Tips and Tools for Producing a Killer Annual Report

The year-end report is a golden opportunity to showcase your institutions many accomplishments and tell the story of how it was all made possible. Rather than becoming a stale report with a bunch of facts and figures, the annual report should explain what your institution is all about, what it believes in, and of course, what it wants to accomplish. Using visuals is a powerful way to tell your story–that is why, as mentioned in a past blog post, we were wowed when Calgary Zoo created the first annual report on Instagram. Another awesome annual report came from the socially savvy online eyewear retailer, Warby Parker. Their 2011 and 2012 annual reports were released online using fun infographics to convey everything one needs to know about their business, from quarterly sales, to the percentage of social media referrals by platform, and even their employees favorite beer at weekly evening happy hours (it’s Stella Artois, by the way!).

Taking note of the power of data visualization, last year, Michigan State University (MSU) opted for a more creative approach to presenting their 2012 State of the University report. According to Lou Anna K. Simon, PhD, President of MSU, the report “blends the popular ‘dashboard’ format with that of the contemporary corporate and institutional annual report.” The report is easily scannable, but gives a robust picture of the university’s financials, demographics, priorities, and accomplishments. For those who want a higher level of detail, many of the icons can be clicked leading to charts with more information. We loved this modern take on the annual report, especially since it includes an option to be shared via social media. For more examples of institutions using infographics to visualize advancement related data, check out this list in the CASE InfoCenter (login required).

What makes these annual reports awesome? Here’s what we learned:

  • Interactive design makes it interesting–give people things to click!
  • Graphics bring facts and figures to life–people understand visuals.
  • Share your organizations culture–convey how your institution is unique.
  • Lead with values–share what you stand for.
  • Make it social–if a reader thinks your report is cool, give them the option to share it with their network.

The good news is that to create these kind of reports, you don’t have to be a master at Photoshop or have a web master handy. There are a few great tools available where you can build your own infographic for free. Here are two options worth checking out:

1.)– offers six templates and thirtyone different charts, from the standard line, bar, and pie charts to more unique offerings like the pictoral and treemap options. The charts are’s strongest feature, as they are easily customizable using a native excel like spreadsheet or by importing your data through an xls, xlsx, txt, or csv file. Once you’ve input your data, the software automatically changes the chart into an accurate representation. Another great feature is the ability to import your own photos and videos for inclusion in your infographic–a great way to showcase campus events!

While allows for a significant amount of customization, some seemingly basic features are difficult or not available. Changing font color is considered an advance feature and is not user friendly, and as far as we could tell, changing font size is not an option! It would also be great if this tool had an option for user to add shape and icons.

2.) Piktochart— This is the original online infographic generator. Currently, six themes are available for free–all of which are easy customizable with a vast selection of icons and images. The editor makes it easy to modify color, font, and insert one of 6 chart options or upload your own images. Users can alter the length of their infographic by adding or deleting blocks. Finalized infographics are easily sharable on social platforms, published to HTML, or downloaded as an image file. If you’re not satisfied with the free offering, there is a Pro version available to anyone associated with an educational institution for $39/year (compared to $29/month or $169/year for other Pro users). Piktochart Pro offers over 100 themes and advance customization options.

Check out these tools, and let us know if they’re helpful in jazzing up this year’s annual report.

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