10 examples to inspire your next annual report
By Corinna Keefe — Contributing Writer
Getting ready to write an annual report?
It doesn’t have to be a slog.
In this guide, we list ten stunning nonprofit annual report examples, that each use digital storytelling and data visualisation — including charts, graphs, and maps — to hold their readers’ attention. With no-code publishing platforms and nonprofit annual report templates, it’s easy to design an annual report that has real impact.
What are non-profit annual reports for?
You already know the dictionary definition of an annual report: a yearly announcement about what your organisation has done and how its finances are looking.
However, a good annual report can be much more than a mission statement and a few tables of key metrics. It can become an important reference, a flagship piece of content, and inspiration for employees, volunteers, and donors alike.
As we've written elsewhere on The Craft, content has become an essential element in most non-profit marketing strategies, and annual reports have become more important — and more versatile. They can now be used as sources for content throughout the year, bringing together case studies, interviews, infographics, and statistics.
For a non-profit where every cent and minute counts, it’s an unmissable opportunity.
However, it takes a lot of thought and planning to produce a in-depth, high-quality annual report. Non-profit organisations have to find ways of making their work meaningful for readers and stakeholders who may not have much industry expertise. Non-profits also have to demonstrate their values and real-world impact in their annual reports, as well as stating their mission for the future.
Annual reports also shouldn’t be boring. They shouldn’t look boring either. They should be as exciting and important as the vision for the future they represent.
How non-profit annual reports have evolved
In the past, annual reports were often shared as printed brochures or PDFs. But there are limitations to these media types.
Printed reports are expensive to produce, and can only be shared with a limited number of people. And while PDFs can be shared more widely, they can be clunky to interact with and are notoriously inaccessible.
They’re hard to read on mobile, which matters because mobile has accounted for over 50% of internet traffic for years. Google now actively penalises pages which are not mobile-responsive — so using PDFs could affect the SEO value of your annual report, as well as its readability.
Your publication strategy also has to take into account the huge array of stakeholders at non-profit organizations. Annual reports are tricky to write because they have to speak to executives, investors, employees and clients — as well as donors and volunteers if you work for a non-profit — all the while sticking to brand and messaging guidelines.
What’s the solution? The first thing is to create an annual report that’s accessible to everyone and looks good on every device, with your brand fonts, color scheme, and typography. You need the graphic design and media tools to tell your story in an engaging way, that humans can customize. And you need powerful assets to share to on social media and elsewhere (after all, your year in review is a powerful marketing asset.)
And you need to do it all without blowing the budget or getting tangled up in expensive software solutions.
In this article, we share some of the best examples of digital annual reports from non-profits published with Shorthand. The no-code publishing platform meant that they could create evocative and impactful reports without relying on a large team of developers and web designers.
Each report uses digital storytelling, data visualisation, and interactive design elements to create a stunning, eye-catching experience.
So without further ado, here are the ten best annual reports… and what makes them work.
The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting (2019)
The Pulitzer Center supports and funds journalism all over the world. So for their 2019 annual report, they chose a journalistic publishing style with acres of white space, powerful headlines, and heart-stopping photography. This is the annual report as a cinematic experience.
They also did a great job of sharing a lot of information clearly. The Pulitzer Center team used the full space of the screen to show charts and graphics, instead of tucking them away into a tiny 200-pixel image. You can see every last detail of the data, but it’s not overwhelming.
All those figures are then linked to the people who work with the Pulitzer Center. The entire report is illustrated with quotes from grant beneficiaries, links to some of their best writing, video highlights, and even pictures drawn by children in the Pulitzer Center’s school outreach programmes.
Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre (2018)
For our second example, let's look at another annual report that starts with attention-grabbing images.
The Climate Centre is an initiative that focuses on protecting vulnerable people from extreme weather events and the effects of climate change. It’s organised and funded by the Red Cross and the Red Crescent, responding to emergencies in every corner of the globe.
One of the challenges of an annual report is to connect it to real-world action, which is something that the Climate Centre achieves with aplomb. For example, a section about the value of drones to collect information and make their work more efficient is illustrated with footage from that same drone programme.
The Climate Centre team have also worked hard to put human faces to their many projects. Instead of the traditional, seated-in-a-suit headshots, staff profiles are illustrated with candid, smiling photographs from the field. Quotes from staff and clients are laid over photographs that make the real impact of each project clear.
CropLife International (2019)
CropLife is a non-profit organisation that connects plant scientists and farmers with the aim of creating a fair and sustainable agricultural system. Their annual report kicks off with a powerful statement of who they are and what they value.
But the real genius of this report is in how the information is organised. The report is divided into different sections based on CropLife’s goals and projects. Each section explains why the work matters and how they’re carrying it out. Then there’s a final paragraph titled “next steps,” setting up clear commitments for the year ahead.
This is a great way to put the report in context, reminding readers of the achievements of past years and inviting them to follow CropLife’s work in the next annual report.
Our next annual report example comes from FairTrade, another non-profit that works with farmers around the world. But they are unusual in also working with consumers, encouraging people to learn more about the global agricultural system and to pay fair food prices.
