Digital Annual Reports as Marketing Tools: 4 Best Practices

Digital Annual Reports as Marketing Tools: 4 Best Practices

Julia Claire Campbell Marketing, Nonprofits Leave a Comment

[FREE MASTERCLASS] 3 Must-Have Elements of Social Media Content that ConvertsJoin my new, on demand Free Masterclass:

3 Must-Have Elements of Social Media Content that Converts

How to start building a thriving social media community for your nonprofit or library right now!

Donors want to know the impact of their gift, but that information can be difficult to access and even harder to understand. Steven Shattuck, Chief Engagement Officer at Bloomerang and Executive Director of Launch Cause, has a few ideas on how your nonprofit’s annual report can be used to capture, retain, and inform donors. 

Every year, nonprofits are required to file an annual report that discusses the finances of the organization and the impact of various programs. This required annual report is your nonprofit’s Form 990. 

While these documents are publicly available online through the IRS and tools like Guidestar, your tax documents only provide the bare bones of your organization’s financial status. That’s why many nonprofits also choose to create their own annual report to provide more context for supporters and to tell the whole story of the organization over the past year. 

This allows organizations to show appreciation and encouragement for supporters who have contributed throughout the past year. Essentially, a separately designed annual report provides an opportunity for nonprofits to show what they’ve accomplished with the help of supporter contributions. 

Many organizations, especially in the light of the shift to the virtual sphere amid COVID-19 regulations, have been exploring ways to convert their annual reports to a digital format. To help organizations put these documents together, we’ll explore these helpful best practices: 

  1. Choose Your Annual Report Platform
  2. Highlight Mission and Program Updates
  3. Tell Stories Throughout the Report
  4. Communicate Transparently with Supporters

In order to see a comprehensive list of requirements and best practices for all report styles, check out Bloomerang’s annual report guide. In this guide, we’re going to specifically look at how these reports can be used for marketing purposes. Let’s get started with some actionable tips for your organization. 

1. Choose Your Annual Report Platform

Choosing the right platform for your annual report is one of the most essential steps to ensure your audience will engage with the materials, especially when you employ this important document as a part of your marketing strategy. 

While your annual Form 990 is digitized, submitted, and available online, there are only a small number of your supporters who will search for this tax document. Plus, your marketing strategy probably doesn’t include the IRS website in your list of ideal promoting platforms. 

To create something more accessible and intriguing, you’ll need to choose a platform that your supporters want to explore. Consider the following digital platform ideas: 

  • Report PDF. Classic annual reports are usually booklets with pages describing your programs, your campaigns, and financial statistics from the year. Many organizations simply take this report format and digitize it into a PDF version, then link to it on their site. This format works well if your supporters usually enjoy the book version of your report. It will allow you to send the full report to those who want the entire version printed, then send postcards or short mailers informing other supporters to visit your website to see the whole report. 


  • Video. Some organizations choose to create a video annual report to engage their supporters and deliver information in a unique way. With video, you have the opportunity to show supporters actual footage of your programming or of your fundraisers so they can see exactly what you’ve accomplished rather than just read about it. Make sure annual report videos are high quality—they should not look like a home movie. 


  • Dashboard. Some organizations, like The Tableau Foundation, leverage a dashboard on their website rather than a traditional annual report format. This provides regularly updated information, keeping supporters up to date on a weekly basis instead of annually. The format offers an increased level of visibility and transparency with the organization that many supporters appreciate. 

No matter which format you choose for your annual report, make sure you consider the accessibility of the digital platform you choose. For example, make sure your videos include closed captions, subtitles in various languages, and transcripts of the information provided so that everyone is able to consume the information. 

2. Highlight Mission and Program Updates

Remember, your nonprofit’s annual report is your opportunity to go in-depth and provide context for the decisions you make as an organization. Some organizations simply highlight key finances, which undoubtedly is an important aspect of your report. But for a more successful marketing campaign, be sure to put all of these numbers in context

For instance, let’s say you have some overhead expenses associated with the launch of your organization’s latest program. If you only show your supporters the financial numbers, they may not see the impact of those funds and the growth of your latest programming as a result of overhead investments. 

Put yourself in the shoes of a major supporter for a large capital campaign. They’ve already contributed to the multi-year fundraising campaign and your public phase just started. Now, they’re waiting to see what’s become of their donation, but the information never comes. That’s a definite let-down for your supporter and a good way to drive them away from supporting future campaigns. 

To avoid this outcome, provide program updates to communicate the impact of your financial expenses, which is why supporters give to your mission to begin with. 

