Published: 6 December 2016

What not to include in your annual review

It could be your charity’s equivalent of a Christmas shop window display at Harrods or a summer blockbuster trailer.

Your annual review could be brilliant. It can offer readers a snapshot of everything that you do that is amazing so that they feel excited about, and want to champion, your work. Numerous departments can reuse the content that you include in your annual review – everything from case studies to statistics – so that the resources you invest in it benefit the whole organisation.

Yet, so often, this doesn’t happen. Come annual review time, there might be a mad dash to gather content from overworked colleagues. That means they often don’t have the time to really give you what you need or present their achievements in the best possible way. This can be frustrating for everyone and it’s a waste of money. 

You do need to produce a trustees’ annual report and accounts for the Charity Commission but you don’t have to publish an annual review. Yet, done well, it really can be your Harrods’ shop window – inspiring people to donate, take action and support you.

I’ve written dozens of charity annual reviews and read many more – good and bad. Here are my top tips on five things to steer away from in your annual review to make sure you produce a showstopper of a shop window. 

1. Internal politics

Restructures, a new creative communications department or merged social media team might have been a big part of the internal workings of your charity over the last year. But while this is big news for staff, it won’t be for people outside your organisation. What is crucial, and worthy of space in your annual review, is how these changes affect your cause. That might add up to joined up campaigns recruiting more volunteers, extra income or increased awareness.

2. Future plans 

An annual review is a summary of a year in the life of your charity. By the time you come to put it together, it may seem like a long time ago. So it’s tempting to weight content more towards what you’re doing now or plan for next year. But really this would miss the fantastic opportunity to report back to people about the impact you have made. A good annual review story will show readers what that impact is, through stories, words and pictures, and connect it to your organisational strategy with a nod to future aims. That way people can see why you are focusing on this area of work to achieve your objectives.

3. Stark facts

Whether it’s the number of training sessions you ran for health professionals or a summary of your press cuttings, including figures on their own is a missed opportunity. Instead, concentrate on the consequences of those facts and how they relate to your overall organisational goals. So, for example, how 80% of the health professionals who came to your training days used what they learnt to improve a young person’s mental health. Or, how a mum in the Midlands read an article in her regional paper and called your helpline and got support.

4. Merged stories 

It may have started out as a story about your latest research but you have been asked to squeeze in a message about a campaign or an unrelated quote from the CEO. Sound familiar? Stories with competing aims don’t work but are all too common in annual reviews. Agreeing a single aim for each of your annual review stories can help you to push back when colleagues ask you to include content with competing ones.

5. Your voice 

It’s more powerful to show people what you have been up to in the last year through the eyes of those you support rather than including your narrative description of it. Perhaps you’ve opened a new centre for homeless people in Hull. Instead of describing how many rooms it has and what they are used for, include the story of someone who goes along to the centre. Their words about how this has changed their lives will be more authentic, memorable and engaging than yours.

Trina Wallace, copywriter and editor, freelance

Trina Wallace is a copywriter, editor and communications consultant with 12 years’ experience in the charity sector. She has worked with over 60 charities, including Cancer Research UK, Drinkaware, Alzheimer’s Society and Oxfam. Trina specialises in powerful case studies, web copy and annual reviews.