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how to write yearly report

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How to Prepare an Annual Report

Business team preparing an annual report

Investors must carefully analyze the financial health and performance of any business they consider funding. To do this, they turn to several financial statements that offer glimpses into the organization's inner workings.

Few financial statements are more highly anticipated each year than a company’s annual report, which not only summarizes its performance for the preceding year but charts a course for the one ahead.

With this in mind, knowing how to prepare an annual report is essential for anyone interested in a leadership position. Whether you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, functional lead, or member of your organization’s C-suite, learning how to prepare an annual report can help advance your career.

Here’s a look at what an annual report is, its key components, and steps you should follow to create one.

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What Is An Annual Report?

An annual report is a document that describes a company’s financial condition and business operations for the previous year.

Any publicly traded business is required by law to prepare and publish an annual report, which helps current and potential investors decide whether to provide funding.

Businesses not publicly traded can still prepare an annual report if they have private investors who must be apprised of their performance or are in the process of securing private funding.

Components of an Annual Report

An annual report typically consists of the following documents or sections:

Usually, an annual report is split into two halves. The first half contains the company’s narrative in the form of the letters to shareholders, management’s discussion and analysis, general corporate information, and operating highlights—all of which tell a story about how the company performed and worked toward its goals. The second half of the report strips out narrative components and presents data, which investors are encouraged to analyze to draw conclusions about the company.

1. Compile the Business Profile

The business profile is the section of the annual report where you summarize key information about your business. It typically includes information about:

This section is also sometimes referred to as the general business information section of the annual report.

When writing this section, remember your goals: to quickly provide new, current, or potential investors the information needed to understand your business and industry.

2. Generate Key Financial Statements

The purpose of the annual report is to provide data and analysis regarding your company’s operations and financial performance. As such, the financial statements it contains are essential.

Important financial statements include your company’s:

While you can compile the report’s other sections before generating financial statements, it’s best to avoid doing so because your letters to shareholders, management’s discussion and analysis, and other narrative elements should be backed by financial data. Not creating financial statements first makes it possible to tell an inaccurate or incomplete story you’ll later need to correct.

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3. Select Operational and Financial Highlights

After generating financial statements, select highlights for your report’s narrative elements. Incorporate a mix of operational and financial highlights. Some examples include:

4. Write the Management Discussion and Analysis

While the financial statements included in the annual report allow investors and analysts to analyze your business, the management discussion and analysis section offers you and your team the opportunity to present an internal analysis of financial performance and statements.

The MD&A section also typically contains information regarding key issues your company faces, such as compliance with laws or regulations, systems and controls recently put in place, and new or emerging risks.

While the MD&A section is more subjective than financial statements, it must meet the standards set by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB). This includes ensuring the MD&A is balanced, based on fact, and has both positive and negative information.

5. Write the Letter to Shareholders

The final step is to write the letter to shareholders. This letter is drafted by the CEO, chairperson, or company owner and offers a high-level overview of the business’s operating activities and finances for the previous year.

The letter to shareholders ultimately acts as the introduction to the entire annual report and is the first piece of information investors review. While each component of the annual report is essential, the letter to shareholders is one of the most important to get right.

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One of the Most Important Financial Documents

The annual report is one of the most crucial financial documents your company produces.

While doing so is typically a team effort spanning multiple departments, knowing what goes into preparing one is a vital skill for aspiring business leaders and entrepreneurs.

Do you want to take your career to the next level? Consider enrolling in Financial Accounting —one of three courses that comprise our Credential of Readiness (CORe) program —and discover how you can learn key financial topics that enable you to understand business performance and potential.

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How to write an annual report: 4 tips for preparing annual reports.

How to Write an Annual Report: 4 Tips for Preparing Annual Reports

To write an annual report, the business operations and the financial position are listed, summarized and recorded. The annual report is a financial document that businesses provide to shareholders, potential investors and analysts. It is the best source of information about the business performance and financial well-being of a business.

Public companies are required to file comprehensive annual reports the Securities and Exchange Commission. However, small businesses and non-profit organizations also prepare the yearly reports to connect with customers and provide information about past performance and future goals.

What this article covers:

What Is Included in an Annual Report?

How do you write a good annual report, why is an annual report important.

The annual report is an integral part of corporate reporting. Since the annual reports are based on specific legal requirements, the items that are included in the report vary.

Most annual reports provide a fundamental overview of the business over the past year. The sections typically included in an annual report are an opening letter from the chairman, a business profile, analysis by management and financial information.

how to write yearly report

Chairman’s Letter

The annual report usually starts with an introduction and a letter from the chairman, primary owner or the CEO of the company to the shareholders providing a snapshot of the significant developments in the past year, company initiatives and a brief summary of the financials. Key elements included in this section are the challenges that the business faced, its successes and insight into the growth of the company.

The section is followed by a table of contents.

Business Profile

This section includes the vision and mission statement of the company, details of directors, officers and registered and corporate office, investor profile, the products or services that are the main source of revenue for the business, competitor profile and risk factors of the business.

Management Discussion and Analysis

The section provides an overview of the business performance over the past three years and discusses profit margins, sales and income.

If the business has launched a new product or service or there are drastic shifts in sales and marketing efforts, they should be included in this section. The other topics of discussion include new hires, business acquisitions and other information that the management thinks would be beneficial for the stakeholders.

Financial Statements

The financial statements are the most important part of the annual report that allows current and future investors, shareholders, employees and other business stakeholders to determine how well the company has performed in past, its ability to pay off its debts and its plans for growth. The statements that are included are:

These statements show whether the company has made a profit or loss in the past year, how much earnings it has retained and the proportion of revenues to operational expenses. Apart from the financial statements, information about the market price of shares of the company and the dividends paid have to be provided.

Other elements included in the annual reports are:

Annual reports are important elements of a brand’s transparency and accountability. However, rather than writing a ponderous document that only a few can understand, businesses are creating annual reports that speak to a broad group of people.

These reports communicate the values and goals of the brand. Producing creative reports that are highly visual and narrative-driven can help businesses connect with shareholders, investors and customers.

