How to Design an Amazing Annual Report

Regardless of when your nonprofits fiscal year ends, you probably want to start thinking about your annual report design today. While annual reports are often seen as a time and design drag, there are plenty of ways to turn this report into a fun and memorable design project. And with better design comes more reading and retention, two positives for your nonprofit.


You need to start thinking about it now. Don’t wait until the numbers hit your desk to determine a design strategy. Start talking to your team about your plan for the year and how to create an annual report that will get people talking.

WHC 2018 Annual Report Cover

Pick a Format

When many people hear “annual report” they immediately think of a 12- to 24-page booklet of information on glossy paper. They also think it requires a lot of reading.

Let’s decide right now that we are going to break that format. An annual report can be a booklet, one page, a micro website or landing page, or all of the above. You might not be able to convince your Executive Director to eliminate all of that text, but if you read it carefully you can analyze and design it in a more visual and digestible way.

The beauty of an annual report is that most are packed with so much information, there has to be something in there to grab on to and create a design from.

Start the conversation early about the annual report this year. Go to your team and brainstorm some ideas to make it more visual from the start. With content planning and direction, it will be easier to create a report that is informative and visually pleasing.

SVDP annual report postcard
Land Preservation Trust Annual Report Cover

Start the conversation early about the annual report this year. Go to your team and brainstorm some ideas to make it more visual from the start. With content planning and direction, it will be easier to create a report that is informative and visually pleasing.

Tell a Story with Purpose

An annual report project starts like almost every other design challenge – with a story. What story will your nonprofit tell this year?

While your report will contain financial must-haves, consider this story along the way. Is it a story of change or success or learning experiences? How can this story impact or make donors, grant makers and employees think about the year to come?


Annual Report story-12

Think of the annual report as a branding piece that helps people better understand the organization they are a part of or supporting. 

The other important consideration when it comes to telling your story is to maintain your brand and brand tone. Is your nonprofit generally serious or more light-hearted? Allow that voice to come through in the design of your annual reports.

Make Data Visual

The infographic is one of the most valuable tools at your disposal when it comes to reports with plenty of numbers. Read through data and develop ways to showcase that data visually.

Annual Report Infographics-01
AR_0000_BCC Annual Report Infographic
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Annual Report Graphs

Go Bold With Typography

When you don’t have a lot of images to work with, bold typography can save a design project. Numbers are a great, and fun element to work with when it comes to creating bold character formations.

Consider ways to make characters the dominant focal point on each page or screen of the design. Consider how the letterforms contrast in the space around them. Is boldness set with color and scale – think in extremes here – or with an unusual treatment or typeface?

Annual Report Typography-04

Use Space Wisely

One of the design techniques that can most impact an annual report design is space. With a document as information-packed as an annual report, information needs plenty of room to breathe.

Consider margins that are almost uncomfortably wide. Open up leading(line spacing) and text so that it does not feel so overwhelming to look at.

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Annual Report Margins-05

Think in Chunks

All of the information in your annual report should be linked and contained in a way that makes it easy to understand. Break down a complicated document such as an annual report into chunks of information or chapters that have a natural fit and flow.

This works by designing on spreads or using a common color theme to connect content.

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Annual Report Spreads-09
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Focus on the Cover

There is the reality that your board or Executive Director is going to want a very traditional annual report: Text and simple tables only. If this is the case, consider a design that focuses only on the annual report cover and maybe 1-2 pages inside.  If you’re running into a budget crunch, it’s a great way to save money on annual report design

Design a stellar report cover and a few intro pages that tell a story before you get into the numbers.

The mix of design and function can appeal to nonprofits that desire a more traditional format for their organizations information. It also creates a format that can be used in a variety of ways such as using the opening pages for promotion and marketing as well, while leaving out the specific financials.

Annual Report Design
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Now that we’ve got you thinking about annual report design, do you feel more comfortable tackling this project at the end of your fiscal year?

Need help designing your annual report? Redstart Creative provides branding and digital marketing to organizations empowering positive change in the world. With our experienced team and proven track record we'll help you design an amazing annual report.

Contact us today