How to Design Stunning Nonprofit Annual Reports

While it may be tempting to see the annual report as just another box to check in the long reporting to-do list for your nonprofit, a well-crafted annual report can actually be a powerful asset for your org.

With a sharp, clear message and inviting design, your nonprofit annual report can foster new connections with potential donors, sponsors, volunteers, and community members, while simultaneously expressing deep gratitude to those who supported you this past year and encouraging previous donors to give again.

This combination strengthens existing relationships and inspires continued collaboration towards your mission. And like any piece of content you create for your nonprofit, you can share it across multiple channels in bite-sized pieces, including using infographics on your socials, including the report as part of an email campaign, and more!

Read on for all of our tips on how to design an annual report that’s sure to stun!

an article inside of a picture frame surrounded by a non-profit annual report

What is a nonprofit annual report?

Also called an impact report, nonprofit annual reports are voluntarily released documents that provide a financial and achievement-snapshot for the previous year. The annual report showcases the accomplishments made possible by the support of a nonprofit’s donors, partners, sponsors, and the community.

By using engaging visuals and design, you can breathe life into your nonprofit org’s data, stories, and milestones, making the annual report a clear and captivating part of your communication with stakeholders.

Your annual report can demonstrate to both past and future donors that their dollars will contribute to an important outcome – advancing your nonprofit’s mission and benefiting the community you serve.

Sample Nonprofit Annual Reports

For an example of what we mean, check out the 2023 impact report we produced for the Pinellas Education Foundation, a coalition of business leaders and community members in Pinellas County, FL who collaborate to drive excellence in education.

Here’s another example: the 2022 annual report for Volunteers of America Southeast, a nonprofit that works with low-income seniors, veterans, individuals with disabilities, and people experiencing problems with homelessness, mental health, and substance abuse.

What key elements should be included in a nonprofit annual report?

A nonprofit annual report is a communication to your donors, community members, and stakeholders. Make your communication clear and relevant by including the following key elements in your report.

1. Storytelling Framework

While the individual impact stories that you tell in other kinds of nonprofit marketing – such as email newsletters, social posts, or blog articles – don’t fit into your annual report, you still want to keep storytelling in mind as you craft your messaging.

In other words, ask yourself how you can present your org’s current financial picture and your achievements from the past year in a way that fits into the overall story you tell throughout your marketing and campaign efforts.

Frame your ongoing goals and new initiatives within this same narrative arch to create excitement and urgency. If you missed the mark on one of your previous goals, this can be part of the story as well – you can mention what you learned from the challenge and what changes you’re making to achieve new goals next year.

2. Message from Leadership

Your nonprofit’s annual report is a chance to connect with donors, stakeholders, and community members. A message from leadership can include a concise reflection on the past year’s achievements and a brief mention of challenges and how they were overcome.

The message should express gratitude to the donors, volunteers, and other collaborators that make your org’s work possible. Finally, a message from leadership is a chance to set the tone for the upcoming year – mention the projects or initiatives that your org is excited to pursue next.

3. Mission Statement

Always include your org’s mission statement in the report. It reminds readers of your cause and draws attention to how your impact over the last year has benefitted your constituents and advanced your mission.

4. Achievements from the Past Year

Highlighting your achievements from the past year is arguably the most important part of your annual report. Since the report is a voluntary communication and not a required financial document, demonstrating the impact you’ve had on your constituents can be the star of the show here.

Think about what will showcase your achievements best when determining your design, formatting, and content choices.

5. Financial Overview

Donors and potential donors want to be assured that their contributions are making a real difference. Including key financial information builds trust and demonstrates transparency.

Most annual reports include a brief summary of total income and expenditures. This can include key revenue sources such as individual donations, grants, and other fundraising income, as well as a breakdown of program expenses.

Present your financial overview in a clear and concise way, using visuals like charts and graphs for increased readability. Be sure to highlight how financial performance translates into impact – the more your org raises, the more you advance your mission.