Determine the Key Message

An annual report is a perfect opportunity to highlight your accomplishments and the impact of these accomplishments. The investors and employees want to know what you did and why you did it. By connecting your activities and your accomplishments to the final goals and mission statement, businesses can build trust and foster long-lasting connections.

Finalize Structure and Content

One of the most difficult parts about writing an annual report is deciding what to include and what to leave out. It’s important to map out the content and the structure of the report.

Apart from the basic elements such as introduction, chairman’s letter, business profile and financial statement, the annual report should have a storyline that defines the overall structure of the report and shapes the content around a narrative thread. This makes it easier to identify and cut out information that does not actively move the story forward.

Use clear, precise and unambiguous writing. Maintain a professional and unbiased position throughout the document. The content of the annual report should be transparent and honest. Don’t inflate accomplishments or disguise the losses that you faced.

how to write yearly report

Use Compelling Design

A well-designed report that is engaging and professional can be used as a marketing tool by a business. Ideally, readers should be able to scan through the document and get the information they need. Here are some pointers for a good annual report design:

Plan in Advance

Creating an annual report is a long-term process that requires an organized system for recording and tracking data, media clipping, photographs and a list of business achievements. While a number of companies create the annual reports in-house, others may hire a design firm to compile, proofread and finalize the document.

Both public and private companies use annual reports to provide important business and financial information to customers, investors, employees and the media. Here are some reasons why an annual report is necessary for businesses:

The annual reports keep your critical business information up to date. A failure by public companies to update the investors and the state might result in late fees or even dissolution of your company.


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How To Write An Annual Report

Michael Thuren

How do you write an annual report?

1.  start off with the shareholder's letter.

This vital communication is written by the CEO or manager of the business and its tone sets the mood for the entire report. Care should be taken to remain inspiring and positive and inject a hint of personality into this personal communication. 

2. Add a general description of the industry

In this section you want to create a positive an inspiring picture of the industry as a whole.  Here, you should include numeric data about your market share as a player in the industry or positive predictions that indicate the upward trend in the growth of customer awareness of your business, positive reviews or regard and your networking among key players in the industry. In this section the aim should be to inspire optimism among major stakeholders. 

3. Include audited statements of income

Income and expense reports should always have been through a professional  audit  before being presented to shareholders, financial institutions, and potential investors. This instills an air of reliability and confidence in the reader.  This section should include the annual income of the business, alongside the expense statements.  Financial statements can include balance sheets, income or profit and loss statements and a  cash flow statement  - they sum up the financial position of the business. 

4. State your financial position

In this section you can make use of colorful charts and graphs to indicate the true financial position of the business. Stakeholders want to see that the business is generating income, minimizing expenses, turning a profit and planning the next financial year according to accurate financial information. 

5. Give details about cash flow

Details about the ready, inflow of cash into the business will be of great importance to those reading your report. This section should relate to the section about income statements and refer to information and graphs noted in this section.  While the business may be rich in assets or potential profits, the cash flow is the total of finances being transferred in and out of a company's bank account during the financial year. This affects the liquidity of the business and is a true reflection of business stability. 

6. Provide notes to the statements for line items

Your financial statements may not be easy for individuals who are not directly involved in the business to understand. For this reason, all the financial statements need to include additional notes to clarify each or several facts and figures in the statements.

Every small and medium business owner should compile an annual report at the end of the financial year.  The annual report provides details about the company’s financial position and operational activities during the year. An annual report provides shareholders with information about the industry in which the company operates, audited income statements , the financial position of the company, cash flow, and notes relative to income statements.

A comprehensive annual report gives stakeholders, potential donors, and other interested parties information about the business, which they can use to make decisions.

In order to provide accurate details about the financial status of the business, the information used to compile the report must be as accurate as possible. Errors made during the collection process or compilation of the report can substantially affect the viewpoint of shareholders and fuel funding concerns as well as affect management decisions. In this segment we explain how a report is written, how to avoid mistakes during data collection and provide encouragement on how to begin the process. 

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What should be included in an annual report?

The six basic components of an annual report are:

You may include brief additional sections, but it's generally recommended to adhere to these six basic sections This makes the report easier and less time-consuming to read and easier to understand at a glance. Aim for an inspiring, concise report that paints a positive picture of the status of company's finances. 

Planning the annual report

The success of every financial report begins in the planning stage. In this stage you consult and involve the planning committee to determine the data you need, who is responsible for collating and compiling income and expenditure reports, data on operations or information on accounting practices and requirements. It is important to include all the relevant information, without making the report too long or tedious to read. 

Remember : Shareholders and stakeholders are interested in finding out the results of your yearly operations. 

The tone of the report

Aim to include relevant information in an inspiring report. To do this you want to include meaningful results, not just long lists of data. Try to use the facts and figures included in the report to tell a story. At this stage you will want to develop a basic framework for the data, graphs, charts, predictions and photographs you want to include in the report.

Pitfalls to avoid

When learning how to write an annual report, mistakes are inevitable. As already noted, making the report too long, confusing or tedious to read is a common mistake.

Tip : you want to stick to the shortest possible length, while providing ALL the relevant data. This data should be relevant to the particular stakeholders or potential donors you want to attract.  Including too many details and information about daily operations will result in boredom and doesn't get down to the basic results that the parties need to know.

Make sure to answer the following questions:

These days many companies share their annual reports online. This is an effective way to reach many stakeholders at once and allow sharing of the document with interested parties in a network. While reports are similar to paper copies, online reports are an excellent way to get immediate feedback on your annual reports. By including an online feedback facility or response form, readers and shareholders can respond personally to the CEO, asking for more information, improved formatting or praising the content and structure of the report. So, don't forget to consider online cloud-based platforms and other online formats.

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how to write yearly report

How to write an annual report

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In this guide, we'll show how the world’s leading non-profits are building immersive annual reports — turning an obligation into an opportunity.

We'll cover:

Why you need to write an annual report

Before we get started, if you're looking for annual report examples, check out our list of  ten stunning annual reports.

