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Crafting Your Annual Report to Tell a Story People Will Actually Want to Read

By Zachary Houle on Mar 23, 2017 11:35:30 AM

It used to be that the annual report was used only for financial disclosure by public companies. However, thanks to the World Wide Web, information about a company’s performance is now readily available at anyone’s fingertips, especially as annual reports have moved online.

So what is the annual report used for now? It’s a chance for an organization to “share their brand, their information and ultimately their story,” according to Curran & Connors, an American design firm.

There’s a reason that storytelling should come into play with your annual report. If you tell a compassionate story about a single individual you’ve helped, you’re more likely to receive donations or business than by just spewing out a lot of factual data. Stories do the job.

There’ll be lots of people pouring over your annual report’s story, and various audiences will take away something different from it. This means that annual reports no longer serve a single purpose (that is, displaying financials). Consider it an opportunity to give readers a grand tour of who you are and what you do.


Why You Should Tell a Story In Your Annual Report

Here are three more reasons why you should tell a story in your annual report:

  1. This document is all about transparency and is told through the CEO’s voice or that of other leaders of your organization.
  2. It’s a chance to be a source of strategic communication for the company, by combining other aspects of your work along with the financial information. You get to tell people what you want them to know (and what you don’t want them to know).
  3. It allows you to cement and communicate your brand values throughout the year.


What a Good Story Does

Your annual report can do a number of great things:

  • Make your audience interested and engaged in your organization, and bring numbers to life.
  • Educate and inform your audience about what you do.
  • Connect readers to your organization by putting a human face on it.
  • Build trust and confidence in your brand.


How to Tell the Story of Your Brand

If you want to tell a successful story, it has to relate to your brand positioning. If you want to be seen as an innovative organization, you have to tell a story of innovation. If you want to be known for molding excellent leaders, you have to tell a story of mentorship.

Most groups tell stories in their annual reports about helping people. It’s fine to do that, of course, and there are good opportunities to do so -- but this kind of story should be really special and stand out. The really successful annual reports tell a much bigger story. Think about the impression you want to create for your organization as a whole. Your annual report’s story has to hammer that point home.

You should ask yourself the following questions to make sure that your annual report is on point and readable:

  • What makes your business or organization truly unique? Your annual report must tell readers what makes you stand out. How is your organization (and yours alone) addressing a specific issue?
  • Is an individual the focus of the story? Tell a story about someone in your own community. What are you doing for people?
  • What’s the point of the story? There has to be a reason why you’re sharing a story. It has to work as an illustration of something special that you do.


The Elements of Storytelling

There are potentially five elements to telling a good story that people will actually want to read:

  • Focus on your accomplishments, not activities. You need to connect the dots and show readers how your activities feed into your mission statement if you have one. Ask yourself, what were the results of this work? Why did you use your resources the way you did? What differences did it make? Focus on what you accomplished during those activities and explain the meaning behind your everyday work.
  • Let real people tell the story. Use pictures, profiles, testimonials and anecdotes from people who’ve benefited from you. This tells a great story about your organization and recognizes the contributions of specific people you’ve reached.
  • Your finances need to tell a story, too. You need to know what you need to (and are legally obliged to) report. Full financial statements can have drawbacks in that they can be skipped over or even be misinterpreted. Unless you feel there’s an absolute need for the full picture, use charts and a short description about how you made and spent money. You can have a note directing interested parties to the full financial picture (elsewhere) on your website.
  • Give thanks. This is more for nonprofits, but if you have a community of supporters, be sure to acknowledge them for bringing about the year’s successes. The stories you tell about them, the profiles and photos you share, and the overall tone of the report can speak volumes about expressing gratitude.
  • Have a call to action. At the end of the report, have a call to action or request for help. After all, you’ve already presented the financials and stories that should have inspired readers to get more involved with your organization.

Contact Cyan

Need help writing that annual report? Contact us. We create reports that deliver and take your reader’s breath away. We’re more than happy to talk to you in person in more detail and give you the annual report your stakeholders deserve.


Read More About Annual Reports


Topics: Storytelling, Annual Reports

Zachary Houle

Zachary Houle

Zachary Houle is a resident of Ottawa, Ontario, where he blogs for a number of clients. As a sometimes writer of fiction, as well, he is the recipient of a $4,000 arts grant from the City of Ottawa for emerging artists and a Pushcart Prize nominee. His fiction and poetry has been published in countless online and print literary journals and magazines in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. He enjoys blogging about books on Medium.com, and was recently named one of the Top 50 writers on the topic of books on Medium.