Publishing an effective annual report

The wrong way to do an annual report is to approach it as one of those pesky, ubiquitous tasks put off till the last minute, then done hurriedly to beat a stipulated deadline. Quite to the contrary, an annual report is a great marketing tool to showcase your organisation’s achievement over the last 12 months of your financial year. Which is why you need to be deliberate in how you go about it.

First things first. The team. The work. The teamwork. Annual reports do not happen by themselves, rather, they require input from diverse sources; the board’s chairperson, the chief executive officer, the accountants, the auditors, those in charge of generating content… the team. All these people are tasked with one chore or another; statements from the chairperson and the chief executive officer, detailed financial statements from the accountants and which have been certified as true by the auditors, narration by the content developers… the work.

Which is where teamwork comes in. This is where proper planning comes in. Ideally, your organisation should have a set workplan to guide in the development of the workplan. When do you commence with preparing one? Who oversees the process? Who is supposed to present what to who and by when? At what point is the publisher to be engaged? Adhering to such a workplan allows for the preparation of the workplan to flow smoothly.

Next is addressing the purpose of the annual report. While it is a statutory requirement to present an annual report to the relevant authorities and one’s shareholders or stakeholders, this shouldn’t be construed as the primary objective of doing one. Rather, as stated above, the primary purpose of developing an annual report is to showcase your organisation’s accomplishments, thus marketing it further. Suffice to say, the accomplishments should be tied to your vison and mission. Otherwise, you would be missing the point.

We then move to the template of the annual report. Think of it loosely as a guide that allows everyone involved in doing the different parts of the annual report to work at common purpose. The template dictates such things as the style of the report, the subject matter, the tone adopted in reporting facts and so on. It enables the report to have consistency as a single whole rather than as different narratives cobbled together into a rather disjointed mishmash of facts, figure and narratives.

In doing the report, think of the primary audience of the report. How do you interest them to read the report? The hard and fast rule is to tell a story- a broad outline of activities and objectives, the impact of these activities and objectives- and which must be interesting. Can you include a ‘human interest’ story to illustrate the impact of your activities and objectives and which ties in to your overall mission?

For instance, if you run a charitable organisation advocating for maternal and child health, one of your activities could be distributing insecticide-treated nets to pregnant and lactating mothers in malaria prone areas. A ‘human interest’ story would be the story of how one such mother’s life and that of her family – preferably in her own words- has been impacted positively because of this. Her story would tend to resonate at a deeper level than mere presentation of facts and figures.

At the end of the annual report are the financial accounts. These gives a detailed account of the organisation’s standing financial wise; the assets, the liabilities, income, expenditure and so on. In effect, it accounts itself to its shareholders on how it got and spend their monies. The financial report can be affixed as an addendum to the annual report or can be prepared as a separate financial report as per the standard in one’s industry or field of work. Though facts can be rather dry to most of us, think of the financial statements as the skeleton upon which the rest of the annual report is built on. Which is to say, prudent uses of the resources by the organisation will go a long way in marketing the organisation to present and potential stakeholders than all the other narrative contained therein in the report.

Once all the content has been submitted, then it is put together as a single report by the designated editor at the organisational level. He or she standardises the text, ensures the flow is logical and consistent, that donors have been properly acknowledged, checks that the figures add up and selects the images from the organisation’s repertoire for use at the design level as the annual report moves towards publication. Only when he or she is satisfied that, a) the annual report is a true reflection of the organisations activities and accounts for the last 12 months, b) that it is interesting and compelling to the intended audiences, and that, c) it markets the organisation favourably, can he or she advise the rest of the team that the annual report is ready to move to the next stage of getting published.