What is an annual report?

An annual report is a comprehensive overview of the performance of a non-profit organisation. Annual reports typically include financial statements, statements from the CEO and Board Chair, and key activities and accomplishments.

Generally, annual reports are intended to offer a transparent view of an organisation's activities over the course of a financial year. 

As we'll cover in this guide, annual reports are also a major opportunity to promote, market, and advance an non-profit's mission.

Non-profit organisations and public companies produce annual reports for three main reasons. 

Meet your legal obligations In many jurisdictions, nonprofits are required to produce annual reports in order to maintain their tax-exempt status. Even where financial disclosure is enough, annual reports are still recommended. The same is true for public companies, who in the US need to file with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Showcase your impact It's one thing to show your stakeholders what you did; it's another thing to prove your impact. Annual reports are a perfect opportunity to show off your concrete successes, either with qualitative stories — such as case studies and profiles — or with quantitative data.

Celebrate your community Successful non-profits take a village, with donors, leadership, staff, volunteers, and community stakeholders all playing their part. There are many valid reasons why people work with non-profits, and not everyone wants or needs public recognition. But let's face it: plenty of your community will want recognition, and an annual report is a great place to celebrate their contribution.

What do annual reports look like?

This is going to sound like a contradiction in terms, but six months ago I read a beautiful annual report . 

The report was published by South African charity mothers2mothers, an Africa-based NGO working to deliver health, hope, and an HIV-free future.

Beautiful annual report on ipad, phone and desktip computer.

This annual report is unusual for three reasons. First, I actually wanted to read it. Who — apart from employees, board members, and big donors (maybe) — actually reads the annual report of a non-profit?

Second, it was beautiful to look at. It was a delightful and immersive reading experience. 

Third, it was published as a responsive webpage — not a PDF. I could read it on my phone. Not once did I pinch and zoom. It didn’t feel like it was made primarily for print.

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The underwhelming impact of (some) annual reports

A building of mirrors

Why does this matter?

Annual reports are a statutory requirement. That means that nonprofits have to publish them — otherwise, they risk losing their tax-exempt status.

But they’re not just an obligation — they’re an expensive obligation. Annual reports aren’t easy to produce. They require input from the CEO, the board, finance, comms, design, and staff across the organisation. 

To rub salt into the wound, most annual reports barely get opened, let alone read. Mostly published as PDFs (with poor cousin versions occasionally published on a legacy CMS), they’re artefacts of a previous era — an era of desktop printers and email attachments.

Given the underwhelming impact these reports tend to have, most of them are a legally obligated waste of time. 

This is a missed opportunity — because, as we saw with mothers2mothers, they could be so much more.

Immersive annual reports

An abstract view of a avant-garde building

So, what’s the solution?

How do non-profits create an opportunity from an obligation? 

Over the last decade, technology has moved on from the PDF. Most people read on multiple devices, including tablets and phones. Nobody wants the irritation of pinching and zooming a PDF on a smartphone. 

Web technologies — including more powerful browsers and digital storytelling platforms — are allowing for immersive, interactive, and fully responsive reading experiences that far outstrip what can be achieved with a PDF.

This has led to the rise of immersive annual reports. These reports are building on techniques used by media brands like Sky, BBC, and NBC News to keep the readers' attention.

A screenshot of a BBC story on wind energy

In stories such as the BBC's report on clean energy, shown above, rich media are integrated with scroll-based animation techniques to capture and keep the attention of the reader. 

Leading NGOs are doing the same. 

Take, for example, Habitat for Humanity, who have been publishing their annual reports as immersive digital stories for several years. Their annual report design is impressive — and accessible to all.

Header image from Habitat for Humanity's annual report

What to include in your annual report

While annual reports are a hugely flexible format, most reports include many of the following elements. 

A letter from the CEO or Board Chair The letter from leadership is a chance to celebrate the year's accomplishments, and chart a course for the year ahead. It should be inspiring, evocative, and written in plain English. It can be difficult to give feedback to leadership, but as this letter often opens the annual report, it's worth spending time crafting a letter that people will actually excite and capture the attention of the reader. 

Navigation help, such as a menu or table of contents An annual report is a large piece of content and it's rare that anyone will read the entire report from beginning to end. To help people find what they're interested in, add a menu to the top of your report. For your print copy, add a table of contents. Note:  we recommend against distributing a PDF-only annual report. 

Your mission statement An annual report is, among with things, an exercise in branding for your non-profit. Make sure you include your mission statement and key messages early in your annual report.

Data showcasing your impact If you have data, use it. There's nothing more powerful than well-executed data visualisations — including charts, graphs, and maps — in an annual report. If you want to get inspired with great examples of data visualisations,  check out our guide here .

Testimonials Try to includes stories, case studies, and other testimonials from your stakeholders from the last year. This will humanise your report and make it much more compelling to read. 

Profiles Some annual reports go a step further and include profiles of team and community members. This is another great way to showcase the people behind your non-profit.

Donor list Some non-profits like to celebrate their donors with a list in their annual report. This is perfectly acceptable, though make sure the list doesn't take up too much of the report, as it will likely be skimmed by most readers. 

Fundraising highlights Your stakeholders want to know that your organisation is resilient and stable. The best way to do this is to present highlights from your fundraising efforts from the past year. This should include infographics and data visualisations — including easily-understood graphs and pie charts — showing your progress.

Multimedia Effective annual reports include a range of media, including photos, videos, illustrations, infographics, animations, and more. While this is impossible to include in a typical PDF, new digital storytelling platforms make it possible to create immersive multimedia reports that can be read on any device. You can read some  inspiring examples of annual reports in our guide here .

A call-to-action Annual reports are a great marketing opportunity — but only if you include a call-to-action or CTA. To be clear, your contact details at the end of a PDF does  not  qualify as a CTA. For your CTA to work, it needs to be immediately actionable, such as a button or a form on your digital annual report.

Financial statements Our final item is not negotiable. In most countries, your nonprofit annual report will need to include your full financial statements from the last financial year. You'll want to work with your accountant to produce this financial information. 

