Your annual report carries a lot of information. Some of it very explicitly of course. Like: here’s what we did last year. Here’s how much we spent. And so on. But there’s more under the surface. Let’s look at what else your reader can see in your nonprofit’s annual report.

Very often we’re not aware of what our readers look for. And we don’t really know how our readers make sense of what they see.

Here are three areas that readers can look at and have an opinion about.

Impact reporting

Your reader wants to know what change you’ve been able to create in the lives of the people you serve through your activities. HOW you show this also gives the reader an impression about other things.


From how you present your impact data or stories, a reader can sense whether you have systems in place to collect and analyse impact stories. Are you paying attention to privacy issues or adverse effects on your community by sharing their impact stories?

All of this gives your reader information about how advanced your team is in designing and implementing projects. And about how professionally you’re organised internally. Including how you value compliance.


Are you speaking ABOUT the people in your community or are you letting them tell their own story, giving them a voice? In other words, is the impact something you have identified or is it something the people in your activities FEEL themselves?

Of course, seeing the stories speaks to how well you’re tuned in to the needs of your community. But the way you tell the stories also sends a message about your organisation’s culture and how you work with your audiences.




It may sound strange to look for the future in a report about the past year. But your reader wants to know that your organisation is stable, resilient and strategic.

Money & projects

Your reader will look for financial reserves. They will look for ongoing project grants. Are donors or grant-making donors coming back to you?


Are you highlighting risks and risk management frameworks?

Next steps

Your readers will look for a storyline reaching out to the future. They will want to read a bit about your plans for the future. And they will try to assess if your plans are based on reflections, lessons learned or things started in the year you’re reporting about. They want to see if you’re intentional about and planning for the future – financially and in terms of serving your people.


If your report has no future orientation it can make the reader feel that you’ll do anything for money, without plan or intention. Or even without knowing the real and urgent needs of your community that you’re serving.


Your reader wants to know how you respond to crises and to things going wrong. They want to understand the challenges you and your community or cause face. Not just the external ones, but also the internal ones. They want to know what didn’t work in your activities. What’s missing in your team?

And mostly they want to know how you’ve handled these things that happen for all of us. What are you bringing to the next year that you’ve developed or changed based on these challenges?

This is where your reader will be able to imagine what it’s like to be in your shoes. What it’s like to be in your team. And this is where they can start feeling they might be able to trust you.

In short

Building trust is an important thing your annual report can do, if you create your report strategically and think about how you can use it for marketing. In this process, you must also pay attention to underlying messaging that’s going on in your report.

How I can help

I can help you with:

Check out my video Impact reporting for nonprofits hype or good practice

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