How to Prepare an Annual Report for Your Company

Careful planning and input from the company leader are keys to an effective annual report.
Careful planning and input from the company leader are keys to an effective annual report. (Image: Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images)

While federal regulations require U.S. public companies to file an annual report, nonprofits, organizations and small businesses can also use annual reports to build marketing, attract donors or customers, increase credibility from the media and public and bolster reputation within their field. To create an effective annual report, invest time and resources into careful planning and build in time for last-minute tweaks or changes from the boss.

Get the organization's leader input on the style, scope, intent and overall message of the annual report. Having the leader's insight before the process begins will avoid multiple and costly changes.

Determine the necessary sections of the annual report. Public companies must include specific sections to meet federal requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Other report elements include a title page and back cover, a letter from the organization's leader and sections detailing finances, the organization's history and recent accomplishments, staff listings and recognition of volunteer contributions or donations, if appropriate.

Create the budget and timeline for the report's completion. If the report is printed, the budget must also include production and mailing costs.

Assign report sections, production elements such as graphic design and due dates to company or staff members. Explain that each section must meet the organizational leader's expectation, the budget and the deadline.

Proofread the final report. Look carefully at captions and graphic design sections, where typos tend to hide. Assign a staff member unfamiliar with the content to read for mistakes and one with knowledge about the company to proof read for inconsistencies or misleading information.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use the completion of the annual report as a public relations opportunity. Draft and distribute a news release announcing the report and include a link to the report's content. Post the report itself, or sections of the report, on the organization's website. If appropriate, announce the report's availability on an organization's social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter.
  • The annual report team size will depend on the resources of the organization. Some large organizations have entire communications departments while other smaller nonprofits will turn the entire project over to one writer. When working with a team, remember to follow-up with members about their sections and set regular status update meetings to ensure the report remains on schedule. If working alone, solicit input and feedback from other company members. For example, get input from the staff member in charge of volunteers regarding his expectations for a "thank you" section.
  • The budget for the annual report must reflect the organization's mission and financial standing. If a nonprofit releases a slick and expensive report, contributors may wonder if their donations are being used wisely. Annual reports do not have to be printed, lengthy or chocked full of expensive graphics. Organizations with limited resources should consider electronic copies or scaled down report versions.

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