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Best of Annual Reports: Our Top Picks

It’s that time of year.

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You know—the time when you start thinking about the big report. The one where you have to distill down the results of everything your organization has done in the last year into a neat and tidy document. That’s no small task!

Mission-driven organizations have been doing annual reports for decades. By now, you likely know the importance of this document, which is why you put so much time and effort into it. You also know your annual report matters to stakeholders of your organization at every level—financial, emotional, and otherwise.

Yet still, many annual reports remain bland and lifeless. The days of uninspiring, printed documents are numbered, if not already exhausted—especially in today’s digital age. For an annual report to be captivating, it has to be exciting! Not just in its content, but in its design too. The numbers communicate one thing, but the space in between can tell a winning story.

The best annual reports inspire audiences, create affinity, and convey gratitude for donors and supporters for their efforts. We took some time to gather a few of our top annual report picks in recent memory. The reports are in:

The Data Pick: Tableau Foundation Living Annual Report

Tableau, the data visualization tool used by many nonprofits, has a foundation arm on a mission to create real change in the world. The Tableau Foundation focuses on empowering organizations and nonprofits toward measurable, positive impact in society. They focus on initiatives such as advancing racial justice, ending homelessness, eliminating infectious diseases, combating hunger, climate action, and advancing gender equality.

Because Tableau is a data visualization tool, it’s very on-brand for their foundation to release an interactive, data-forward annual report. Their Living Annual Report isn’t only representative of annual data—it updates weekly. The foundation’s very intentional departure from the traditional annual report is in an effort to cut to the important information and avoid another printed piece.

Where that approach may sacrifice beautiful design and narrative, you can’t beat this kind of data for stakeholders. The Living Annual Report is divided into four sections highlighting where the foundation works, their focus areas, their grantmaking, and sustainable development goals. In nearly real time, readers can learn information like where the foundation is making its greatest impact, grant breakdowns across their main initiatives, and so much more.

The Narrative Pick: Sarona Double Vision 2020 Values Report

Sarona is an impact investment firm that empowers industry leaders to deliver long-term systemic change. Their capital improves social and environmental impact, giving growing businesses the opportunity to both thrive and impart change. Sarona’s mission is guided by sustainable development goals spanning across initiatives like gender equality, better environmental outcomes, jobs, governance, and community building.

Since 2017, Sarona has released an annual Values Report called Double Vision. The report outlines their initiatives, expertise, commitment, impact, and the associated data. They’ve released some great-looking reports over the years, but a particularly impressive report is theirs from 2020.

The 2020 Double Vision is a masterclass in storytelling. It opens with a letter from the CEO, whose words meet the moment for a year like 2020 while explaining the concept of “double vision”, or pursuing conflicting goals equally. The letter concludes with an invitation to explore the report, which was intentionally more story-based in 2020.

Good storytelling is a powerful differentiator for mission-driven organizations. Throughout the document, the eye is pulled by striking design and kept by effective narrative. The visual elements on the page are consistent with the brand ecosystem, and you’re met with headlines like “Our 67-year history” and “Since our beginning” along the way. Across the sections of expertise, commitment, and impact, there are six stories—none of which feel like a wall of text. The report concludes with the metrics from Saronas portfolios outlining the impact they’ve made around their areas of focus.

The Design Pick: Smithsonian 2020 Annual Report

Unsurprisingly, the Smithsonian’s 2020 Annual Report is as visually stunning as it is informative. Each page takes advantage of the full page, with a smattering of art interwoven with copy and storytelling. The result is a beautiful and curated annual report that almost feels editorial.

As you scroll through the digital report, some pages are single images or portraits blown up from corner to corner. Notably in full portrait orientation, the report feels like an exhibit in and of itself. If you’re viewing the report online, it becomes more interactive with links to supplemental videos, 3D models of statues, and more.

Everyone had to react to a year like 2020, and the Smithsonian was no different. The narrative throughout meets the moment while highlighting the museum’s efforts and thanking their supporters.

The Overall Pick: University of Texas Division of Student Affairs 2020 Impact Report

Full disclosure: This is an annual report that we built for our client, UT Student Affairs. And we’re mighty proud of it.

In order to make the student experience safer, richer, and more inclusive, UT’s Division of Student Affairs joined forces with Mighty Citizen to tackle a host of communication, design, and strategic challenges.They’re working within our Partner Program, which can best be thought of as a retainer of our ongoing services. When tasked with bringing to life a new message of “Living the Longhorn Life,” we stood up a logo and visual identity for the tagline and injected it everywhere we could—including the Division’s annual Impact Report.

The Impact Report is aimed primarily at current and prospective donors. It’s meant to get them excited about everything the Division accomplished over the previous 12 months and what’s planned for the future.

In close collaboration with the 37 units and nine departments that constitute the Division, Mighty Citizen researched, wrote, and designed the Impact Report—weaving in the new visual designs from the “Living the Longhorn Life” brand while also nudging it toward a more dynamic aesthetic. The result is a visually pleasing report with a refreshed identity that connects the reader with the department’s work on campus.

Mighty Citizen Can Help

Are you looking to ramp up your next annual report? Our team can help you develop a dynamic and beautiful report that’s sure to impress your stakeholders. Drop us a line—we’d love to hear how we can be a partner to your organization.

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