Their annual report reflects that activism. The introductory statement from FairTrade’s CEO is a call to arms, rather than a quick message of goodwill. And the organisation’s strategy for the upcoming year is highlighted right from the first paragraph.
This annual report is designed so that anyone can read it, whether they’re an agricultural expert or a shopper who just wants to know more about where their coffee comes from. It’s intensely visual: for example, you can click images of different commodities to find out more detail about each one. Specific goals for the year ahead are colour-coded for easy reference and recall.
FairTrade’s report also stands out because they profile their fundraisers, as well as their service users and staff. This is an important reminder that their mission depends on lots of different people getting involved.
UNU-FLORES is an initiative from the United Nations University, based in Germany. It offers post-graduate teaching and research opportunities, and aims to support energy, water, and agricultural policies with the latest scientific knowledge.
Their annual report places UNU-FLORES researchers front and centre. It’s illustrated with photos and videos from the researchers’ own fieldwork, creating a strong link between the report and their work on the ground.
The report stands out for the way it presents its key metrics from the last year. The report opens with an infographic where the text is already in place, but the numbers and statistics are only revealed when the reader keeps scrolling. This scroll-based animation encourages the reader to keep working through the report.
Later on, they use the same scroll effect to visualise data. The report displays a single, static chart, while the reader scrolls to choose which values and categories to display. Each data point can be seen and appreciated individually, without overwhelming the reader.
Our next example manages to escape the conventions of standard annual reports.
As a non-profit that focuses on children’s wellbeing around the world, World Vision has titled this report “Our Progress”. There’s a strong sense of brand identity throughout, which is especially important for an organisation that relies on donors and fundraisers. The report’s design is held together with World Vision’s signature colour scheme of orange and black.
It’s packed full of links, too. In fact, this report acts more like a press release or a cover page: you can click through to learn more about individual aspects of World Vision’s work and milestones, or download a full report of financial information at the end.
This approach makes a lot of sense in the context of World Vision’s audience. They want to focus on the children they help, so the report is illustrated with photos of kids and is very easy to read. Wherever possible, they let the people helped by World Vision speak for themselves through quotes and testimonials.
Start Network (2019)
Start Network links over 50 humanitarian organisations and NGOs. That’s a lot of information to summarise — but this annual report is impressively clear and well-structured.
Similarly to the report from UNU-FLORES, they use scrolling to reveal information gradually. An infographic chart that starts with “approach” moves through “primary outcomes” and “secondary outcomes” to finally show their “impact”. It’s a compact, coherent way to show exactly how their projects worked out.
This annual report is a fantastic example of how you can use graphics to make the financial report more readable and even entertaining. Through the careful use of colour, graphics and animation, the data comes to life.
In some sections, the report is illustrated with animated icons. In another part of the report, the Start Network team use infographics to show how their approach to aid has increased financial efficiency. And there’s an illustrated timeline that lays out their funding sources beside their expenditure.
Habitat for Humanity (2020)
Like FairTrade, Habitat is another non-profit organisation that relies heavily on fundraising and volunteers. Their mission is to help build better housing around the world. That’s clear from the start of the report, which opens with a video of their projects in action and a quote from a volunteer.
This year-end report also stands out for its structure. The Habitat team have flipped the standard annual report design inside out. Instead of starting with information about the organisation, each section of the report tells the story of someone who has worked with or benefited from the non-profit, with each story then linked to a specific goal or programme.
University of York (2020)
This annual report from the University of York starts with a confident summary of its achievements. Key statistics are given as much space as headlines, and paired with evocative photos of the university at work.
According to the university’s mission statement, it has a duty to be a public good and to be open to the world. So this report focuses not just on research or successful grant applications, but also on the university’s impact in the community. There’s even space to celebrate the achievements of individual students.
The design of this report is also very striking. Large, full-page black and white photographs turn to colour as you scroll down the page. The text is informative, but brief; it’s like watching an excellent live presentation.
Oxfam Ireland (2019)
This annual report from Oxfam Ireland is another strong example of how to bring information to life with data visualisation and rich media. This report is illustrated with videos that play in the background behind the text, providing instant context and atmosphere.
The information in the report has a very clear structure: headline statistics are followed by a list of goals, and each goal is elaborated with stories and images from Oxfam’s work on the ground. Since the organisation often responds quickly to emergencies which may disappear from the news headlines, several sections are illustrated with a video to remind readers of what happened and why the crisis was so urgent.
But what makes this report most notable is that it saves its message from the CEO for the end. Most annual reports put these statements front and centre, using them as an introduction that sets the tone for what you’re about to read. In this report, the statement comes at the end, so it sets the tone for what the reader does next. After reading all about the charity’s work and why it matters, you’re asked to respond by supporting Oxfam for the coming year.
It’s a simple change to the conventional structure of an annual report, but it has real impact.
Your next annual report
If you want to create a report that makes a difference and tells a compelling story, then these ten examples of annual reports should have given you some inspiration. With a little no-code magic, data visualisation and digital storytelling can have an unforgettable impact.
Corinna Keefe is a freelance writer specialising in tech, heritage, and education.