OH NO, that time of the year again! Time for the dreaded annual report

We know that preparing the annual report for your organisation can be a stressful, lengthy and demoralising undertaking … but it doesn’t have to be! With some planning, and understanding of the steps in the process, it can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience. Yes, I said rewarding – with a satisfying, beautiful end product that you can be proud of.

Let’s look at a couple of pointers that will make the process so much easier. It will save you time and keep the costs manageable – because, as we well know, time is money.

1. Why are you preparing an annual report?

This may sound like a silly question, but think about it. Who do you imagine the end-users to be? Thinking of it as a tool to showcase the work of the organisation rather than a fiduciary requirement makes the effort seem more worthwhile.

Deciding upfront what you want to use this publication for will also affect the length of the report, the wording of it, and the amount of time and money you might want to spend on it. So, do be clear about the report’s purpose at the very start.

2. Who is in charge of the annual report?

It is vital that one person takes responsibility for the report, and knows when to consult other stakeholders at different steps in the process. The person in charge will need to liaise with the different departments of the organisation in order to pull together the copy (words), and must also know what s/he has authority to decide on (such as design/content/print specs), and what decisions need to be made further up the chain of command.

3. What should be in the report?

The contents of annual reports are as varied as the organisations who produce them, but generally, the following elements are included:

    • Vision, mission, values, objectives
    • Highlights of the year
      Patron report / CEO report / MD report
      Review of the year (in detail), including key events/activities; publications; awards, etc.
    • Board of directors/trustees
    • Management team/staff
    • Corporate governance
    • Financial statements (with auditor’s report where relevant)
  • Shareholder and administrative information
  • Fundraising and sustainability development and donors (for NGOs)

4. What is the deadline?

Is there a board meeting coming up, or a legal/donor requirement to produce a report by a certain date? A professionally produced annual report will take at least two months to produce and print, and can take far longer if all parties do not pull together, so planning is essential.

Give yourself at least three months to meet your deadline comfortably!

5. What are the stages of producing the report?

Working backwards from the report’s deadline, you will be able to create a timeline and establish who needs to do what by when. Each stage will take a different amount of time, depending on the length and complexity of the report.

  • Planning the contents of the report (see point 3 above).
  • Writing each section (you will need to delegate this for many of the sections, and give each writer a deadline for producing their part).
  • Sourcing images for each section, or briefing your publisher or COMPRESS.dsl on the type of images required. Don’t underestimate the importance of this stage, or how long it can take to choose, pay for and edit the images that will give the report the look and feel you are after.
  • Designing the report. Your publishing company or we at COMPRESS.dsl can be briefed, and start to work with a draft copy (words) to produce a design during this time.
  • Editing/copy-editing: Once the copy is agreed upon, and signed off by the CEO, COMPRESS.dsl will edit or copy-edit the Word document.
  • Pulling together the financial section: this is usually when the finance department and auditors will produce the financial statements in Excel that will make up the second half of the annual report.
  • The layout of the report: Once the copy has been cleaned up, the report will be typeset into the agreed design, and images will be inserted. The financial statements will also be designed and typeset. This is when the report starts to look like a professional piece of work.
  • Proofreading: At this stage, the entire report will be proofread, to pick up typos, missing sections (shock horror!), spelling mistakes, etc;
  • First proofs of the report are shared, for everyone to make comments and also check their sections. Images can be moved around or replaced if necessary, and small changes to the copy can still be accommodated at this time. Once the final round of changes has been taken in, the report is usually shared with the CEO and the board for their comments and approval.
  • Several rounds of changes may still take place, and once everyone has signed off, a final WEB version of the report is produced and, if printed copies are required, a high-resolution version will be prepared for printing.

After reading all this, I hope I’ve not made you more scared than when you started! Producing your annual report really does not need to be a daunting task – as long as you team up with a publishing firm that knows what they are doing. It can be a remarkably satisfying and creative process, highlighting the successes of the year and encouraging everyone to think deeply about how to showcase the work of the past twelve months.

Get in touch with us – we’d love to help you produce a report that you can be truly proud of.

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