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Formatting Tips for Internal Reports

Good internal reports are accurate, timely, and readable. They present relevant financial information, with enough context (numeric data, comparatives, projections, and narrative) to promote a thorough understanding of your status, and what actions may need to be taken.

Formatting reports for maximum readability is an important consideration that is often overlooked. Be kind to your audiences: board members, finance committee members, staff managers, or other stakeholders will appreciate it if you follow the formatting tips below:

• Label your reports: include the organization’s name and the title of the report both on the report as it would be printed and in the electronic filename. Don’t just save it as “SOA June 30.” Establish a file naming protocol and be consistent. (Example: “XYZ Org Board FS Packet 20##-06-30” for the June 30 Board Financial Statement Packet.) (Many board members serve on more than one board. Including the organization name and report title is not only courteous but having a consistent file naming protocol is an indicator of care and attention to detail applied to the reporting function.)

• Date your reports, both in terms of the “as of” date of the data contained as well as the date the report was printed or generated. Include the year, as well as the month and day. If the fiscal year is other than the calendar year, note the fiscal year dates as well.  (In Excel, a footer can be added to note the fiscal year, “Printed on [Date]” plus “page# of ##.” See Print Preview/Header-Footer in Excel.)

• Display column headings and significant row totals in bold type or slightly larger font for emphasis and visual variety and to relieve that “wall of numbers” look.  (Focusing attention on significant totals assists the reader with comprehension and with gauging what is the most important information.)

• Include a “Key to Notes” column, if narrative notes are not on each data row.  (For example, the key letter “A” on the data row will correspond to the narrative note “A” where the note is shown separately below or on a separate page.)

• Ensure column headers and row labels are carried over if there is more than one page to the report. Please!  (Unmarked columns are really frustrating! Who wants to keep flipping to the first page to check what’s in each column on page two?!.)

• Consider highlighting alternate rows If there are many columns on a page to make it easier to track across the rows.  (Use a light tint of blue or gray rather than saturated background colors, so printouts will not obliterate the content.)

• Provide visual representation of key data.  (For many folks, graphs and charts enhance understanding of the numerical data. Visuals and provide emphasis on important items. See Dashboards or Snapshots .)

• Check to ensure the page set-up is “printer friendly.”  (Besides wasting paper, it’s very inconvenient and doesn’t help readers to understand the report if that last column or row doesn’t make it onto the page. Printer friendly reports also indicate your courtesy and care as noted above.)

Return to the Internal Reports Introduction page for links to greater detail on how to read various reports as well as recommended formatting.

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