Your Best Annual Report Yet!

Ready to create an annual report, but not sure where to start? Start here! 

Transparency and regular communication about a nonprofit’s mission and accomplishments builds trust, increases visibility and provides the opportunity for an organization to engage with their community. An annual report is just one of many opportunities for a nonprofit to share their organizational story. Sharing an annual report every year with key stakeholders, donors, family, and friends helps supporters connect with your mission and make informed giving decisions, leading to responsible philanthropy.

At Charities Review Council, we review hundreds of annual reports every year. Some are great, highlighting personal stories, clearly articulating accomplishments and effectively utilizing visual content to make it engaging for the reader. While other annual reports, well, that’s why we decided to write this post. With three easy steps, we’re sharing what we’ve learned and providing additional support as you take on creating your next annual report. Follow the steps outlined below and you’ll also ensure that your organization aligns with our Annual Report and Communication Accountability Standard. It’s a win-win! So without further ado, here are our three steps for achieving your best annual report yet!

Step One: Determine 2 – 4 accomplishments to highlight.

Your annual report should not be a running list of everything you did in the previous year. Instead, focus on a few accomplishments that truly convey your organizational story in a meaningful way. Ensure that you are including information for each of your major programs (major programs listed in the IRS Form 990, Part III). Donors want to know how their gift made a difference. So consider sharing things that might ‘wow’ your constituents, whether that was a new program, unexpected results, or a new location opening. Share the excitement with those who matter most, your supporters!

Step Two: Make it EASY!

Easy to read, easy to understand and easy to access. It’s simple, annual reports fall flat when they are too long or overly complicated. When writing your annual report, keep the end goal in mind, which is (or should be) to engage your key stakeholders, donors, volunteers, family, and friends in the work of your organization. In order to do that, keep these three things in mind:

  • Avoid using jargon. When you use jargon or complicated language that not everyone will know and understand, you limit your audience from understanding the full breadth of your work. Make your work accessible and easy to read.
  • Use Images. Pictures have the ability to bring stories to life! By using pictures in your annual report you’re not only adding excitement to your report, but also adding color, which is reported to increase readership by 80%!
    • Don’t forget about photo captions. If people read nothing but the captions in your annual report, they should still get a sense of the work that was accomplished last year. Photos and image captions connect your reader with the work being done, and that my friends is what the annual report is all about.
  • Create white space. Annual reports that are text from top to bottom, left to right, are hard to read. Strategic use of white space creates a more effective design and un-cluttered feel. White space can also be used to draw the reader’s eye to a key statistic, mission statement, or accomplishment. Use white space to help point out the most important pieces of your annual report.

Step Three: Check out our Annual Report Checklist.

It may be last on this list, but it’s certainly not least. Use our annual report checklist to determine what is required* information and what is considered ‘best practice’ before getting started. You can print the checklist, or share the link with a co-worker to get your team on the same page before diving in. Discuss which, if any, of the best practices items that you will include in your annual report, remembering that too many things can potentially detract from the message you are trying to share. Focus on the items that convey your organizational story and are relevant to the previous year.

You are now ready to embark on your annual report journey. Happy writing!

Questions about annual reports or our Annual Report & Communication Accountability Standard®?  Let us know at

*Required to meet Charities Review Council’s Annual Report & Communication Accountability Standard®, not necessarily required by law.

Looking for an older article?

We're in the process of migrating our blog. If you're looking for an older entry, please visit the archive to search for it.

Would you like to be included on our list?

Learn about our Accountability Standards®, and explore how doing an Accountability Wizard® Review can help improve your operations, build public trust, and raise standards at your organization.

Learn More

Don’t see your favorite nonprofit on our list?

Invite them to participate!

Learn More

Search Nonprofits that Meet Standards®

You can search nonprofits that Meet Standards® based on both mission focus and organization name.

Search Now

Do you need to start a new review or renew an expiring review?

What is your fee?

Before filling out this form, please be sure to calculate your enrollment fee.

Calculate Fee Now

What does it take to Meet Standards®?

Meeting the Accountability Standards® is more than checking items off a list. Each nonprofit you see on this website has gone through careful assessment, and then invested in implementing changes to meet our high operational standards.

Learn More

Success Stories

Hear from organizations that are bringing our Standards to life in their nonprofits.

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Toolkit

Want to use the DEI Toolkit with your organization?

Get Started Today

Already have a DEI Toolkit account?

Log In Here

Do You Have a Donor-Advised Fund?

What Nonprofits Say

Testimonial 3

Te vix numquam corrumpit. Mea audiam argumentum ad. Id aeque nullam vel, qui eu illud nonumes definitionem. No nulla choro sit. In aliquid accusamus pro.

First Last

What Donors Say

Testimonial 1

Audire consulatu ne sed, in lucilius quaestio gloriatur eum. Prima dicant voluptatum te has. Usu an nominati rationibus, case malorum voluptatum ius ea.

First Last

Board Member Login

Get our latest and greatest monthly!


Charities Review Council

Our mission is building donor and nonprofit relationships for strong, vibrant and just communities. We envision healthy communities for all, benefiting from effective and trustworthy nonprofits that are supported by a well-informed public’s generosity.

Let’s Connect

1915 Highway 36 W Ste 133 • Roseville, Minnesota 55113-2709
Phone: (651) 224–7030 • E-mail:

Privacy Policy (5/9/19) • Terms of Use (5/9/19)

Log In