Always ensure that the financial aspects of the report match your Form 990. While you don’t need the level of detail required in a 990 within your annual report, any included statistics and figures should always match your 990. Don’t let a typo or error slide in this area of the report – if your org’s reported finances don’t match what you’ve submitted to the IRS, donors will become extremely wary.

6. List of Contributors

As a donor-centric document, the annual report can include a list of contributors along with another message of gratitude and appreciation. Some orgs choose to list top-tier donors only, while with an online-report, you might choose to list every contributor to show that even smaller donations can make a big difference.

What characteristics make a nonprofit annual report successful?

Impactful storytelling, financial transparency, and compelling design are the main ingredients for a successful annual report.

Remember, an outstanding annual report beautifully showcases the value and impact of your nonprofit. It should be clear, concise, and inspire confidence in your organization’s ability to make a difference.

How to choose the best format for a nonprofit annual report

As nonprofit marketing trends evolve, so do annual report formats! While some orgs still opt for a traditional, multi-page printed booklet, some nonprofits are on the cutting edge with video-based annual reports, “live” annual reports that receive regular updates, and more.

Read on to see what kind of format best fits your constituents.

Formatting options for a nonprofit annual report


  • Traditional print report: A multi-page report with detailed information, perfect for comprehensive annual reports. For orgs with a traditional donor base, this type of report can be worth the cost of printing.
  • One-pager: A concise summary with key highlights, ideal for easy distribution. This report format works best for organizations with simple financials that can be highlighted, alongside impact, in a one-page doc.


Lots of nonprofits have made the digital turn, and now publish their annual reports as online-only PDFs or webpages. There are lots of benefits to a digital report, including ease of distribution and resources saved from printing.

Here are some popular digital formats for nonprofit annual reports:

  • PDFs: A versatile and traditional option, PDFs are the format of choice for many nonprofits, especially for those with reports full of charts, graphs, and detailed financial information. PDFs can also be easily archived and shared online.
  • Dedicated web pages: Annual report web pages allow for interactive elements, embedding multimedia content like videos and infographics, and easy online sharing. You can create a dedicated web page or microsite for your report. Some orgs add updates on impact throughout the year for a “live” web report.
  • Social media posts with links to the full report: Increase reach and engagement by sharing key findings, images, and infographics on platforms like Facebook and Threads. Include a clear call to action with a link to the full report on your website.
  • Video: As a less common format – for now – professionally made video annual reports can create quite a splash. Use relevant video content and follow a script to maximize the impact of your video report.


Many nonprofits are choosing a hybrid approach for annual report publication and distribution. You might choose to print a small number of full-length traditional reports for key donors who prefer that medium, for instance, while sending most of your constituents a link to your digital report in email or on social media.

Another way to go hybrid is to mail or distribute a teaser with a link to your full report online. Here are some popular hybrid options:

  • Postcard: Mail or distribute a printed infographic or compelling image on a postcard that includes a link or QR code to view your full report online.
  • Self-mailer: Capture attention and simplify access with a self-mailed report. This 2-4 page document eliminates envelopes. By printing the address and postage right on the report, you make it easier for supporters to open and read about your impact. This format allows you to send more information than a postcard, but you can still link to your full report online.

Tips for designing a stunning nonprofit annual report

Make a good first impression

For the cover of your report, grab attention with a compelling image or statistic.

Use impactful language and data visualization

Avoid dense text blocks. Instead, use clear language complemented with infographics and charts to make your impact easier to understand.

Design for readability

Use a strong visual hierarchy – clear layout, headings & subheadings, and ample white space – throughout the report. Consistent branding, including color and font choices, also helps your readers navigate your document with ease.

Prioritize visual appeal

Use professional, high-quality photos and compelling infographics, icons, and other visuals.

End with a clear call to action

Let your readers know how they can get involved and support your cause. This could include volunteering, donating, or signing up for your newsletter

Consider interactive elements

If you’ve gone digital for your report, consider interactive elements such as embedded videos, clickable links for deeper dives into specific programs, or a scrollable timeline of achievements.

