Every year around this time, we like to share a roundup of what we consider the best annual reports from the past year. You can find our roundup from last year here, and from 2017 here. But just like the year itself, 2020’s roundup is going to be a little different. That’s because in 2020, our favorite annual reports were not just the ones that told effective stories or made interesting use of visuals and technology (though those things were of course still important). They’re the ones that communicated with raw honesty about the unique challenges that 2020 presented, and yet managed to strike a hopeful, inspiring tone. If you’re still working on your annual report for 2020, or whatever fiscal year you most recently concluded, we hope these best of the best annual reports will spark your creativity.
2020’s Best Annual Reports
Best for: Tying the mission to COVID-19
There isn’t a nonprofit in the world that was left unscathed by COVID-19, and discussing the pandemic’s impact on your organization’s operations and financials in your annual report makes sense. But Habitat for Humanity did one better. They managed to tie their organization’s mission directly to the pandemic in a powerful way, even though they weren’t involved in direct response work. They did this by centering their report on the theme of home. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction of the report:
COVID-19 has forced everyone to deeply consider the fundamental importance of home — of having safe, decent and affordable shelter. For far too many families, “shelter in place” only exacerbated the conditions with which they have struggled for so long. Since 1976, Habitat has helped families around the world build and improve places to call home because we believe that a home and the community that surrounds it should be a source of solace and a source of strength. Places to be healthy and thriving, a springboard to stability and opportunity. Now more than ever.
This theme was then carried through via quotes and stories from Habitat homeowners, some of whom are essential workers, about the important role home has played in their lives during an extraordinarily challenging year. This tie-in doesn’t feel cheap or forced. Instead, it causes the reader to see Habitat’s mission in a new light and understand that the organization’s work is even more important in a post-COVID-19 world.
Best for: pandemic storytelling
Everyone has a story to tell about the impact COVID-19 has had on their lives in the last year, but I’ve yet to see another annual report that brings those stories to life as well as Feeding America’s. Their report opens with the story of Elena, Kevin and Adonay, a mother and her two sons, who turned to a food bank in the Feeding America network after Elena lost her job due to COVID-19. Then, the report goes on to share the stories of three volunteers who answered the call for additional support at food banks across the country after the pandemic hit. By the time you make it to page 5, where a letter from Feeding America’s CEO appears, it’s already clear that the organization’s work has been more impactful than ever during this unprecedented crisis. Every quote, stat, image and story supports this same message and makes a compelling case to donate to Feeding America in order to address food insecurity as our country continues down the long road toward COVID recovery.
Best for: highlighting cultural and geographic nuances of COVID-19 response
As a massive organization that works across the globe, from Africa to Latin America, World Bank has responded to the COVID-19 crisis in nuanced and regionally specific ways. The scale and cultural complexity of their work could make communications difficult, but World Bank rose to the challenge. Their annual report builds a foundational understanding of how they responded to COVID-19 in a global sense, and then breaks their approach down by region with easy-to-read graphs and charts. While this approach risks coming off dry, they then livened it up with well-told spotlight stories from each of their regions that bring their impact to life.
Best for: centering race equity
2020 will be remembered not just as the year of COVID-19, but for many of us, even more so as the year when the senseless murder of black Americans like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor sparked a season of reckoning with white supremacy and the systemic inequities that exist for people of color in our country. United Way of Greater Charlottesville’s annual report puts equity at the center, highlighting what it means to their organization upfront, in an honest and vulnerable letter from their CEO:
“This country was built on the foundation of racial inequality and the legacies of slavery continue to permeate every major sector of our society. Equality doesn’t catalyze change. We must, instead, act equitably. Equity is defined as “the quality of being fair and impartial.” This means doing more for historically-marginalized communities that we know are paid less for the same labor, have higher mortality rates, and are arrested, jailed, and die in police custody at alarmingly higher rates. It means creating partnerships, programs, and initiatives aimed at breaking down the systems, structures, and practices that have made it notably harder for communities of color to thrive.
We don’t have all the answers, and we know that these complex issues won’t be “solved” in short order. But to make demonstrable progress on gaps in equity and access that have been compounded generation after generation, and highlighted by COVID, we have to be more inclusive in how we speak about them, and actionably address their root causes.
The report then goes on to share several key UWGC initiatives that are intended to build a more equitable future for people in Charlottesville, and highlight stories of the individuals impacted by those initiatives.
How is your 2020 annual report coming together?
If we can help brainstorm ideas, provide feedback, or build the best annual report your organization has ever produced, don’t hesitate to reach out. And don’t forget to leave a link to your finished report in the comments so we can toast to your finished product (and to making it through 2020)!
Need to work more storytelling into your annual report?
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.