Now that we've covered the basics, let's take a look at the actual process of writing an annual report.

If your organisation is ready to build your own immersive annual reports without writing a line of code,  get started with Shorthand's free trial .

Start early

An immersive annual report is an opportunity to produce that rare beast: the annual report that actually gets read. But to execute this opportunity, you’re going to need to start early.

This is because immersive digital stories are hungry for high quality media assets. The more assets you have, the more options you’ll have to use immersive visual storytelling techniques. Make a point of producing media assets at events and projects throughout the year, so that you have plenty of options when it comes time to produce.

2 Know your audience

A few years ago, the popular web comic XKCD published a famous Venn diagram on the nature of university websites. 

Venn diagram of information on a university website

'University Website' by XKCD.

On the right side of the Venn diagram, we see all the information people want to find on the university website, including application forms and an academic calendar. On the other side, we have all the information the university wants people to see, including the letter from the president and a ‘virtual tour.’ 

Unfortunately, the same diagram could be produced for some nonprofit annual reports — and for similar reasons. Like university websites, annual reports have multiple, somewhat contradictory audiences.

These audiences might include:

It won’t be easy to target all of these audiences in the same piece of content — but you won’t have a chance unless you’re crystal clear on who they actually are. 


To get your annual report published in time, you will need to collaborate with two groups of people.

The first group is colleagues and contractors who are actively contributing to the production of content. It’s obviously a good idea to collaborate with these folks throughout the process.

The second group is a little different, and is made up of people who won’t contribute directly — but who nevertheless have strong opinions about what the report should look like. These opinions can block progress at key steps in the development of your report.

This second group is the trickiest to deal with. The best way to deal with them is to actively solicit their advice and feedback throughout the process. Don’t worry: you don’t have to act on everything they say. But this will ensure that no one feels ambushed or surprised by the final result. It will also reduce the risk of any nasty surprises in the days and weeks leading up to publication.

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Build it natively for the web

Many annual reports are produced as PDFs using design software like Indesign. 

There are good reasons for this. A PDF ensures that every reader sees the same thing. PDFs are portable – that's the ‘P’ in the acronym – which makes the information easily accessible by people using different operating systems. PDFs can also be read offline and printed, which can be handy at stakeholder events. 

But there are many reasons why PDFs are not a great way to publish your annual report. 

First, they aren’t responsive. People reading PDFs on mobile devices and small screens often struggle to read the text. 

Second, they're difficult for non-designers to edit. This makes the proofing process much more painful and contentious. Multi-stakeholder publications — like annual reports — notoriously require many rounds of editing. Trust me: after round 15, your designer is going to wish you could just do it yourself. 

Third, PDFs aren't native to the web. This means they can't take advantage of many of the visual techniques increasingly common in digital stories.

Fourth, you can’t properly SEO a PDF. While Google can index PDF content, it simply won’t perform nearly as well as a structured web page.

Fifth, they’re just no fun to read online. PDFs are great for print — but they are terrible for production, distribution, and consumption on the web.

Read more in our guide on the limits of PDFs .

Earn the attention of the reader

Nonprofits produce annual reports because they have to. As we mentioned above, in most countries annual reports are a statutory obligation. 

But no one wants to read a statutory obligation. And annual reports are — once the legal i’s and t’s have been dotted and crossed – a prime opportunity to connect with a much larger audience.

But how to produce an annual report that people actually want to read? The best way is to employ the techniques used by the world’s leading digital storytellers, such as the BBC and NBC News. 

These teams employ a range of techniques — including scroll-based animation, rich media, and attention-grabbing transitions — that produce some of the highest engagement rates of any content on the web. An example of this comes from NBC News . 

Screenshot from NBC story of invisible armada

With impressive maps and video, the team at NBC have struck a careful balance between interactive media and immersive text. It’s a piece of content that respects the attention of the reader.

Data visualisation is the secret sauce of every compelling annual report. Most nonprofits collect data on the impact of their activities. Make the most of this data, as it can anchor the broader story you are trying to tell, and make it more likely that your readers stay with you through the less compelling sections. 

Using a digital storytelling platform, you can also animate your data natively in the browser, without writing a line of code. 

One example of this is from New Zealand media company Stuff, who animated government data on the stark social and economic impact of COVID-19 .

If you're looking for more examples and inspiration of great data visualisation, check out our guide,  8 examples of powerful data stories . We've also published  a large collection of data stories .

Chart of impact of COVID-19 in Aoteroa New Zealand

If your nonprofit works regionally, then consider including a map — or maps, plural — showcasing your work. You might choose to highlight different projects your team has completed over the year, or emphasise problems or crises that your organisation is trying to address. 

Embedding a custom webmap — one that readers can pan and zoom — is a compelling option, but usually requires custom development, which can get expensive. 

Instead of a webmap, consider using static illustrations to create an interactive map, triggered by the scroll of the reader. This is how The Yemen Peace Project created their map of Yemen’s invisible war , built with digital storytelling platform Shorthand. 

Map on the growing conflict in Yemen

Showcase your community

Nonprofits are fundamentally about people, including your staff and supporters. 

Too often, annual reports focus on the top of the organisation, without paying enough attention to the people on the ground. But the stories of these people — and the work they do — are typically much more compelling to readers, including funders. 

One way to showcase your community is to include a rich gallery of images and video.

Keep it snappy

As we’ve already argued, annual reports take a village. They have many audiences and many creators. The net effect of this ‘village’, though, is that most annual reports are extraordinarily long — far too long for most people to read. 

Some of this is necessary. You need a human-readable update from the leadership on the strategic direction of the company. You need to include your financials. You need some data on the work you’ve been doing. And you need human stories. 

So, what to do? Rather than exclude any of these sections, we recommend keeping them as concise as possible. If your Executive Director is used to writing 800 words, see if she can get it done in 500. If the essay on that critical project is stretching into multiple pages, try and cut it in half. 

Ultimately, if you keep each section slim, readers are much more likely to continue reading. 