What design tools can I use to create my nonprofit annual report?

Depending on your skills and budget, designing your annual impact report can seem like a big ask. With the right tools, though, you can create a beautiful annual report – even on a tight budget.

Free tools

  • Canva offers a vast library of free and paid design elements, including templates specifically for annual reports. It’s perfect for beginners with its drag-and-drop interface
  • Adobe Spark is another user-friendly option with a focus on creating digital annual reports. It allows uploading images, videos, infographics, and text to create an interactive web page showcasing your report.
  • Venngage excels in creating infographics and visual content. It offers customizable templates, icons, charts, and maps specifically suited for impactful data presentation within your report. While it has a free plan, advanced features require a paid subscription.
  • Visme focuses on creating compelling presentations and visual content. It offers annual report templates, data visualization tools, and animation capabilities. Free and paid plans are available.
  • Adobe InDesign is industry-standard software that provides the most flexibility for design customization for your report. The Adobe suite has a much steeper learning curve than tools like Canva – so check in with your team’s design experience before investing in this software.
  • Affinity Publisher is a robust and cost-effective alternative to the Adobe suite of tools. Affinity Publisher allows for professional-looking layouts and integrates seamlessly with other Affinity tools (such as Designer and Photo).

Don’t forget to use existing tools to make creating your annual report easier. Tap the marketing and branding assets your team already uses to save time while also keeping your report consistent with your overall brand.

In addition, if your org uses a CRM/donation management suite such as HubSpot, be sure to harness the power of custom reports! You can quickly find content to include in your annual report, such as your highest impact donors and key financial metrics, right in your CRM.

Nonprofit Annual Report FAQs

Is a nonprofit annual report the same as a 990?

No, a nonprofit annual report is not the same as a 990. A Form 990 is an IRS-required annual filing for tax-exempt nonprofit orgs, while an annual report is an optional document.

While nonprofits’ finances can be publicly tracked via a 990, the Form 990 is not the compelling, donor-centric resource that the annual report can be.

Are all nonprofit annual reports available to the public?

Since most nonprofit orgs want to use their annual report to communicate their impact to a broad audience, they are usually publicly available. However, the financial information contained on a Form 990 is different – most tax-exempt nonprofits are required to make their Form 990 publicly available.

What should not be included in an annual report?

Here are some things to avoid in your annual report:

  • Overly technical financial jargon. Keep it simple and clear for non-expert readers.
  • Replicating everything from your Form 990. As a legal document, your 990 contains a lot of detail that will bore readers to death – anyone interested in the nitty gritty can look up your 990, so keep your annual report more digestible by editing for the most relevant statistics and figures.
  • Internal details. Remember that this is a donor and community-facing publication – you can exclude administrative details and internal policies that distract from the focus on your mission and impact.
  • Negativity. While it is important to be honest about challenges faced and goals that have not been met, you want to frame these as areas for growth rather than harping on the negatives.

Who is the audience for an annual report?

The primary audience for a nonprofit annual report is donors and potential donors. The report aims to inform them about the nonprofit’s accomplishments, financial health, and impact. This helps them decide whether to donate or continue their support.

Other audiences for your nonprofit report might include community members, constituents, and collaborators in your area of work.

How long should a nonprofit annual report be?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer for the length of your nonprofit annual report, especially with the variety of format and delivery options available today.

For the traditional printed booklet-style report, a general guideline is between 12 and 20 pages. However, you might choose to create a single-page report if that is a better fit for your audience and org.

If you’re planning to keep your full report as a digital-only asset, you might be tempted to make the document longer than if you were paying to print. But remember, you want your audience to feel engaged by the material – so keep your document to a digestible length for your intended audience.

Discover how Big Sea can help your nonprofit shine

If you’re ready to work with an agency that speaks nonprofit, contact us today.