Home » How to Write a Volunteer Program Annual Report for 2021
As another unprecedented year passes, many nonprofits are wondering how to write their annual report. It’s possible you have faced program closures, suspended events, and other public health mandates that prevented you from operating as you would normally. Additionally, the challenges of starting programming back up again with new parameters may have added to your challenges this past year.
We’re here to help you create an authentic annual report that will still engage stakeholders, even if your year didn’t quite go as planned.
Before you start writing, let’s review the basics:
The annual report is a review of an organization’s impact, financial standing, and big-picture plans. The best annual reports combine numerical data and anecdotes to create an honest and compelling picture of the program each year.
Nonprofits and volunteer programs of all sizes choose to write annual reports. Some 501(c)(3) organizations are required to submit a yearly report. But any volunteer program can benefit from assembling a report.
Here are a few reasons volunteer programs write annual reports:
The annual report is your opportunity to highlight your program’s accomplishments for the year all thanks to your hardworking supporters. Illustrate success by the numbers and through anecdotes to reach your supporters.
Get buy-in for the future.
Loyal supporters and prospective supporters may look to your annual report when making important decisions about giving.
Communicate financial information.
Volunteers, donors, and stakeholders want to know the overall impact of their contributions. A paired-down infographic can effectively summarize basic program financials in a way that’s easy to understand.
Evaluate your mission.
The annual report is a way to check-in with the program’s progress each year. The process of writing the annual report helps stakeholders evaluate how the program’s actions fulfill its overall mission. In other words, the information should help stakeholders visualize the big picture.
Divide your program report into the following sections:
Reiterate your mission statement at the beginning of the report. Your mission statement will remind stakeholders of desired outcomes and sets the stage for further evaluation of progress.
Learn how to stay mission-focused during unprecedented times (and write the best mission statement).
Typically, the annual report provides a snapshot of compelling data to demonstrate both your volunteer program’s impact and the efforts of your supporters.
Include data such as:
Discuss any changes in data from previous years and outline causes for growth or decline. For example, did you implement a new volunteer management platform that led to an increase in hours logged? Were you forced to pause volunteerism to adhere to COVID-19 safety regulations? This kind of analysis will provide some context for your data.
The annual report is the perfect platform to showcase your successes. What goals did your program meet or surpass? Dedicate a portion of your yearly rundown to sharing your program outcomes using the year’s goals as context.
How should you communicate success? In addition to sharing your impact data, your report should also appeal to your audience’s emotional sensibilities and demonstrate your success in stories.
Maybe your mentorship program helped a child improve their academic performance. Or your animal shelter placed a special dog with a loving family. You may even choose to interview a volunteer to discuss their personal experience with a client.
Whichever anecdotes you feature, your report should emotionally connect supporters to your cause.
It’s time to talk about finances. A financial summary is a fundamental feature in any annual report. But pasting pages of spreadsheets and receipts is a sure-fire way to bore your stakeholders. Instead, present a summary of your financials in a way that’s easy for most to understand.
Here’s the essential information to include in your financial summary:
Take a look at this financial summary from Pencils of Promise. The summary is easy to digest and visually appealing:
You probably couldn’t do your work without the help of loyal volunteers and donors. Use this opportunity to thank your supporters and show appreciation for their support.
Keep your thank-yous focused on the volunteer or donor, and discuss their specific impact on your program and community.
Take this example from Natural Resources Defence Council. The organization’s writing is supporter-focused and empowering:
“For over 50 years, you have ensured that we have the resources to deploy our strategies in the most effective way possible. None of this would happen without your passionate support. Thank you for your unwavering commitment to protecting life on our planet.”
Wrap up your report by looking into the future. Outline your plans for next year’s programming and generate excitement for any new initiatives.
Consider discussing the ways your organization will move forward in response to the profound economic, logistical, and financial hurdles of COVID-19.
Will you stay the course or take on new responsibilities to address your community’s changing needs? Will you continue to embrace virtual volunteering next year? How do you plan to allocate resources?
Don’t be afraid to talk about the goals you haven’t met yet. Let supporters know that you still need their help to move forward.
What makes up a compelling annual report? Follow these tips to pack the most punch:
Nearly every organization faced unprecedented challenges these past two years. What sets your program apart is how your organization addressed these trials head-on and found opportunities for growth.
The annual report is your opportunity to bolster trust and loyalty. Present all the year’s outcomes, from major success to unforeseen challenges.
Sharing both your successes and your challenges communicates transparency, adaptability, and resilience.
Don’t be fooled by the condensed data you see in many annual reports. Gathering year-end totals take time. We recommend you stay on top of the process by compiling information like volunteer hours and donations throughout the year (at least every quarter).
Likewise, if you need to gather testimonials and stories, give participants plenty of time to respond.
Volunteer Management Pro-Tip: A powerful volunteer management software can help you compile a year’s worth of data in seconds!
You can make your annual report more compelling with visuals. Use a free design tool like Canva to supplement the report’s text and add some much-needed pizzazz.
How to add visual interest to your report:
We love these colorful infographics from Girls Who Code. (Be sure to check out their full 2019 report here. It’s chock-full of beautiful visuals.)
Learn about the power of visual storytelling.
You’ve worked hard this year. Now it’s time to share your work! Publish the annual report on your website in a place that’s easy to locate. Create a buzz on your social media accounts and share it with stakeholders in your monthly newsletter.
Many nonprofits design their annual report in print form. If you choose this more “magazine-style” layout for a more robust report you can still save the costs of printing by publishing it digitally with the free tool, Issuu. This allows your support base to scroll through the pages of your report just like they would an ebook.
These examples offer up some serious inspiration. These reports are thoughtfully composed, with clean design and good writing:
When preparing your annual report, use these steps to create an engaging experience for your stakeholders. They’ll appreciate your efforts in communicating this year’s memorable events, stats, and vision.
Author: Addison Waters
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