Awesome Nonprofit Annual Report Examples and What You Can Learn from Them

January 31, 2020
8 minutes

Annual reports. A useful community engagement communications piece, or a complete time suck that takes your organization months to produce? Annual reports are a standard communications piece nonprofits produce every year and we often view them as an obligation. Something we have to do, as opposed to other, more inspiring, creative communications pieces in your portfolio. We’re here to say that creating annual reports does not have to stink!

In fact, we think it’s time that you let go of the boring, uninspired annual report and set a new standard. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite annual report examples and shared key takeaways you can apply to your nonprofit’s next annual report.

National Parks Foundation Annual Report

The National Parks Foundation is doing awesome work preserving and expanding parks around the country. Their annual report is the perfect opportunity to show off that work to supporters, bringing transparency around their work and impact. Many pages of the National Parks Foundation's report are dedicated to donor recognition lists, a very traditional component of annual reports.

Let your photos shine

Because of the nature of their work (see what we did there?), the National Parks Foundation has a lot of photo ops. Their use of photos throughout their report showcases impact locales through beautiful photos. What a way to bring the work directly to your supporters! Photography might be a “nice to have” investment for your nonprofit, but consider the mileage you can get out of a set of really good photos: social media posts, annual report graphics, website photos, and so on.

A page of the National Parks Foundation's annual report, with the headline "Stronger Together" and a photo of Bryce Canyon National Park.

UNHCR Annual Report

The UNHCR is a huge international development organization with dozens of programs. Like most nonprofits, they release an organization-wide annual report each year. But unlike some nonprofits, they also release program-specific annual reports. Enter the Educate a Child Annual Report 2018. We’ll admit this report is meaty at over 100 pages. Even so, we think there are some useful takeaways that you can apply to your annual report.  

Develop a summary of highlights

Given how in-depth this report is, we think it’s a super smart idea to provide a summary of the report highlights at the outset. After all, not everyone is going to read the report cover to cover. Giving them a summary of the highlights is a great way to make sure readers get the essential information.

The UNHCR’s summary of highlights includes an overview of their objectives and activities during the year, key achievements, and enrollment figures. Your organization may want to use your strategic plan priorities to frame its highlights.

A page from the UNHCR annual report, offering objectives and achievements in blue text on light blue background.

Bring data to life

We’ve all "read" those annual reports that are chock full of numbers and stats. Sometimes they are literally presented in a laundry list format. It’s 2, nonprofit friend, so let’s get a little more creative with how we present data. The UNHCR has a wealth of data and they’ve smartly found ways to bring that data to life through infographics, charts and other illustrations.

Calgary Zoo Annual Report

This annual report is a few years old, but we think it offers some pretty interesting innovations when it comes to digital annual reports. For starters, it has a standalone Instagram account that uses the platform the deliver and share the annual report. Talk about an interesting way to rethink using a digital platform! Here's a key takeaway you can apply to your nonprofit’s annual report.

Rethink digital engagement

We think the Calgary Zoo’s annual report is a big invitation to rethink what kind of engagement annual reports can encourage. Given that this annual report is shared through a series of Instagram posts, the nature of the report inherently invites engagement. Readers can like, reshare or comment on each of the images. This is a pretty big contrast to a hardcopy paper annual report.

A screenshot of Calgary Zoo's 2012 annual report Instagram account.

While your nonprofit may still want to produce a hardcopy of PDF version of your annual report, how could you repurpose your annual report to encourage digital engagement? You may not need to open up a separate Instagram account, but we’re willing to bet that you’ve got some creativity waiting to be unleashed.

Operation Lifesavers, Inc.

Not everyone is interested in setting up a social media account or live online party for their report, but that's not the only way you can put tech to work! Continuing the enhanced digital experience theme, check out the interactive menu in Operation Lifesavers, Inc.'s annual report.

Regulate the journey

Their report was put together with Yearly.report's digital tools, which can produce some prrrettypretttty great reports. In this example, the reader's journey is regulated by the sectioning of the contents so that scrolling is easy but each chapter can stand on its own. And with as many different topics as OLI touches, forcing the reader to slow down and smell the stats is crucial.

Screenshot of the digital menu in Operation Lifesaver, Inc.'s annual report. The left side is a table of content in black text on white and the right side is a picture of a railroad crossing sign.

Best Friends Animal Society

Best Friends Animal Society is a beloved nonprofit with huge brand recognition. They have their full annual report available to download on their website and they ingeniously created a kind of mini version of their report for the landing page. It gives all the key highlights from the report for readers who just want to the top level information. But being the nonprofit nerds that we are, we also enjoyed reading the full version of their annual report so we could give you a few ideas for your annual report.

Keep ‘em scrolling

The full version of the Best Friends Animal Society report lives on a web page, which creates a problem that most digital assets must deal with: keeping people’s attention all the way to the end. This report solves that problem by keeping things visually interesting. As you scroll, text placement, font size, and images are changing, which makes you want to see what’s next. You can apply a similar principle to hardcopy annual reports by making them visually interesting in a way that keeps eyes scanning.

And while it sounds like we're encouraging shorter reports, there's something to be said for longer reports that keep the super engaging info rolling along. Would you rather read a 3-page report with dense blocks of text or an 8-page report that breaks up the text with pictures, infographics, and clickable resources?

A page from Best Friends' annual report featuring a cat staring into the camera.

Play up your best assets

It’s kind of a no-brainer that people love pics of dogs and cats. Best Friends Animal Society uses that to their advantage in their annual report by integrating a ton of adorable animal photos. They give the people what they want! Your nonprofit can do this too, even if you don’t work with dogs and cats. Chances are, there's some aspect of your nonprofit’s work that gets your community and supporters revved up and excited. Whatever that thing is, play it up in your report.

Bonus example

Invisible Children's annual report. Overall, this is an amazing report that utilizes all of the takeaways we've noted here. With a targeted goal and vision, a celebratory look back at past work, gorgeous, on-brand photos and design, and a solid online presence, this gets top marks across the board.

If you're invested in building the ultimate annual report (and you should be), take a look at even more examples and resources:

There are lots of ways your nonprofit can jazz up its annual report this year. By looking at awesome examples of nonprofit annual reports, we hope you’re feeling inspired and ready to roll up your sleeves.

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