Anatomy of an Annual Report

You’ve decided to create an Annual Report - congratulations! Now what?

Sometimes it’s really obvious what to include and what to leave out - but there are lots of gray areas, too.


Let’s start with your audience - who is it meant for? Usually local government annual report audiences include:

  • Elected officials
  • Board and Commission members
  • National reporting agencies (GFOA, others?)
  • Stakeholders (School District leaders, regional economic organizations, large employers human resources departments, real estate agents, etc.)
  • General public


Hopefully identifying your audience has helped you organize your thoughts around content. They likely want to know stats such as:

  • Community demographics
  • Department data
  • Highlights of accomplishments or major projects
  • And, possibly department or service area budget information

You may also want to include a letter to the community by the Mayor or City Manager - don’t forget to include their photos if there is room.

Speaking of photos - if there is room, why not add some photos of key projects, employees at work, or new facilities that you want to feature? You probably know this already, but people have a short attention span and won’t read large chunks of text - in fact, if you are reading this - I want to say thank you for sticking in there to get as much as you can out of this article!

Report Logistics

Just as you’d plan out an event or vacation for that matter, annual reports take some logistics.

Most annual reports reflect the prior calendar year. A solid plan is to collect data and content in January and plan on writing the annual report in early February, with the goal of releasing it in mid to late February.

Do you manage communications for your organization? This is likely your project. We’ve also seen finance departments pull together a lot of the data, then share it with City Managers’ offices for their project and program managers to write. Or, rock, paper, scissor it with your colleagues! As far as designing the document - if you have in house staff with creative skills, great, otherwise, hire a design firm or marketing firm who can turn text and numbers into interesting bodies of work! Why create a document that is boring and ugly?

Let’s Check In

Before we’re done here, let’s check in.

Effective Annual Reports look like…
In 1-8 pages, an interesting document with small chunks of text, photos, infographics, call out boxes and easy to read text and titling.

Ineffective Annual Reports look like….
Hundreds of pages of financial tables, large chunks of explanations and background information, lots of black ink on white paper, or if colored, hard to read font color and clip art. 

Good luck on your annual report journey! It’s twisty and sometimes you have to take steps backwards to go forward, but it is worth the effort; we strongly believe that an educated community makes for an engaged community.

Claire BouchardComment