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12 Themes of Stellar Nonprofit Annual Reports

Written by Kathy Velasco on Wed, Jan 23, 2013

annual report themesIn part one of this series, we outlined the seven essential elements that every nonprofit annual report should have.  Now, you are faced with actually filling the pages. Perhaps the most daunting part of creating an annual report is putting pen to paper.

Click here to download the slide presentation, "An Annual Report Doesn't Have to be Boring."

Once you have identified what information you want to include, how are you going to write it?  One way to help with the copywriting is to select a theme that will give you some direction on word selection, graphics, photos, etc.  A theme can be anything that helps carry your message in a consistent way from page one to the last page.

Here are some themes you can draw from, along with some examples:

The Many Faces of . . .

The Girl Scouts used this theme to reinforce the diversity of their programs and the many girls who benefit from being a Girl Scout.  The theme allowed them to tie in their many photographs of girls participating in local programs.

Many faces


Discuss your programs and accomplishments in terms of the good they do for people, e.g., making them feel more involved, secure, healthy and independent. Also a great theme to showcase people photos.

Ideas Into Action

Discuss how programs began, how they have grown and what they have accomplished.

Embracing the Community

For each of your programs, identify a community, an organization or group of people who exemplify what the program is all about.


Rock Valley College used the theme “Community College Changes People’s Lives” which was suggested by a student essay winner.  Utilize personal profiles to illustrate how your programs have impacted individual lives.

changes lives


Best Practices, Best People, Best Products – what are the best characteristics of your organization?

A Day in the Life

Organize the report in a timeline format following a day at your organization – or a day in the life of a constituent.  This type of theme could work well for the Rescue Mission or Carpenter’s Place.

The Power of One…

Prairie State Legal Services used the theme “Change starts with One” to reinforce their new association tagline “Changing lives…one client at a time.” Programs were described in terms of how they impacted the life of clients and of volunteer lawyers.

 power of one

Sources of Strength

Personal profiles can identify a personal source of strength. This would be a good theme for a group like Healing Pathways.

Growing, Learning, Sharing, Leading

These are four generic words that can help organize your AR copy. Any word could be replaced with another like word that works for your organization.  How did your organization grow last year? What new information did you obtain? How did you get your message across? What difference did your presence make in your community?  This might be a good theme for a museum or a group like the Literacy Council.

Ten Ways We’re Working for You in Your Community

List ten (or any number) of benefits that your community enjoys because your presence. Describe your accomplishments as they relate to each of the benefits.  A variation on this theme is….

Doing the Right Thing

Prairie State Legal Services used the theme “Doing the Right thing, right now” and asked the reader what he/she would do if confronted with specific situations such as: “what would you do if you witnessed a vulnerable senior being neglected by her caretaker?”  Then a specific case study was profiled to answer how Prairie State answered that question.

You now have some great ideas to outline your annual report and write effective content for it. In part 3 of our series we'll discuss ways to get your nonprofit annual report out to your constituents.

Click here to download the slide presentation, "An Annual Report Doesn't Have to be Boring."

Many thanks to the writings of Kiki Leroux Miller, that helped with the development of this article series.

Image courtesy of jannoon028 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Topics: Marketing, graphic design, Non Profit Communications

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