a laptop screen showing infographics in a nonprofit annual report

4 Tips to Design Your Next Annual Report

A well-designed annual report increases engagement and enables nonprofits to continue to show impact, raise donations, and do what they do best — change the world.

Nonprofits of all sizes can benefit from learning some basic software and design techniques in order to better share their mission. These skills help nonprofits create visually appealing and compelling narratives that immerse donors in their work and show how they are making a difference in the communities they serve.

Use these four tips to break through overly wordy and fact-laden annual reports with trusted best practices in the world of design.

Tip #1: Keep It Spacious and Simple

People are more likely to read your report if they don't feel overwhelmed by large blocks of text. By offering a good balance of images, white space, and text, you help your readers more easily absorb the content your nonprofit is sharing with them. Avoid making the pages feel too busy and allow your constituents the space to absorb the information you are presenting.

Here's an example from the Arts Corps 2017 annual report.

example of text and graphics in a nonprofit annual report (ArtCorps 2017)

Tip #2: Don't Tell the Whole Story Visually

Visuals are useful complementary materials to any presentation. However, be careful not to overdo it. Text is still an essential element of your annual report, so don't leave out key details that might not work in visual form. Check out this a successful mix of text and images from the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Orange County annual report (PDF).

Tip #3: Add a Navigation Page

If your report is extremely long, navigation buttons allow your readers to go directly to the section that's most important to them. The navigation section is also a great place to make sure you've included all the essential elements of a successful annual report. These include

  • A message from the executive director or CEO
  • Your mission statement
  • Program information
  • Successes and failures
  • Stories and testimonials
  • A call to action moving forward

Here's an example from the International Medical Corps 2016 annual report.

example of a navigation page in a nonprofit annual report (International Medical Corps 2016)

Tip #4: Keep CRAP in Mind (It's Not What You Think)

people holding up a marker, a post-it note, and an eraser up to a large monitor on which they are creating a nonprofit annual report

Early in my career, I read a book by Robin Williams (a different Robin Williams) called The Non-Designer's Design Book. I never forgot these basic tips, easily remembered with the acronym CRAP.

Contrast: You want enough contrast to stand out, but don't try to make everything stand out — that just confuses a viewer about where to look and what to read.

Repetition: Repetition ties the page, or even the document, together.

Alignment: Alignment creates a sense of order and makes us feel like we can look at something as a whole. A lot of new designers put things all over the page hoping that it will look more creative; don't do that.

Proximity: Proximity keeps like things together.



Additional Resources: Graphic Design for Nonprofits