Completing organisational Annual Reports has been my responsibility for many employers and clients for many years.

I have gathered the information, written, edited and/or prepared, or many reports.

Although the resultant product has always been a sense of pride for me, my experience in its preparation has ranged between challenging, enjoyable and horrendous.

I am pretty sure that I am not Robinson Crusoe in this experience. The planning stage of an annual report is critical to its success and given that it will soon be time to start thinking about your 2015/2016 report, I have put some notes together to keep in mind this year. It is never too early to start planning.

Planning the report

Take time to ensure that all relevant directors and senior executives are clear on how they want the report to portray the organisation. Don’t be afraid to bring in some examples of your own. Keep track of reports that inspire you and bring them to meetings where layout and presentation is discussed.

Presentation: Will the report be printed, sent out as a PDF or online?

An early decision on how the report will be presented will make a big difference to your planning

Theme: Having a theme that all directors agreed on early will also make a big difference

A theme helps you to keep the report cohesive and makes it easier to find the stories that will make it pop. Also keep in mind – Who is going to write it? Will there be a single cohesive voice or a range of voices from across the organisation. It will be more coherent if written by one person, or written by section leaders and edited by one person for consistency.

Timeline: Make sure that you have a timeline and that everyone knows what it is and sticks to it.

If everyone knows when they have to write/submit/report back on information, you have a hope of getting it ready by the planned date without a nervous breakdown, send out reminders and make sure that the timeline is reasonable

Quality of photos: Start going through photos; make a list of the types of photos that you still need

You want photos that engage emotions and they need to be the right quality for the platform that you have decided to use to present the report.

Availability of stories: Don’t wait until ‘Annual Report time’ to start asking for stories

Remind teams regularly that you need stories for the report and that they should be keeping track of them all year. If they are not used in the report, there are likely many other uses for them.

Understanding regulatory requirements on Annual Reports –

Governments require certain things from government departments and funded organisations. Make sure that you know what is required of you, but don’t let it get in the way of an engaging report.

Acknowledge sponsors/donors/VIP – Thank everyone who helped your organisation grow One of the many things that can go wrong in an Annual Report is that at the last minute you start scrambling for your lists of people, organisations and government departments to thank. Or that you

Now for the content

Your accomplishments are more engaging than your activities. Paint a picture – what were your results? What difference did they make? How do they line up with your mission and vision? How did they inspire your staff/clients/customers? How can they inspire those looking at your annual report?


Your annual report audience is likely to be broad. Brainstorm all the people who will be interested in your report and keep them in mind while writing it. This could include board members, staff members, volunteers, shareholders, members of parliament, advocacy groups, regulators, competitors, financial specialists, lenders, creditors and journalists.


Images are essential, if you want your report to be understood and appreciated. Many people will not read the report right through, so make sure that your images are remarkable and have captions that tell your story of how the photo relates to your mission or an accomplishment you made.

Do you have something in place to make sure that someone is responsible for taking photos at your events and celebrations? This is a great way to get a variety of images. Better yet, if there are no/ few proficient photographers in your communications team, invest in photography training so that staff have a few tips that will make a big difference.

Is there also something in place to ensure that every photo at your disposal has written consent for use? That is essential and that the consent forms area easily identified with the person in the photo and easy to call up at any time.

The financials

I know that if I am going to have trouble reading any of the report, it will be reading the financial statements and interpreting the tables. This is often exacerbated by a tiny font. Consider a narrative written in plain English as well as the financial statements and tables so that all readers and viewers can get a clearer picture of your financial situation.


Parliaments require specific information included in reports written by government departments and some other organisations. Make sure that you comply, but don’t let it stifle your creativity.


Don’t forget to acknowledge All your donors, supporters, funders

Contact us for help with your Annual Report

We love annual reports and we can – advise, write, edit – anything but design… We should have included – get a professional designer!