By the time you start writing your annual report it can be really hard to remember everything about last year. And that’s OK! Because your annual report doesn’t really need to show ALL the details of ALL your activities.

What should be in your annual report

There is of course a set of mandatory elements that you need to include in your annual report. (I have written loads about all of that, see for instance here: what to include in your annual report)

And in addition to that, you can – and must – choose what’s the main story you want to tell.

A story that illustrates your key message.

And it must of course be rooted in what happened (or not) in the year.

So how can you find it?

Start from your numbers

If you look at your numbers, your financial statement, you can easily discover possible stories.

  • In your numbers you can see increases and decreases compared to last year (or budget).
  • Your numbers tell you if there is a deficit or a surplus at year’s end.

Maybe that does not sound quite like a story to you. But it’s all about the sense you make of your numbers. Let’s have a look.

Increase in incomes

You may see an increase in donors. Or in types of donors. In grant amounts. Grant sizes. In in-kind donations.

All of that can mean something. Getting more grants can show you are getting better at designing meaningful projects with impact and in finding suitable funding partners. If the same donors keep coming back or start granting bigger amounts, it shows you’ve earned their trust as a partner that generates great impact. An increase in the variety of types of donors can be a tell-tale sign that you have been working seriously on diversifying your sources of income and have gained new skills in communicating with different kinds of supporters. If your in-kind donations are going through the roof, you likely have a very loyal base of supporters who keep on giving because they believe in what you do (and enjoy giving).



Increase in expenses

If you see an increase in a specific type of expenses, it can mean that you have started a new type of activity. Or that you are shifting your focus. Or it can mean that you have been scaling up what you were already doing. All of these things point to a strategic decision and/or a response to a changed need.

Deficit or surplus

Having a deficit or a surplus may also be caused by strategic decisions. For instance a decision to continue with an activity because of a big need, despite lack of external funding for that. Or, saving money because you know you have a tough year ahead with a possible funding gap, for instance.

Stories, stories, stories

You see, when you look at your numbers you can see reasons and those can become stories.

And you can look at all these stories from two angles: the angle of the work with the community or cause you serve and the impact you generate. And the angle of your organisation’s development and strategic choices.

Choose and focus

Both these sides can be relevant to your reader to know about. And both these types of stories can be relevant to what you want your reader to think, feel and do after (or during) going through your report. For maximum effect it’s best to pick only one (or two) of them for the main focus of your annual report. But don’t worry, you can share the other stories in other ways, too. So you don’t have to “kill your darlings” – you just need to prioritise them!

How I can help

Here is how I can help:

Check out my video What are key ingredients of your nonprofit annual report.

Want to know more and ask questions?

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