Annual Reports

How to write an annual report

An Annual Report is a communications document, generally made available to the public, as well as a useful supplement to grant requests. You should expect that donors, UNHCR, government, and other partners or stakeholders will read them. They showcase your work in an accessible format, reflect on achievements and challenges, and signal your future direction. Stakeholders in particular will want to know why you did what you did, how you spent your time and money, and what difference it made.

A typical length is around 20 pages, and may be put together by comparing and compiling items from internal quarterly reports. Detailed budgets are generally not included. Annual Reports should be jargon-free, clearly presented, and ideally contain visuals – engaging photos or pictures of clients, groups, and project activities that contextualize each chapter. Sans serif fonts such as arial and calibri look neat and professional. Captions are advised to anchor your illustrations in your narrative.

Duplicating information available on your website is not a problem, as an Annual Report is a self-enclosed document. Equally, if the website is not as up-to-date as an Annual Report this is understandable, given the priorities of a young legal aid office – this is unlikely to be read as a difference in openness.

Structure template

  • Could contain founder’s note, summary of year’s progress.
Overview of refugee situation in your country
  • Could contain explanation of what refugee status means for access to other rights, gaps your organization aims to fill.
About the organization
  • Your mission (general) and objectives (concrete, such as the number of cases you hope to take on in the coming year, or awareness-raising initiatives).
Activities to achieve mission and objectives
  • Brief activity report with images
  • Such as numbers assisted (it is standard to include dependents).
Client stories
  • You may already have interviews with clients for other public information purposes: even if this is the case, it is advisable to obtain clients’ permission to use their photo or story again (and in future).
  • Contextual, rather than concrete ‘needs’ – these belong in a grant request.
Organizational structure, team
  • If you choose to explain the management and advisory board structure, ensure that titles are helpful and guiding: those on a board of directors are generally understood as exercising supervision over management staff. An advisory board carries no legal connotations and are external to the management structure.
Last reporting period’s income and expenditure
  • This need not be itemized, it can be by type of cost or income. Keep financial information jargon-free and easy to understand. Explanations may be useful, detailing your main fundraising strategies or implementation of cost-saving measures.
  • Aim to summarize and reiterate the progress the project has made towards achieving its ultimate goal, besides that year’s specific objectives. Stress that there is work still to be done and issue pointers as to how interested parties could support your work, either with money or time.
  • An epilogue recognizing donors by name is common practice. Triple check this list for spelling and correct full legal names of foundations and government departments. Smaller donors need not be included if this makes the report too long. They can be acknowledged in alternative communications such as newsletters.

General advice:

  • Over-emphasizing fundraising achievements is less advised than mission-related accomplishments. Readers will likely be more interested in what you did with the money, rather than how you raised it. It is not inappropriate to include information on fundraising progress, however this may come in the financial section, rather than under achievements.
  • If you do not yet have good quality photographs to illustrate your report, search for ‘royalty free stock photos’ on the internet in order to complement your write-up.


Note the differences between Asylum Access’ 2007 – 2008 Annual Report and the Asylum Access Annual Report 2011 – 2012. It is normal for formats to evolve as an organization’s portfolio grows – the latest report includes some short, recently published articles, and no longer itemizes salaries by position, for example.

Further resources