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Annual reports

From naming your document to structure, content, design and launching, this section offers advice on how can you make your annual report stand out from the crowd and make a real impact.

Every registered charity has to put together their Annual Report and Accounts to be submitted to the Charity Commission. For some organisations, putting this together feels like a lot of hard work with little reward. But it is much more than this.

Rather than a chore that serves nothing but a legal purpose, an annual report is an opportunity to showcase your successes and achievements over the past year in one document. It can work to demonstrate your impact and value to a wide range of audiences.

Before you start

Think about these key areas before starting your report. You’ll find tips and ideas on how to present your annual report in the sections that follow – and examples of some reports that go beyond the basics.

Identify your audiences

On one level, your annual report is a legal requirement; it has to be submitted to the Charity Commission each year so they are your primary audience. At another level, your annual report is an opportunity to position your organisation and influence a range of other audiences such as funders, MPs, supporters and service users. 

Think carefully about the content and style of your report and how it communicates to different audiences. Would an online version with interactive elements such as links to videos or images appeal to your audience? Would a different name work - calling it something other than ‘annual report’ may appeal to a wider set of stakeholders.

Know what you want to say

Think of your annual report as your ‘shop window’ – one chance every year to really show people what you do. It is therefore important that you make it your own, don’t be distracted by the fact it has to contain certain statutory information. This is best kept at the back of your report, or in a separate, accompanying document.

Consider how the report fits into and promotes the strategic objectives of your organisations for example how can it demonstrate your impact, value for money or pioneering partnerships.

Examples

  • Keech Hospice Care annual report 2014/15 - Winners of Third Sector’s 2015 charity annual report award.
  • Round up of 6 digital annual reports from UK Fundraising, including Save the Children UK and Mind UK.

Go digital

You’ll probably be thinking about factoring digital into your annual report. Some annual reports are now published entirely online. There are many different options. Read this helpful overview from CharityComms on all the different formats.

Give your report a theme and narrative

Think about giving your report a name that reflects your organisation and its ambitions. You should include ‘annual report’ in the strapline, but it doesn’t need to be the main heading. Some organisations use the title ‘Impact report’ which gives a clear sense of the content of the document and its purpose. They then include their accounts in a separate, supplementary document.

Having a strong theme and narrative running through the report can help to make it engaging and lift it beyond a bog-standard document. It can also ensure it appeals to a broader audience. The theme should be reflected in the headings to each section, and most importantly in the design and feel of the report.

Effective design and alternative formats

It is worth investing in good design for your annual report – it will make all the different and give it impact. If you don't have the skills in-house, approach design agencies who specialise in putting together annual reports for charities.

Using case studies

Ensuring there are active ‘voices’ in your document (service users, volunteers, staff, partners etc) can really help give character to your annual report. It helps demonstrate the impact and value of your organisation and the difference you make to people’s lives.

Launching your report

If there is a central message or issue in the report – and in particular one that fits within a broader strategy or campaign that you’re running, then you might consider ‘launching’ your document. This could be at an event that your organisation is hosting, or simply be a ‘virtual’ launch through the media. 

What to include in each section

Step-by-step guide to key elements of any annual report.

Introduction and executive summary

You should start with an introduction to the report by the Chair of Trustees and Chief Executive. This should be their own personal reflections on the year’s activities, pulling out particular successes and highlighting some of the plans for the following year.

Think about different ways of presenting the introductions. For example, you could link from the online version of your annual report to a short interview/podcast with the Chair or Chief Executive. 

Your objectives

What does your charity do and why? This should be a relatively short section and should align closely with your organisation’s business plan. Think about both the overall objective of the organisation but also specific objectives for the past year. 

Your achievements

Here you should include the key achievements over the year, measured against the objectives you set. This might include new contracts, campaigning and fundraising successes, positive media coverage, speaking opportunities, conferences, reaching new audiences, increase in volunteers etc.

Use statistics and case studies where possible to make the text interesting and to give it a ‘human’ angle. Again, look beyond the printed document and think about having some of the case studies available as short videos on your website or YouTube channel. You might also link to some of the service user led features on your website if you have them – blogs, vox pops, or newsletter.

Impact and value

Demonstrating the impact and value of your services is crucial. It is this part of your report that can really set your charity apart and help demonstrate to funders, supporters and all potential supporters the value of the work you do.

Every claim you make about impact must be backed up by evidence. For example, the statement:

‘We make a real different to homeless people across the country, helping them transform their lives.’

Should be backed up with statistics that show:

  • how many homeless people have used your services in the last year
  • what the impact of your interventions have been (numbers of people into jobs/education/training etc).

Do you have good quality photos of the service users you can use? Statistics are important but it’s also crucial to use case studies to demonstrate the impact on real people. Think about how these can be brought to life. Could you record short videos of service users talking about their experiences that could go on your website?  Could the extracts in the annual report be linked to an online blog?

For more information about measuring impact, see the section on impact and evaluation.

Volunteers

As with service users, think about how you can include the voices of volunteers in your report. Could you include vox pops – or a ‘day in the life of a volunteer’ section within your report? Perhaps you could link to a volunteers section on your website that includes some short videos of volunteers talking about their experience of working with your organisation.

Ambition and long term strategies

How do this year’s activities and successes provide a platform for future plans? What are the challenges that lie ahead and how will you overcome them? What opportunities and milestones are there in the year ahead that you want to make the most of?  This final section should be ambitious and forward-thinking, but realistic.

Statutory information

As a general rule, it’s best to leave the statutory information to the back pages, unless you can find a way of making a virtue of it. When presenting the information, use graphs and diagrams where possible so they are easy to interpret.

Resources

Page last edited Jan 10, 2017

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