PDFs are great — for some purposes. But with the rise of digital storytelling platforms, there are simply much stronger, web-native alternatives for producing content that's as critical as your annual report.

Like to try it for yourself? Check out Shorthand’s free trial — and if you decide to subscribe, enjoy a 20% discount for nonprofits and charities. 

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How To Write An Annual Report

Updated August 20, 2022 by Xtensio

Corporations, small businesses and nonprofits use the annual report template to give shareholders and other key stakeholders information about the organization’s activities and financial performance in the previous year. The goal of this report is to give stakeholders a comprehensive overview about the organziation’s mission, year-end highlights, projects, financial information and industry highlights. Use this step-by-step guide to create your annual reports, easily.

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How To Write An Annual Report

Xtensio’s FREE Annual Report Template

Your starting pour starting point to create and share a successful annual report, without any design experience .

Annual Report Template

Annual Report Template

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Your guide to creating an interactive annual report for your organization

Annual reports are a crucial part of your business and its yearly operations. The annual report is a financial document that businesses provide to shareholders, potential investors, employees and analysts as a source of information about the past year’s performance and financial well-being.

Generally, the first half of an annual report is devoted to company information, industry trends, and other important business news, while the second half usually contains financial data. Sometimes companies use the annual report as a marketing tool or a reminder to shareholders of their business achievements.

The annual report will allow you to:

The annual reporting process should include members of all the departments within your company to get a full view of your organization’s financials and cash flow. Loop your team in to edit. Share the link so your managers and key external stakeholders are always updated.

1. Create your annual report header and table of contents

Introduce your annual report with your company or your client’s company name and logo, add the year you’re reporting for and update the folio color scheme and background to match your company branding. You can also include an introductory quote or notable figure that has fueled your year.

Annual reports provide a fundamental overview of the business during the previous year. Typically, the annual report contains categories such as a letter from the company CEO, data regarding the business’s finances and information about business activities. Use the table of contents to outline what the report will cover.

QUICK TIP: Once you set up your header section, you can save a custom template to easily repurpose for your ongoing annual reports.

header and table of contents, Annual Report Template

2. Introduce your report with a message from the CEO

This is your cover page. Talk about your company’s mission and vision. How would you describe your company as a whole? What were the major goals for the previous year? How about your vision looking towards the future?

Some things to include in the CEO message:

3. Highlight year-end achievements

Detail key business growth using numbers, clients’ names, partnerships, etc.

year-end achievements, Annual Report Template

4. Detail key financial data

This is what your shareholders really care about in the annual report. Showcasing your company’s financial statements allows current and future investors, shareholders, employees and other business stakeholders to determine how well the company has performed in the past, its ability to pay off debts and its plans for growth. You could include financial statements such as:

Quick Tip: With Xtensio’s pie/donut chart, you can enter data points and easily switch between bar and donut graphs to visualize the data however works best for your specific purpose.

5. Create an overview of your market & industry

Create an overview of where your market stands by outlining a few of your competitors. Where does the market stand? What did your competitors do well last year? Where did they fall short?

Use the competitive analysis template to do a deep dive into your competition.

 overview market, overview industry, Annual Report Template

6. Introduce your leadership team

Putting a face to your company is important, especially if you’re using your annual reports as a marketing initiative to gain new interest from investors. Add a high quality cover photo for each team member and describe how each team member plans to help reach your company vision.

7. Highlight key projects and say thank you

Give your investors more to explore what your company has been up to over the past year. Include links to case studies or major projects that align with your growth goals. Describe what you achieved in each project and how it highlights your yearly goals.

And finally, close the report by giving credit to employees, partners, clients and investors. Tell them how much their support and dedication has helped your company reach this year’s goals

key projects, thank you, Annual Report Template

Share your annual report as a link, monitor & evaluate

When you’ve finished creating your annual report with Xtensio’s editor, you can send the live link to your folio to share it as a responsive webpage (and add password protection). The annual report template is adaptable just like other Xtensio tools , it can and should be repurposed, revisited, and revised regularly throughout the year – we recommend quarterly.

Xtensio is your team space for beautiful living documents .  Create , manage and share business collateral, easily.

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How To Write An Annual Report

Here is our guide to help you write your annual report, complete with industry-focused toc's. bonus section: deep-dive on the executive summary., introduction to annual reports.

Best Practises For Annual Report Writing

Annual report executive summary, annual report templates, smb: small and midsize business.

Nonprofit Organization / Non-Governmental Organization

What Is An Annual Report?

What is the purpose of an annual report.

Financials: Statements and audits of the financials as well as financial performance and goals of a company can comprise the bulk content of an annual report. Projected and achieved revenue figures are part of this section. A company might also report expansion, growth, revenue increase plans, as well as a return-on-investment analysis or effectiveness study. A nonprofit organization might account for its spending, report donations and also project financial goals. Achievements: A year-in-review goes beyond financial numbers and annual reports often feature a mission statement and highlight past achievements, which could include research, investment in personnel of infrastructure, employee benefits, personal success stories, customer or user testimonials, or product launches. This section seeks to portray the company as an innovator and industry leader which attracts participation. Promotion: An annual report is an opportunity for marketing and public relations, either in a special section, or throughout the entire report. The goal is to attract new shareholders, excite existing investors, and raise brand awareness with the general public. Compliance: Companies produce annual reports even when they don’t have to because they want to benefit from the marketing and PR opportunities. Publicly traded companies and entities that fit certain other criteria have to file annual reports with the SEC, the US Securities and Exchange Commission. To avoid producing two different reports, these companies commonly produce one general report that meets the compliance standards. Pro Tip If your annual report has to meet certain compliance standards (such as the SEC Form 10-K for publicly traded companies), make the best use of your resources and only produce one report for your entire audience which includes the necessary information.

What Are Annual Report Formats?

