Annual Reports: Should Yours Go Digital?

The nonprofit annual report. Or as we prefer to call it, the impact report. After all, the whole point is to tell your donors about the impact of their support, right?

Recently we’ve heard a lot of talk about dropping the traditional print impact report in favor of a digital one. But how do you know if it’s the right move?

When it comes to choosing digital over print, there are two important questions to ask yourself.

What is the purpose of your report?

Answering the “why” not only helps you clarify your thinking about whether or not to go digital, it also helps you narrow your options if you decide to go forward.

— Why are you doing a report? It’s not required, so what’s the goal? Is it to share with donors to get more gifts? To have a communication piece to send out for stewardship in between asks? Or is it just that you’ve always done one? It’s hard to spend money on a project when it’s not clear what that money gets you. Consider taking some time to identify who the report is for, how it will be used and what outcomes you seek.

— Are you trying to save money by skipping expensive printing and mailing costs? Definitely worth consideration. When you know your goal and your audience, this is a much easier question to answer. If the piece is intended to support fundraising, even if a mailing costs thousands, it’s a worthwhile investment if it generates more! However if not, there may be a better way to deliver it at lower expense.

— Are you trying to present information the way your people want to receive it, or the way you want to deliver it? And do you really know they prefer to receive things online, or is that just a hunch?

Print versus digital doesn’t necessarily have to be a choice. There are many different ways to shift delivery away from direct mail.

What exactly do you mean by “digital?”

When it comes to impact reports, “digital” can mean a whole slew of different things to different people. Depending on the purpose of your report, one of these options may be the right fit for your audience and goals:

    • PDF version of a traditional impact report
      Creating a PDF version of a traditional print-design impact report involves no extra work to get a piece you can share digitally. You can print a small amount to send to major donors and keep on hand if you like. Then use the PDF version to email or post it to your website for download. You can also use a service like ISSUU to allow viewers to page through a PDF on your website. If your primary delivery will be online, consider designing in landscape format so it is more readable on computer monitors.
    • Impact report infographic
      For some, doing a digital impact report means condensing down the highlights into an easily digestible infographic. This one-page format works well as a sharable image online. And the long vertical format is especially readable while scrolling on mobile. See this one we did for United Way of North Carolina to report on their work to local politicians.
    • Microsite
      Some organizations build out a fully interactive subsection of their website (called a microsite) to present their impact report. This is a very engaging way to share information with your donors, and also makes the content available and searchable online. The design and coding can rival the costs of a printed piece so choose this option for its functionality rather than its economy.
    • Shift some content online
      Another popular idea is to cut down on the number of pages you print by eliminating donor lists or directing readers to an online donor list.


    What will work best for you? Every communication choice is a balance of goals, audience, time, budget and skills. Think about what you need to prioritize this year and chose the version that will have the best impact for you.

    Need help exploring your impact report options? Give us a call at 267-468-7949 or drop us a line at