Ask these six questions to write a better nonprofit annual report

Ask these six questions to write a better nonprofit annual report

When you’re gathering the information you need to write a nonprofit annual report, what do you do? Do you send out an email asking internal players for their updates and reports? Do you take it one step further and set aside time to speak with internal stakeholders? You should.

The next time you begin work on writing your nonprofit’s annual report, don’t just put out a call for content; this tends to result in a pile of output figures, some relevant, some not. I suggest also setting up a short conversation with each internal stakeholder to ask a few key questions (see below). The answers will give you language to draw from to write a creative and engaging nonprofit annual report instead of a stiff and dull data dump.

Here are six questions to ask when conducting nonprofit annual report interviews:

1. Can you please tell me about your program/service/work as if describing it at a dinner party?

What this question does: It cuts through the internal jargon and gives you an accurate, plain language description of the activity.

2. Why does your program/service/work matter?

Alternative wording: Why is this program/service/work important?

What this questions does: It reveals why the organization is engaged in this particular work. It’s important to include why each activity matters in annual report content, even if it’s just through few words or sentences.

3. What gap did (or will) your program/service/work fill?

Alternative wording: Where would the sector, community or issue be without this program/service/work?

What this question does: It starts to uncover more plain language explanations of the impact of the activity as well as reasons why its important that your organization, in particular, is doing this work.


4. What did this program/service/work achieve in the year or reporting period?

Alternative wording: What difference did this program make in the last year?

What this question does: It gets to the main meat of your content – the report back on what you have achieved. You aren’t asking your interviewees to spit out a pile of output data; you’re getting them talking about the actual results and how they relate to achieving your organization’s goals.

5. What positive things are people saying about your efforts and achievements?

What this question does: It provides you with language that you can use directly in your report to keep descriptions fresh. Bonus: if your interviewees have collected actual testimonials, you can insert them directly into the body of your report.

6. How do participants in your program see or describe the organization?

What this question does: It’s similar to the last question, but is reflective of perceptions of the organization in general, versus a specific program or initiative. While you likely have an existing brand identity that you want to reflect in the report, the responses to this question can help you to shape the theme of the reporting year in particular.

Of course, if you’re an in-house communications team member, the assumption might be that you already know many of these answers. Ask your colleagues to humour you and treat you as someone new to the organization, for the sake of unearthing insights and nuances that only they can offer.

What about you? What questions do you ask internal players to prevent your annual report from getting dulled down into a list of fact and figures?


Posted September 17, 2014 / Filed under Nonprofit copywriting how-to / 4 Comments
  • linda_alberts

    This is a great list of questions, Marlene. I recognize that I ask a variation of a couple of these already. I really like the tip for in-house folks to ask their colleagues to humor them and answer the questions like they were talking to a new person. I’m going to try that next time because I think it will help get a refreshed view on the program(s).

    • Love that you’re already doing some of this, Linda and that you plan on trying that little tweak to how you frame it. I find that ‘treat me as a newbie/outsider’ approach can lead to a more relaxed – and more creative – conversation.

  • Great list, Marlene! To piggyback question 6, I think it’s good to ask clients if there are any misconceptions their organization is trying to dispel. This can give good insight into what information might need to be highlighted or downplayed.