Communications professional making notesLucky for many of us, the Australian Charities and Nonprofits Commission has given Australian charities an extension on the deadline for filing their Annual Information Statement. The deadline is now in March. (See the ACNC’s website for more information).

The current AIS doesn’t require charities to report financial information or to even give any kind of detailed management commentary. That is, they aren’t asking charities for traditional annual reports.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a machine where you could feed all the bits and piece of information that goes into your Australian Charities and Nonprofits Commission (ACNC) Annual Information Statement (AIS), and all the bits and pieces of information that go into your Annual Report, and then press a button and hey prestos! out comes a beautiful report? Am I right?

While the team at Report Machine is busy building just such a machine (sign up here to be notified when it’s ready!), you can use some of the structures you already have to build a pretty nice annual report in Word or one of the design and layout applications such as InDesign.

The AIS form does not output to CSV or other database-style file formats. We will be building into Report Machine a way to scrape off the fields from your outputted AIS PDF form and add them into your Report Machine Annual Report So you don’t have to do two separate lots of data entry.

But in the meantime, you can use the momentum from filling out your AIS to create an annual report.

A Note for People Unconvinced about Bothering to do an Annual Report:

Annual reports are great for teams, supporters, donors and… everyone else

Creating an annual report is a very good idea. For a start, your organisation almost certainly has (or should have) most of the information that gets published in an annual report, it’s just scattered around different teams and individuals.

Annual reports are great tools for binding teams and groups of supporters together, of reinforcing team achievements, communicating with donors and providing information to grant-makers.

Annual reports also create a good resource for time-poor nonprofit communicators and CEOs: they’re a central repository for all kinds of facts and figures about your organisation from the previous year.


Sample Annual Information Statement form ACNC 2013
Sample AIS form ACNC

1.     To start: use a basic template and the information from your Annual Information Statement

Download and set up a template such as our Annual Report Template ($49) or one of the free ones from the Microsoft office template website. Even simpler, you could use the document from last year’s annual report, and do ‘save as’ for this year’s.

If you’re going to use a designer, you need to talk to her or him now. Even though the layout stage does not happen until the end of the editorial stage, the designer still needs thinking time and a few conversations with you to work out the style. It’s perfectly acceptable to use a ‘bought’ template, but if you are going to have one custom-made, you need to get onto it at the start.

When you were gathering the information for your Annual Information Statement, you probably had some other primary sources – people sent you comments on email, you looked at reports, you checked registrations for things. Gather this information into a folder for later, along with your AIS PDF print out.

2.     Allocate space for front pages, the report body, financial reports, notes and audit reports

Work out how many pages you want you annual report to be – consult your printer if you are getting it printed, because there’s a big difference between a 32-page report and a 33-page report. To printers, anyway.

Front pages:

Allocate a page for the cover, a page for the credits inside the front cover and a page for the table of contents. If there is a lot of technical language in your industry, it’s sometimes a good idea to include a quick glossary of terms so the general reader can understand what the experts are saying.

Financial Report:

Send off an email to your financial controller or the accountant in charge of your annual report. Ask him or her if he expects the financial reports to be much different in length to what they were last year. Allocate that amount of pages for financial reports, plus one or two pages for auditors’ reports.

Now you know how much space – how many pages – you have left.

Management CommitteeManagement commentary

The body of a non-profit annual report will often have the following sections: executive summary, message from the CEO, message from chairman or president, a list of board members and a list of big donors or life members. There will also be sections that talk about the organisation’s overall strategy and how the year’s activities contributed to meeting objectives from the strategy.

You’ve already pulled figures about who is on the team, the people whom you are serving and so on, for the Annual Information Statement. It’s okay to pull phrases straight from it and flesh them out a bit here.

Look at last year’s annual report, and think about what matters to your stakeholders and grant-makers.

3.     Write and edit the annual report


Work out which sections you would like to include and allocate word lengths to help them fit.  As a guide, this writing here, in 11-point type on an A4 page, is acout 350-400 words without design and pictures.

Consider who would be the best person to write each of the sections. Email them and ask them for a contribution, being careful to include deadlines and word lengths. Sometimes, a colleague will have already written something in an email or another report that can easily be edited to fit the annual report – consider including that instead, to save time and effort.


Save each contribution as it comes in – put them all in the one folder. As they arrive, check them for quality and word length so that you can ask the person to make alterations straight away if there is something wrong with it. There’s nothing worse than getting to the last minute and finding out the person sent you a single chart and a few bullet points!

Set aside uninterrupted time and paste the contributions into their different sections.

proofreadingWhen it’s ready, get somebody to proofread it. No matter how literate an editor is, if she or he has been working on something non-stop, it’s almost impossible to see small mistakes. If there’s nobody nearby who can proofread it, consider sending it to an online proofreading service – to be honest, they’re often better than the office pedant, and much easier to deal with. (Report Machine also has a Proofreading service).

4.     Layout and printing

If you got on to a designer earlier, as mention in step 1, now’s the time to send the files to him or her. Pay attention to what the designer says about the file types and fonts; they’re not making it up – seriously! Follow the advice of your designer and your printer, and you’re done and dusted.

At this stage, the more changes you make, the harder it is – and, if you’re using a freelancer or an agency, the more expensive it gets.

Just to point out: Report Machine also offers an annual report design service and a print pre-press service – that’s in case you hadn’t noticed 🙂

Any questions?

How you can use the Annual Information Statement to start your Annual Report by

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