Printed Annual Reports: Traditionally, an annual report is a glossy and high-end print product distributed to shareholders, regulators, members of the press, and figures selected for marketing and PR reasons. The production and distribution of a high-quality print product is also a cost factor that has to be figured into the overall budget. Electronic Annual Reports: The advantage of a print production is that companies and organizations can simply re-use the document and make their annual report available in electronic format, for example as a PDF download on their website. This version can also be distributed through email and other digital means. Interactive Online Annual Reports: With this format, readers can browse and view an annual report just like a website. Graphs and charts can be animated or interactive, and there is the possibility of embedding videos and other multimedia material. You can precisely track reach and engagement with digital online annual reports and brand and design the it just like the website of your company or organization. Pro Tip An online, interactive annual report is a cost-effective opportunity to use your reporting to drive engagement and get the best results from making your report available to a broad audience.

What To Include

Chairperson’s statement or letter: The CEO, the primary owner or the chairperson usually addresses readers with an introduction in the form of a letter or personal statement. This might highlight the most significant developments as snapshots, include brief details of company initiatives, and give a brief summary of the financials–sort of like a teaser of what’s to come. This part commonly also focuses on the challenges, achievements, and growth. Business profile: In this section, you can profile your company or organization with a mission statement, and details on the corporate office, the board, the team or the employees. You can highlight your products or services which are the main revenue drivers, provide an analysis of the market, the competition, or the risk factors, and profile both the investors or donors you have and the ones you are looking for. Financials: Regulation and compliance will largely dictate what to include in this section, but unlike in other sections of your annual report, there is no room for storytelling, embellishing, or flowery language. Transparency, accuracy, and thorough reporting are key here. The absolute numbers speak about the company’s performance to investors, shareholders and stakeholders, regulators, employees, and the general public. Readers will get a complete picture of the profit and loss of the past year, the revenue and its division into earnings retained, investment, and operational expenses, and the company’s shares. A typical sequence in this section could be: income statement, balance sheet, equity statement, cash flow statement, and shareholder information with earnings per share. Consolidated statements can be followed with longer, in-detail explanations of the financials. Auditor’s Report: An audit of the financial situation and the spending can be split into the reporting of an audit committee and the reporting of an independent auditor or auditing body. Some companies include the former in their business profile, and the latter as part of the financial statements. Other sections: Depending on your company, other sections can be a director’s report, accounting policies, general policies, stories, image material, and details about other activities not related to the business, such as corporate social and environmental responsibility reports.

Annual Report Writing

Produce a brief.

Background information or mission statement Concepts and deliverables Timing / deadlines Objectives of the annual report Key messages of the annual report Short description of the brand, personality, and audience Writing, style, and design specifications Pro Tip Write the brief for your annual report before you or anyone starts work on the actual report. Compose a clear annual report brief to avoid conflict, because conflict often stems from misunderstanding or miscommunication. Clarity helps everyone fulfill their roles during production.

How To Write The Executive Summary

Who is your audience? This will help you decide what critical information readers need. Make the story you tell in your annual report resonate with them. What is the objective of the summary? It serves the function of summarizing, but in addition, what do you need the audience to understand? What reaction should they have, what action should they take? What is the outcome? The executive summary should also list conclusions or recommendations based on the past year on which you are reporting. What changes are necessary, what actions will the business take in the future? What are the benefits of the achievements, which improvement will the company reap from implemented solutions? Don't make the reader guess or work to find out about the future course of the company or organization. How will you impress? Of course your executive summary should be able to stand out and give all the important details even for those who decide to skip the rest of the report. But ideally, it is able to draw the audience in and make them read on. Don't inflate numbers, invent facts or dress up the truth, of course, but carefully consider how you shape your message and organize your summary.

Format For The Executive Summary

Order of appearance: Apart from opening lines, you’ll have to decide if your summary follows the exact structure of your report as laid out in the table of contents, or if you organize it differently and establish a varying level of importance. In both cases, you can use subheadings to introduce sections and use bullet points as well as enough space to make the summary visually appealing and accessible to scanning. Length: When your summary reaches a length of two pages or beyond, it arguably stops being a summary and becomes an outright introduction. Be brief but comprehensive. Do a sketch where you describe each necessary section in just one word, then elaborate to three words, then a whole sentence. Sometimes a flow or coherence is better for the executive summary than giving a complete overview of the annual report. Tone of voice: The executive summary is formal and not casual and should match your target audience in tone of voice. Yet it’s neither the time nor place to get into technical jargon, lengthy definitions, and presentation of information that is only accessible with background information, expertise, or in-depth knowledge of the subject matter. Avoid acronyms and data that couldn’T stand for itself.
Any changes to the report require at least a check if not an update of the executive summary to ensure information remains relevant and consistent. Organize the summary either matching the table of contents or in the order of importance. Check for jargon, technical terms, filler words, and superfluous acronyms. Use active voice and direct language. Sparsely present precise and factual data from the report as highlights. Check to remove redundant information, repetitions, clichés, buzzwords, unnecessary phrases, and mixed messages. Use bullet points, subheadings and tables where appropriate to structure information. Format for readability and leave enough space. Check to include the most relevant information but remove anything not supported by the full report from the executive summary. Changes to headlines or sections of the report need to be reflected in the summary. Edit for brevity. Use test readers to verify that the summary stands alone to support your objectives.

Checklist For Your Annual Report Executive Summary

Executive Summary Template



Step-by-Step Guide To Writing An Annual Report For Small & Growing Nonprofits

Kindful • April 19, 2021

nonprofit communication

Writing an annual report is an important component of doing business as a nonprofit organization. When it is well written and visually pleasing, it can inspire potential donors to jump on board and donate money, initiate major gifts from corporations and foundations, and ensure that those who already donate to your organization keep on giving.

Whether you are new to writing annual reports or would like to improve the reports you already send out each year, we have created a step-by-step guide to help you write an annual report that is full of inspiration and a vision for the future.

1. Brainstorm and create an outline.

Before diving in and actually getting to work on writing your organization’s annual report, brainstorm and create an outline so that you and your team can organize all of your thoughts and ideas. Annual reports are packed full of information, and you want to ensure that all of the information flows in a pleasing and logical manner for the reader.

