The Best Nonprofit Annual Reports from 2019

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An annual report is an important piece of stewardship communication, but that’s not its sole purpose. In this sweeping study on nonprofit organizational effectiveness, researchers found that transparency is one of the key factors that separates effective nonprofits from ineffective ones, and publishing a thorough annual report is one of the best ways to foster transparency. With that in mind, you should consider distributing your annual report to your entire community of stakeholders, not just people who have donated to your nonprofit in recent months.

An annual report should be used not just to thank donors, but to bring your entire community along with your organization’s progress. It’s one of the most important documents you’ll create all year.

An annual report should be used not just to thank donors, but to bring your entire community along with your organization’s progress. It’s one of the most important documents you’ll create all year. Click To Tweet

If you’re looking for inspiration for this year’s annual report, you’ve come to the right place. Here are four of the best 2019 annual reports from the nonprofit sector that lived up to their bigger purpose of fostering transparency and engaging a wide range of stakeholders.

2019 Annual Reports: Four of Our Favorites

Environmental Defense Fund’s 2019 Annual Report

Best for: Finding a Balance Between Past and Future

The challenges facing our planet have never been more pressing, and the need for organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund has never been more urgent. The 2019 annual report from Environmental Defense Fund manages to convey this urgency without turning too dark or hopeless, which many environmental organizations struggle with. This annual report strikes the right balance between celebrating the progress made over the last year and calling for the massive change needed in the coming year. The report also makes effective use of imagery and callouts, which helps dense information become easily digestible.

Feeding America’s 2019 Annual Report

Best for: Starting With Why

The very first section in Feeding America’s annual report is called “Motivation,” and it uses a story to illustrate the organization’s Reason for Being. As Simon Sinek would say, the report “starts with why.” This is a refreshing departure from many nonprofit annual reports, which dive right into discussing the organization’s accomplishments from the past year. Those accomplishments mean so much more when the audience can connect them to a bigger picture understanding of why they matter. You might think your stakeholders already know your organization’s Reason for Being, but you simply cannot reiterate it enough.

We also like the organization’s visual treatment of an overview of key accomplishments.

Chicago Foundation For Women’s 2019 Annual Report

Best for: Thinking Bigger

Chicago Foundation for Women takes a unique approach to annual reporting. Rather than reporting solely on their organization’s achievements and plans, CFW takes an annual look at their issue area as a whole by publishing an annual report on the status of Chicago’s women and girls. The organization is on a mission to achieve gender parity for women and girls in the region within a generation, so focusing on the organization’s individual actions and achievements are simply not enough. If they hope to reach this goal, the organization has likely realized they need to think bigger about what they track and report on. They need to collaborate with a variety of other organizations and individuals to move the needle for women and girls, and they need to be a source of information about the collective progress that effort is making. This annual report does just that.

DoSomething’s 2019 Annual Report and Quarterly Dashboards

Best for: Real-Time Results

DoSomething has chosen to publish a quarterly dashboard in addition to an annual “year in review”. This is an approach I wish more organizations would take. Reporting on a quarterly basis allows nonprofits to stay in more frequent communication with their stakeholders. But that’s not the only reason to do it. As anyone who manages a social sector organization knows, so much can change in a year. Reporting on a more regular, more real-time schedule allows organizations to operate with more agility. It makes it possible to see what’s working and what’s not before it is too late to adjust course, and it helps organizations make their asks for support and celebrations of success more timely. We also like how DoSomething’s dashboards find the perfect balance between data and storytelling. 

How is your 2019 annual report coming along? 

Share a link in the comments so we can help you take it over the finish line or celebrate your success.

Need to work more storytelling into your annual report?

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While approximately half of your stakeholders are likely to focus on the data in your annual report, studies show the other half will be more interested in, and receptive to, stories. Make sure you’re practicing effective storytelling throughout your annual report with this checklist.

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