Make The Most Of Your Annual Report

The most effective annual reports energize readers by demonstrating the impact your credit union has on all stakeholders.


Download December 2012 Report

A good annual report begins with the credit union turning out an impressive performance in the year just completed. Who hasn’t been happy constructing an annual report after a positive year?

But a GREAT annual report is one that goes beyond the usual reporting and creates a sense of ownership, urgency and belonging for the members of your community. Think of it as an Impact Report: how can you document the difference your credit union makes in the lives of people every day?

This month, the Callahan Report offered ideas about how to make the most of the annual report. These tips are meant to stir your thinking about whom you are addressing with your annual report and what you hope they get out of it. 

A vital function of your annual report is to demonstrate to each set of stakeholder that the credit union is moving toward the goals those groups of stakeholders’ hold dear.

Step 1: Broaden Your Definition of Stakeholders

A vital function of the credit union’s annual report is to demonstrate to each set of stakeholders that the credit union is moving closer to the goals they hold dear.  These include: board members; employees; sponsor groups and select employee groups; the credit union’s geographic community; the credit union’s business community; political representatives; and other credit unions and CUSOs.

As you craft your credit union’s annual report this year, put yourselves in the shoes of your stakeholders. Ask yourselves the following questions to start thinking more creatively about how you create forward engagement, not just a retrospective of what happened in 2012.


After seeing this annual report, would members understand why any credit union — and this credit union in particular — is a better choice for them than another financial institution?

Does the annual report make it clear, and even emphasize, that the members are the owners of the credit union? Would a reader understand that the members’ representatives control the credit union through the board of directors?

Do the activities and performance of the credit union demonstrate it is responding to the specific needs not just of members but also of its “community of members” in which it operates?


After reading this annual report, could a staff member say: This credit union’s values align with my own?

After reading this annual report, could a staff member say: I am proud I work here. My family is proud to support me in my decision to work here?

After reading this annual report, could a staff member say: This annual report makes me feel better about my credit union. I am comfortable promoting the credit union within my community and talking about it to non-members?

After reading this annual report, would a staff member feel the credit union is adequately communicating its mission? Does the annual report show the impact staff members have on members and on the community?

Sponsors And SEGs

Does the annual report clearly communicate the benefits the credit union offers sponsor and SEG employees and their families?

Does the annual report engender satisfaction, even a sense of pride, for a sponsors or SEG’s association with the credit union?

Do sponsors and SEGs come away with the notion they would benefit from closely engaging with the credit union? Would sponsors and SEGs clearly see the employee benefits derived from closer credit union cooperation and effort?


Does the annual report make it clear that the credit union is providing desirable jobs with competitive benefits to community members? Does it make clear that as the credit union grows it will hire more people within the community?

After reading this annual report, would community members understand the credit union is playing an important public role based on cooperative rather than for-profit principles?

Does the annual report convey the credit union’s wholly different approach to financial services, especially when compared with for-profit financial institutions?

Does the annual report demonstrate that the credit union extends credit with less transaction friction and is better at modifying loans for persons in the community?

Does the annual report communicate the fact the credit union does not make “faceless” loans; rather it makes loans to people and businesses within the community? Does the annual report explain that these loans have a money multiplier effect that beneficially ripples across the community?

After reading this annual report, would community leaders understand the credit union is rooted to the community? Would they understand that it cannot go anywhere or be bought out as for-profit firms can?

Business Community

Does the credit union’s annual report speak to the business community?

Does the annual report clearly present how the credit union helps the business community through community development? Does it clearly communicate how it is raising the standard of living for the community? Does it clearly outline its community volunteerism?

If the credit union offers member business loans, does the annual report address how the credit union’s business lending bolsters the community and plows member money back into the community?

Political Representatives

Does the credit union’s annual report demonstrate to political representatives what the credit union is doing to justify its income tax exemption?

After reading this annual report, could political representatives identify key messages intended for the general and business communities?

Does the annual report exhibit clear data on how the credit union is helping constituents of the representative?

Would a Representative understand the credit union is rooted in the community, not going anywhere, and a positive force for elevating the community and the persons in it?

After reading this annual report, would a political representative conclude that he or she should reach out to the credit union for insight into issues affecting the community and when crafting public policy?

After reading this annual report, would the number of members the credit union serves be clear to political representatives? Would political representatives understand that the credit union’s members are active in the community and have engaged in grassroots efforts?

Other Credit Unions And CUSOs

After reading this annual report, would another credit union or a CUSO conclude the credit union is a desirable potential partner in future business initiatives?

The Environment

Does the community know what the credit union is doing to reduce its carbon footprint? BECU publishes a short financial annual report as well as an extensive sustainability report that describes what the credit union does for staff, the community, and the environment. Learn more about that strategy in this Q&A with Tom Berquist, BECU's SVP of member strategies.

Step 2. Organizing An Annual Report

The ideal annual report would answer all these questions for all stakeholders. From there, identify how you want to communicate the credit union’s principles, accomplishments, and future plans to them in such a way that they will continue with or increase their commitments to your credit union.

Some annual reports include independent sections that address each stakeholder group and provide clear answers to the above questions. This can take a significant commitment of time and energy. Other annual reports merge stakeholder-directed information into more general sections. This helps with brevity but runs the risk of making stakeholders search somewhat more arduously for key information.

In any form, include an executive summary that at least offers busy stakeholders a tentative grasp of what the credit union is doing on their behalves. Then incorporate where to look for expanded information. No matter what system you use, subheads, titles, and pull quotes will all help to direct stakeholders to the areas that matter to them most, quickly and effectively.

Step 3. Capture Attention

Consider how to encourage your stakeholders to actually read the report. Producing a written memo of 5,000 words is going dissuade most from taking the time. A good designer can make all the difference in getting people to read about what you’ve spent time accomplishing and now documenting. In fact, involving a designer early in the process might help you think about how to present the information in more effective ways.

Make It Personal

Most readers can spot stock photos. Use photos your own staff has taken of people and activities. Another tactic is first-person testimonials from real members or employees.

Use powerful language. Write compelling photo captions and headlines. After headlines, captions are the most-read feature of annual reports. There’s limited space, so make every word count in conveying valuable information.

Be Clear And Concise

Use language everyone understands.

Be Visual

Reading financial statements can overwhelm a lot of people, but graphs and infographics are effective in communicating performance and impact. Use charts where they convey information more rapidly and succinctly than words do.

Step 4. Deliver The Report

Finally, carefully consider how you want to get this report in the hands of your stakeholders. Unlike Field of Dreams, this is not a “build it and they will come” situation. You must consider the best methods to encourage stakeholders to take notice, not add it to a stack of other annual reports.

Some organizations produce the report in multiple formats for various audiences. Why not hand-deliver a printed version to political representatives to put a face with the organization? For your membership at large, perhaps send a shorter version with a QR code to direct people to an electronic version online. This could be a PDF of the full printed version or even a website the credit union can update throughout the year.

If you see or have an annual report you feel is particularly effective, please share it with me. It doesn’t matter if it is a current report or one from 10 years ago. We’ll post electronic copies to share with our readers to inspire their next report.

This article appeared originally in the December 2012 issue of The Callahan Report. Click here to read a Q&A with Tom Berquist, SVP of member strategies for BECU ($10.8B, Seattle, WA). Berquist talks about the credit union's two-part annual report.