Your annual report should educate potential new donors to give money to your organization for the first time as well as inspire established donors to give more. When creating your outline, be sure to include plenty of feel-good success stories as well as a detailed explanation on how donations benefit the community you’re serving. Your annual report should be full of colorful pictures and pleasing graphics to hold the attention of the reader.

2. Compile all of the information for your annual report.

Now that you have brainstormed and created a basic outline of what to include on your annual report, it’s time to compile all of the data and graphics to include in the document. Gather information about your financials, what projects and initiatives their donations funded, how many people in the community were served, and what the goals and objectives are for the future.

Within your annual report, you should also include data and statistics about specific fundraising events and campaigns, highlighting how successful they were. Also, be sure to include personal stories from community members your nonprofit served.

3. Lay out your annual report so that it is visually appealing.

If your nonprofit doesn’t have a well-established public relations and marketing department with designers who can create a template for you, there are many templates you can download online for free or for a nominal fee. An annual report does not need to be book-length, but should at least contain a few pages, so you have enough space to include all of the pertinent information. Brochures and booklet size publications are ideal for annual reports.

Create a captivating cover page for your annual report so that everyone on your report’s distribution list has a clear understanding of what you are sending them. The first page of the report should be reserved for a letter by the CEO of your organization to donors and community members discussing the achievements, challenges, and visions for the future. The following pages should contain the “meat” of your annual report, which includes photos, stories, statistics, and graphs.

4. Review and edit your annual report.

After drafting your annual report, be sure to look it over with a fine-tooth-comb to ensure all of the data, information, and statistics are accurate. Consider assigning the editing task to someone on your team who did not help write the report for a fresh perspective. The drafted report should also be reviewed by the leadership executives of your nonprofit for approval before the report is distributed to stakeholders and the community. Once the editing process is complete, you can fine-tune the layout and get the report ready for final copy.

5. Distribute your annual report.

The final step of creating your organization’s annual report is to distribute it to your community. You can use your nonprofit’s CRM database to make this an easy and efficient task. First, determine who you are going to directly send the report to, whether it be corporate and major gift donors, donors who contribute “X” amount or more to your organization each year, or if you are going to send it to the entire community.

Distribute your annual report in a multitude of different ways, including by way of email, posting it to your organization’s website, and sending copies via direct mail. Use the bulk email function within your CRM software to send out electronic copies of the report.

Where can I find annual report templates and examples?

You can find plenty of templates and examples online that will help guide you through the process of writing an engaging annual report. For example, the Council of Nonprofits has an entire library of resources and templates to assist you with many topics regarding nonprofit business management.

An annual report is an essential business tool of any nonprofit, and it helps paint a picture of the mission of your organization. Not only does the annual report highlight how donor dollars were utilized throughout the year, but it also showcases your organization’s vision for the future. When done well, it can inspire community members to donate more and help you grow and create more of an impact well into the future.

Schedule a live demo with our team, and we’ll show you how easy it is to create and automate reports, utilize online and offline fundraising tools, quickly integrate and access all your data, and ultimately create more time to engage your donors.

Filed Under:    Communication

How to Create Annual Reports in 2023 (with Examples)

By Rita Theologi

Annual Report Examples

When writing annual reports , gathering all the information, distilling robust statistics, and finding compelling visuals that appeal to different audiences can be daunting, to say the least.

On top of that, most examples of annual reports are expensive and extremely time-consuming to produce. The worst part about publishing an annual report is that without the ability to collect data about how people engage with it, you can only speculate about whether your efforts paid off. 

If you produce or distribute your annual report using outdated and offline formats like PDF , the following questions are often left unanswered:

In this post, you’ll learn how to create stunning annual reports that would inspire your stakeholders, elevate your brand messaging, and strengthen your market positioning.

You’ll see annual report examples of organizations that are using Foleon to produce web-based annual reports with extraordinary results .

Most importantly, you’ll learn how web technology allows you to create annual reports faster, efficiently and helps you gain insights into their performance.

5 reasons you should transition from static to web-based annual reports

More than ever before, today’s consumers want relatable content experiences . Your annual reports can be a part of those experiences if they are immersive and easy to read through . 

At Foleon, we’ve seen our clients create annual reports that include, among other things, achievements, fun facts, and eye-catching data, all packaged in a visually engaging and mobile-friendly way.

Inspired by those successes, we compiled five benefits of using interactive web-based annual reports that will motivate you to create annual reports that are impactful for your stakeholders in 2023.

1. Save time and stay-on-brand

Annual reports are so time-consuming that they often get published at the end of spring — if not later — which results in losing momentum with your audience. 

With Foleon’s intuitive drag-and-drop interface, complete with the ability to add your in-house fonts and styles , creating a web-based annual report can take a fraction of the time it would if you relied on professional designers using a tool like InDesign.

The best part? Our powerful template manager speeds up the content creation process by letting you preserve templates that you can reuse the following year. Save your precious working hours and focus on what matters the most: the story you want to share with your stakeholders.

2. Give your readers a lively content experience 

The compelling power of storytelling is undeniable. Gathering data from the past year is one thing, but presenting it in an engaging way that triggers emotion and excitement will take your annual business report to a whole new level.

With Foleon’s interactive creative solutions such as background videos, animation , visual effects, and interactive elements , it’s easy to enhance your story and grab readers’ attention . 

3. Maximize your reach with responsive annual reports 

Given that more than half of your readers are likely reading your content on mobile devices, you will end up excluding a large portion of your audience if your annual business report is in an unresponsive format like PDF . 

One of the most compelling benefits of web-based annual reports is that they’re mobile-friendly by default . Any responsive piece of content is already more likely to draw the attention of mobile and tablet users, so you should make the most of your distribution tactics. 

With web-based annual reports, distribution doesn’t have to stop after you send an email. Social share buttons and remarketing pixels prompt readers to share interesting pages on social media and let you retarget them (and their audience) even after they leave your publication . 

annual reports review

4. Get to know your readers by tracking user behavior

It would be disheartening to spend so much time creating an annual company report only to end up speculating about its performance. In the modern business world, anything that can’t be tracked or measured becomes redundant . This unwritten rule doesn’t just apply to your website, but to all of your content assets , including your annual reports. 