If you have any ongoing campaigns, you should also tell supporters about the progress you’ve made on those as well. Especially for long-term fundraising campaigns, informing supporters about progress made in the campaign will help you keep their engagement over time and maintain support. 

3. Tell Stories Throughout the Report

Some studies have shown that stories are 22 times more memorable than just facts. One of your primary marketing goals is to help your supporters remember your organization and to keep you in mind for future campaigns and opportunities. Therefore, when you’re discussing your mission updates and your progress with your supporters, make sure you do so with real stories from the past year. 

You tell stories on other platforms, like your newsletter and on social media platforms. Simply take those stories and include the best ones in your annual report. This will help capture the supporters’ attention and create a more engaging report. 

Tell stories about your mission progress, ways your programming has improved the lives of others, and ways you’ve made a difference in the community. 

Of course, you should also make sure that these stories are well-written and tailored to your audience. Here are some tips to write an effective story for your report: 

  • Remember that you’re not the center of attention. Try to avoid making your organization the central hero of your story. The hero should be a specific supporter who helped make an impact or constituent who received assistance from your nonprofit. For instance, you might write your story with your hero as the donor who contributed the necessary funds for a program, the volunteer who made the program possible, or your constituent who worked hard to get back on their feet. 
  • Keep your story simple. Complex storylines that are difficult to follow will lose your audience. However, a simple story with one primary hero and an easy-to-understand plot will be more likely to hold readers’ attention. 
  • End with the impact. Tell your story with the end in mind. This should be the point that really captures the readers’ heart and feelings. 

Remember your audience when you choose stories for your annual report. This will allow you to align the story with the audience’s impact on your organization. 

Consider, for example, if your primary audience for your annual report is your major donors. According to this guide, these will be about 20% of your support base, but they’re the ones who  contribute 80% of your funding. In other words, it’s an important audience to engage! In this case, you should consider the types of campaigns your major donors have engaged with in the past and align your stories with those campaigns. 

Let’s say your major donors have contributed to a capital campaign that helped provide the space for a new community center. You could tell the story of one of the kids who participates in the after school program at the center and how it has impacted their life. This will make your report all the more relevant to your target audience and could even help inspire them to stay involved. 

4. Communicate Transparently with Supporters

When your annual report is ingrained in your marketing strategy, it should help bolster relationships with your supporters. One easy way to ruin this effect is by not being transparent in your annual report. Chances are, donors will realize when you’ve left out important information or twisted the truth to put your organization in a better light. 

That strategy ruins the trust of your supporters, ensuring you’ll lose the relationships you’ve worked so hard to develop. 

Instead, remain transparent with your supporters about both the good and the bad. 

It’s easy to remain transparent with supporters about the things that are going well at the organization, but it’s much harder to do so when things go wrong. Luckily, there’s a pretty simple way to address this issue when it comes up, and no, it’s not just ignoring the problem. Take the following two steps if you find yourself having to present something that went wrong: 

Admit the mistake. Tell supporters exactly what went wrong and don’t try to hide it with fancy language. Explaining the context of the issue will help you gain their trust right off the bat and invite supporters to view your thought process.

Discuss the remedy. This should be a more substantial section than the first step. Tell supporters how you’ll address the problem at hand and encourage them to be a part of the solution. 

Consider this example—say you had a mistake in your previous communication regarding the financial status of a fundraising campaign. Your fundraising team thought you had raised one amount while the financial team came to a different conclusion. You communicated the wrong number. Of course, this isn’t ideal and you don’t want to go back on your word about your financials as you present them in your annual report. 

Therefore, you could explain what happened to your supporters. Then, immediately explain how you’ll address the issue in the future. Perhaps you’ll create new communication strategies and conduct a nonprofit financial audit which, according to Jitasa’s guide, will help you uncover any gaps in financial reporting for the future. 

Explaining the solution shows supporters that you won’t just turn a blind eye to issues, but will take action to continuously improve your organization for the future. 

Nonprofit annual reports can be powerful tools for marketing. They provide a level of transparency and a bird’s eye view of your programming from the past year, showing supporters the accomplishments and opportunities presented in the last year. 

By digitizing your report, you’re able to distribute it more widely to your audience and make it as engaging as possible for maximum interaction. Good luck! 

Nonprofits + Facebook Ads = More Money Raised!

Launching a strategic, targeted Facebook Ad campaign can set you apart and help you reach a brand new audience.

The Nonprofit Facebook Ad Planner is designed as a simple guide to help you plan, create, launch, and measure a wildly successful Facebook Ad campaign to achieve your nonprofit’s objective, whether it be raising awareness or raising money.

Sign up now to get instant access!

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.