Preparation Leads to Great Design: Annual Report Tips for Success

Sarah MayerCommunications, Design

412 Food Rescue 2019 Impact Report Cover

It’s happened to all of us. You’re sitting in the lobby of a community non-profit, or – gasp – a funder’s office and you see it: a beautiful, easy-to-read annual report that gives all the right info in all the right ways. Jealousy grips you. You consider stealing it to take it back to your office so you can insert your organization’s information into the layout and show everyone what your report will look like next year. PDP annual report

It seems to make sense that if you have a great layout then all you need to do is drop in the photos, financials, numbers, and stories then, boom, you’re done. And while there’s some logic to this, it is much better to address your annual report content first, as this will often have a huge impact on design. By knowing your data and the story you want to tell, your design firm will be able to deliver a piece that reinforces your message with every design element. 

So how do you make sure you are going to get the best design for your report? It’s not hard, it just requires the right preparation. 

GTECH annual report

The firm you hire is there to collaborate with you and bring their creativity to the project. Your preparation will ensure a smooth design and a more cost-effective process. Disorganization can really set you back. If you don’t have a good handle on the content that you want to include, the design will have to change as you revise. And all of these revisions cost time and money. But this can be avoided by being an active participant in the process and starting early. Have conversations internally about what you want it to look like, what you want it to accomplish, and what the story is before you meet with your external firm. 

When you walk into the initial meeting with your design team knowing and having the following items, you enable the creative team to run with your ideas and deliver a report that achieves goals and wows the reader. 

Plan Ahead – What you need to know 

  1. Theme or story: Sometimes the story falls into place effortlessly. It may be a significant organization anniversary or it may be the year you reached a major goal. But even if there’s not an obvious theme, a strong narrative is crucial to successfully communicate what’s important to stakeholders.
  2. Audience: Have a clear idea of who will be reading the report and who you to see it. It is not just a report of the last year, but ideally, a case for donors, volunteers, board members, major funders, and partners to continue to enthusiastically support your work.
  3. Content: Know what the data says about your goals, successes, and needs. Save your design team’s time by letting them know what all those numbers mean so they don’t have to take too much time analyzing your data.

Great Annual Report Design Starts with Preparation

  1. Outline or Table of Contents: You don’t have to have all of the content created, reviewed, and finalized by the first design team meeting. You should have the basic outline of content though. You can give the finalized content and copy to the design team one section at the time as to not stall the process waiting for every piece of content to be ready.
  2. Data: Reach out to your colleagues before the meeting with the design team to let them know what data is needed. Be cognizant of their internal deadlines. Give them plenty of time to prepare accurate information for the report.
  3. Stories: The human impact of your work strengthens your data and metrics. Reach out to clients, donors, and staff to articulate the personal side of your mission. Provide a list of the people and events you want to feature as those stories can reinforce the theme of the entire report.

Impact Report v. Annual Report

What's the difference?

You may hear these terms used interchangeably. But, are they really the same thing? Know the type of report makes the most sense for your organization. 

Impact Report

A piece that highlights the measurable impact of your donor’s dollars and clearly shows how their donations translate to the lives changed by your mission.

Annual Report

A piece that summarizes how your organization raised and spent money that reaffirms to funders that you are being good and efficient stewards of their donations.