Excite and Inspire with a Conceptual Annual Report Theme

Each year, nonprofit organizations have a new opportunity to excite, inspire, and strengthen connections with donors and stakeholders via their annual report. Of course, the key is to create a compelling piece that stakeholders want to read.
The best annual reports start with a theme that reflects your organization’s work and resonates with your audiences. Once a strong theme is established, it should be carried through the entire piece.

Elements of an Effective Theme

A theme is more than a catchy phrase. It’s a meaningful concept that forms the foundation of the entire annual report. Every page—whether through text, photos, or other design elements—reinforces that theme.

For example, in 2020, the year after Birch Family Services celebrated 45 years of helping people with autism and developmental disabilities and their families lead fulfilling lives, the theme “Birch@45” showcased both what the organization had accomplished since its founding and how it would do even more in the years to come. That message, along with the bold Birch@45 typography we developed, emphasized how Birch was leveraging its rich legacy to better serve the community. View this project here.

In 2021 we extended that theme with “Embracing the Present, Eyes on the Future.” We demonstrated that, despite the ongoing pandemic, the organization increased the scope of services offered to clients. In addition, the organization’s strong foundation positioned Birch to expand its mission and set the stage to provide even greater support to the community in the years ahead. View this project here.

For American Friends of the Hebrew University, an organization that wanted to express HU’s significant impact through scientific research on Israel and beyond, we created the theme, “Shaping Israel, Transforming the World.” The copy focused on four key-impact areas. Conceptual photos and graphics that appeared throughout the piece depicted the global impact of the university’s work. View this project here.

Here are some tips for creating a strong theme for your annual report:

  • Analyze your recent achievements. Reflect upon the most significant events or activities of the past year, both in terms of where you are and where you’re heading.
  • Consider your future goals and plans. Share this vision with your audience, and inspire them to join you in realizing this future.
  • Find the big idea. Identify the single takeaway you want readers to gain; ideally, pair this idea with a compelling call to action.
  • Consider the competition. What are other organizations in your space saying, and what sets you apart?
  • Focus on your audience. Think about what inspires donors and other constituents to support your organization. The theme should convey your effectiveness in serving clients and making their investment pay off.

Meeting Clients Where They Are

We’ve also developed conceptual design solutions for clients who provided themes and copy. When UJA-Federation of New York released its annual report at the height of the pandemic and social unrest, the organization wanted to emphasize to donors and other stakeholders that it was successfully meeting unprecedented challenges. The theme “Built for This Moment” showed exactly that. Clean typography, bold design elements, and an unexpected layout hammered home the idea. View this project here.

The Lawfare Project approached us about building an annual report around the theme “Championing Jewish Civil Rights: Through the Courts and Across the World.” We provided sample text, which they used to produce the remaining copy internally. The clean design, iconography, photos, and color palette paired with success stories to reflect the organization’s approach to fighting injustice and to portray its impact during the past year. View this project here.

Inspiring Multiple Stakeholders

Ultimately, an annual report must resonate with multiple stakeholders: financial supporters, volunteers, partners, staff, clients, and often, political communities. A powerful, memorable theme can not only connect and motivate those stakeholders, but also accomplish other goals as well:

  • Tell the organization’s story in a meaningful and emotionally compelling way
  • Visually stand out in a crowded nonprofit work
  • Highlight differences from organizations with similar missions
  • Offer powerful reasons for financial and other support
  • Excite, inspire, and motivate stakeholders to continue and deepen their support

LETTER 7 has developed themes that meet those goals for nonprofits of all types. We can provide a turnkey operation of concept, design, and copy, or we can craft a theme and design working with your existing copy.

Your supporters see many annual reports. Make sure they remember yours.