Annual Reports – friend or foe?

by | Jan 30, 2020 | Emma Willder

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If your charity has a March year-end then soon it will be the time of the year that you dread…yes, it will be time to prepare your charities annual accounts, but more than that the annual report.

More often than not the writing of the annual report falls to the finance team. So how do you make sure that your Annual Report is easy to pull together, meets all the regulatory requirements and, let’s face it, is not boring to read!

So how can you take the pain out of this and ensure that your charities Annual Report is the best it can be?

Here are a few pointers I have drawn from my own experience which I hope will help.

What’s the purpose of your report and who’s your audience?
The first thing to decide is what the purpose of your annual report is. Depending on what type of charity you are you might have a very different purpose for your annual report. For example, if you’re a grant-making charity, you might decide just to have a bog-standard annual report that meets the requirements of the Charity Commission and other regulators but doesn’t go much beyond that.

However, if you are a charity seeking money from donors then the chances are you want to make your annual report a bit more eye-catching, ensuring that it tells your story and engages the reader – after all when you’re applying for grants you can bet that the people reviewing your grant application will look at your annual report and accounts.

This links nicely to the second question – who is your audience?
Is it the Charity Commission, beneficiaries, donors, funders, anyone else? It’s important to decide your audience as this will shape the tone of your report. Take some time to think about this and talk it through with others in your organisation to get their view.

What’s your message and what should you include in your annual report?
What do you want people to gain from your annual report? The Charity Commissions view is “Your trustees’ annual report helps people to understand what your charity does, particularly potential funders and beneficiaries. You need to write your trustees report if your charity is registered in England or Wales. Along with your accounts, the report tells people:
• about your charity’s work
• where your money comes from
• how you’ve spent your money in the past year”

When it comes to what to include do you just want to comply or go above and beyond?
First of all, depending on your size and legal form, there are certain things you have to include. The Charity Commission has a useful document here.

You might also want to consider including visuals – photographs, infographics, graphs etc. as these all help bring the words to life and you can also choose to emphasise certain aspects for your work using these, drawing the reader’s attention to success stories.

And speaking of success stories why not include some case studies from your beneficiaries. Stories about real people and the impact your charities work has had enables the audience to connect with your work. And if people connect with your work, they are more likely to fund your work.

Who to involve?
Remember it’s your charities annual report not just that of the finance team so get others involved. Below is a suggestion of who to include, but of course this depends on how large your charity is:

The key here is to include the relevant people from the very beginning of the planning process not just when you need them to do something.

Also, if you are getting different people to write different aspects of your report then you will need to build in some time for one person to review the report. This is to ensure that a consistent tone of voice is used throughout.

The Five P’s – Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance
This process takes longer than you think so don’t leave it until the year-end when you are busy trying to prepare your accounts, or even after preparing your accounts. Of course, certain aspects won’t be able to be written until the accounts are ready but the vast majority of it can so start early.

Personally, I would start preparing at least 3 months before your year-end. This will enable you to engage interested parties at an early stage, start sourcing any case studies and images you wish to use, and take some of the pressure off.

So, in summary….
• Establish the reports purpose and its audience
• Decide what story you want to tell
• Gain the help, support and buy-in you need
• Sort out your images and case studies
• Plan

Useful information:
SORP Guidance
Template for an annual report for a small non-company
What you need to include in your annual report

If you’re looking for more than an accountant then why not give Emma an email or a call?

[email protected]

07419 786 943

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