also post it on their website for enhanced transparency and accountability.


If you’re unsure where to begin, review annual reports of other nonprofits for ideas. Then identify what you like and don’t like. Earlier this year, the National Council of Nonprofits shared how annual report formats are evolving, and you can find examples on their website.


As you finalize the layout of your annual report, consider the following:

  • Create a professional, polished appearance
  • Make it easy to read with easy-to-digest information
  • Include lots of whitespace
  • Use colorful graphics and charts
  • Write informative captions for your photos
  • Be thorough but simple
  • Use color
  • Keep a clean design
  • Quadruple-check name spellings of donors and others
  • Edit carefully
  • Make sure it is proofread, and done so by different people

But your annual report should not:

  • Include jargon
  • Use acronyms
  • Share administrative details
  • Include minutiae
  • Be so long it loses people’s attention
  • Include a laundry list of all of your organization’s activities
  • Use only black-and-white text
  • Be visually boring, and lack pictures or graphics
  • Share committee reports (but you can post these to your website if they have important details)
  • Share too much financial detail (but you can post your Form 990 or other details on your website)
  • Have misspelled names

Now you are well on your way to a successful nonprofit annual report. Good luck!


This article refers to general annual reports, typically not legally required of nonprofits. This article does not apply to legal reporting requirements, such as annual filings to the IRS via Form 990, annual financial reports to Secretaries of State, or requirements unique to your organization. Consult your attorney or tax professional for additional information.

Free Webinar: How to Revamp Your Annual Reports With Mary Calahane

Your annual report can fulfill reporting requirements, show your organization’s great work, demonstrate your effectiveness, thank and credit your contributors, and raise some money. Here’s how to make annual reports work for your nonprofit or church. During this webinar, you will learn:

  • Why your annual report should originate with the fundraising team
  • Why focusing the report on your contributors is the key to your success
  • Practical tips to be sure your annual report is working hard
[Ghostwritten] by Dawn Spivey 02/22/2013

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