Foleon offers a variety of analytics, from a built-in reporting dashboard to a Google Analytics integration, that allows you to measure and optimize your annual report online based on time spent on specific pages, exit points, the effectiveness of CTAs, and more.

Our CRM integrations also allow you to see, on a contact level, how individuals engage with your annual report online. You can see which pages they read and — if you want to — trigger marketing automation based on this information.

5. Always stay up-to-date

There is nothing worse than publishing your annual report and then realizing that some information must be corrected or updated. Creating your 2023 annual report shouldn’t end on the day of publishing. You should be able to make adjustments, edit information and metrics, and add or delete copy even after distribution. 

With web-based annual reports, you can ensure that only your latest and best version is in circulation. You can make changes and updates in real time. Here are some annual report ideas to help you get started. 

Discover:  Annual report ideas to turn your content into showpieces.

Examples of interactive web-based annual reports

UC Merced, a higher education institution within the University of California system, transitioned from a printed annual report to an interactive web-based format with Foleon. Rich in visuals, animations , links, and social share buttons, their annual report engaged new readers and reached ten thousand visit sessions. 

“I searched for solutions or products that would let me build something similar to a web page. Honestly, I didn’t find anything I liked except your product.”

Christy Snyder, Communications Director at UC Merced

Annual reports example

Note: For more examples of organizations that created stunning web-based annual reports with Foleon, check our annual report examples page . 

Even though the purpose of an annual report may vary for each organization, the end goal is always the same: to impress readers and convey vital information about how your work affects all parties involved with your organization.

Given that stakeholders, customers, and potential investors all view your annual report, an archaic and analog production process could be a missed marketing opportunity .

The good news is that infusing your annual reports with web technology can save you money, time, and resources. You can measure, evaluate, and transform them into indispensable marketing assets that demonstrate your organization’s impact .

Using web-based annual reports will leverage your brand messaging, thrill your stakeholders, and increase readership.

Transform your content creation process from utterly exhausting to absolutely enjoyable. Improve your annual reports starting today; go here !

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Rita is a writer and content marketing specialist at Foleon. She has years of experience in SaaS and continually enriches our blog with her wide range of expertise.

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What to read next

Annual report ideas to turn your content into showpieces, 10 examples of engaging annual reports that are fun to produce and read.

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Writing annual reports for your business by Ronna L. DeLoe, Esq.

Writing annual reports for your business

Small companies use annual reports to let shareholders and constituents know how the company is doing financially and what they can look forward to. Find out how to prepare an annual report that reflects well on your company.

by Ronna L. DeLoe, Esq. updated  February 01, 2023  ·  4 min read

If you own or run a limited liability company (LLC), a small corporation, a nonprofit, or another type of company, you're probably filing annual reports with your state's Secretary of State.

Businesswoman and businessman sitting at a table reviewing paperwork

Company annual reports are often required by your state , so check with your Secretary of State to determine if you need to know how to file an annual report , what it must contain, and when to file it.

If you own a corporation that has publicly traded shares, you must file an annual report with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and you also may have to file it in states where the corporation is doing business.

Many publicly traded corporations have their own in-house personnel prepare their annual reports, or they farm them out to large accounting firms, professional writing firms, and graphic artists to create impressive brochures to accompany the reports. The focus here is on smaller companies, LLCs, and nonprofits.

Purpose of annual reports

Company annual reports are information sheets that a company or organization prepares to let shareholders and constituents know how it's doing financially, what its future looks like, and what important events have occurred over the past year.

Both large and small companies often put photos in the report or accompanying brochure to let people see the "face" of the company.

Customers can relate better to people than to corporations, so it's a good idea to use photos as part of your marketing strategy and for developing your company's personal brand. Putting a face on the company allows your customers and prospects to connect you—or your partner—with your small business.

How to prepare annual reports

The first thing you have to decide is if you want your company to prepare the report, to prepare part of the report, or to outsource its production. Annual reports include straightforward text about finances and about the company, actual accounting results, and sometimes graphs and photos. The annual report design is up to you, but you don't want to send out something that looks amateurish.

If your company is able to put together your LLC's annual report or your nonprofit's annual report on your own, you'll save money. In the long run, however, if the result looks sloppy or like something you threw together on a computer with clip art, you're better off outsourcing your annual report. Different companies can prepare sections of your annual report, or you can have an attorney prepare the report for you and file it with the state.

If you choose to do some of the report yourself, you can purchase accounting software to help with the financial aspects of your report. The information to include in your annual report equals most or all of the following, but check with your Secretary of State to see what the company's home state requires so you don't miss anything.

What an annual report contains

A good annual report will include:

Writing an annual report

The best annual reports contain the information listed above, expressed in language that doesn't exaggerate what your company can and will do. Write your annual report in plain language. You can save the more descriptive language for the annual report letter, so long as you don't overstate the company's merits.

Write without using clichés, and use an active rather than a passive voice. Look at examples online from companies you admire. If you're not comfortable writing the report and the letter, have someone in your company prepare them or outsource the work to a professional writing company.

Nonprofit annual reports

While most companies write annual reports to entice people to invest in their company or use their products, a nonprofit annual report serves a different purpose. Its main goal is to attract people who agree with and support the nonprofit's cause. If the annual report also gets people to contribute to the nonprofit company, then the report has done its job.

A nonprofit company prepares its annual report in whatever format works for the nonprofit. The company can use brochures, letters, photos, or cards, or use a digital format with some engaging company information. You can make the prose easy to understand and not as formal as in annual reports produced by for-profit companies. The annual report for a nonprofit works well when it's used as a call to action. And always include information about how people can donate to your cause.

Effective annual reports combine solid text and data in the report itself with more creative prose in the annual report letter. Financial statements make up a good portion of the report, which some people will gloss over, while others will review carefully. No matter what style your annual report uses, make sure the end result is something that reflects well on you and your company.

About the Author

Ronna L. DeLoe, Esq.

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