The Most Important Part of Your Nonprofit's Annual Report

  • by Ryan Phillips
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For many nonprofit organizations, the annual report is the longest, most important, and most time-intensive document or project that is produced all year. And while every part of a nonprofit’s annual report is likely to be reviewed and scrutinized several times, there are some sections that are more important than others.

But which part of your nonprofit's annual report is most important?

Believe it or not, it's rarely the facts and figures. It's critical to share these accurately, of course, to keep your organization on the right side of the legal guidelines, but casual readers rarely take a lot of time with them. Neither is it usually the president's message. As informative as it might be, this is another section where people tend to scan, rather than truly read.

With those two popular guesses out of the way, we can tell you that experience has taught us that the most important part of a nonprofit's annual report is often in something that the organizations consider "filler" material: the personal success stories that are highlighted throughout the document. Although these often take up the least amount of time, and have the fewest number of hard details in the annual report, they connect with donors and potential volunteers in a way that statistics and figures don't. In other words, they make your cause seem more "real," and compel people to take action in the process.

Most of the groups we work with are going to spend the bulk of their time on other sections of an annual report, and that's understandable. But while only the most committed major donors will bother poring through the financials, almost anyone who is interested in sending you money, or giving you a grant, is going to skim it to get a sense for the feel and tone of your organization, and especially whether it's positive or not. Nothing answers those questions quite like a quick glimpse into the lives your nonprofit organization has changed.