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Create a Captivating Annual Report with Compelling Stories

Posted by on July 27th, 2023
Posted in Blog, Nonprofit Communications, Storytelling   

Nonprofits often fall into the trap of including generic stories of impact in their annual reports. It goes something like this:

John Smith had a problem.
He couldn’t solve it.
So we solved it for him
The end.

Although these expected stories serve the purpose of demonstrating impact, they don’t convey what truly sets you apart from your peers and competitors and thus make your work worth investing in. Stories like these also fail to engage your readers, a.k.a, your supporters, so they may miss the important message that it’s through their support that makes your work possible. Sure, your story might warm their heart, but if it doesn’t meaningfully differentiate you and invite them into the plot, you’ve missed the point.

Crafting stories that tell the bigger story behind your organization and its unique approach to challenges will make your annual report—and your organization by default—much more compelling, inspiring your stakeholders to donate, volunteer, support, etc.

Implement these three ideas to create annual report stories that invite your stakeholders into your work and drive them to take meaningful action:

1. Reinforce the big idea behind your brand.

Your stories—in annual reports and beyond—should consistently reinforce the big idea behind your work. 

Do you want to be seen as the most innovative organization in your field? Showcase stories that highlight groundbreaking ideas and solutions. Are you striving to be known for nurturing great leaders? Share stories that exemplify the development and impact of your visionary leaders. When you tie your stories back to how you want to position your brand, they become more distinct and leave a lasting impression.

We collaborated with Walter & Elise Haas Senior Fund on their 2022 annual report to reinforce the big idea behind their brand: community collaboration. As an organization that wants to create a more equitable and inclusive Bay Area for generations to come, the idea of community collaboration was important for them to communicate in their brand.

The annual report stories highlight their grantees and their incredible efforts to create a more just and equitable Bay Area. The Fund positions themselves as working alongside and learning from them, instead of what they do for them, reinforcing their brand idea of community collaboration. It would have been easy to fall into the trap of simply lauding the work of their grantees, but as nice as those stories would have been, they would not have helped the Fund remind people of their unique approach.

2. Frame your stories through your subject’s aspirations and contributions—not just their challenges.

The generic storyline we highlighted above not only lacks energy and inspiration; it takes away agency from those you serve. This not only fuels the savior narrative—it trains our minds to believe in relationships of dependence (those we serve can’t create change without our intervention) instead of interdependence (those we serve are leading the fight for change, and we stand with them to realize that change).

Practice reframing your stories through an asset-based lens—framing stories through your communities’ aspirations and contributions rather than their challenges and deficits,—recognizing and acknowledging the agency of your subject. When you shift the power dynamics in your storytelling, you not only honor those you serve, you also invite your supporters to be active partners in your community, rather than distant saviors of it.

In the same annual report, the Haas Fund features a story written by one of its youth stakeholders, where they share their own experience of working with the Haas Fund to create a more vibrant future for Bay Area youth. Through this approach, the Haas Fund centers the narrative and the experience of its young stakeholders, creating a closer connection between their readers and those the Haas serves.

3. Incorporate a level of vulnerability.

A compelling annual report doesn’t just applaud success; it acknowledges the continued challenges and the opportunities that those challenges set before us.

It’s an odd paradox, but being more explicit about where you fall short creates an opportunity for others to see how important they are to your success. It’s that feeling of importance—that emotional engagement—that spurs people to act. Vulnerability creates an opening for others to lend their time, money, and talents to solving the problem you’re working on together. See the example message here.

As you think about your organization’s next annual report, what storytelling tactics will you employ to ensure your readers will stop at nothing to help you achieve your goals?

Need some help? Reach out to one of our team members. We’d love to explore how we can work with your team to develop a captivating annual report that engages, invites in, and motivates action from your readers.


Zach Hochstadt is a Mission Minded Founding Partner and runs Mission Minded’s Denver office, leading the company’s creative teams in the areas of message development, writing, graphic design, and web design and development.

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