In my previous work as a funder, I always looked forward to seeing progress reports and final reports. Report time provided an exciting opportunity to celebrate the success of the projects that organizations had worked so hard to implement. It also proved to be a time that strengthened our relationships with agencies, as we took time to speak with them and understand their work more intimately.
The process of reporting is important, as it not only brings a level of accountability for grant writers and their organizations, but it provides an effective way for organizations to tell their stories of impact. There are very few things more exciting for a funder than gaining a clear perspective of the difference their dollars have been able to make.
Based on my experience though, grant writers don’t always hold that same positive perspective of the reporting process. I’ve had numerous questions asked of me over the years about funding reports. I’ve had grant writers ask, “Why don’t they just give us the money and trust us?” or “Why do I have to do all of this paperwork?” or “Why do all funders have different requirements?” I understand the frustration and challenges of completing funding reports. They can be time consuming and they never seem to be due at a time that is convenient. But your reports are important and they are an important part of the entire process, not an annoying add-on at the end.
With that in mind, here are five key ideas to consider the next time you sit down to write your report.
1. Know When Your Reports Are Due
As a grantee, it is your responsibility to know when you are required to report – it is not the responsibility of the funder to notify you about upcoming report due dates. The reporting dates are normally included in your contract or letter of agreement. Some funders do have an alert system, but that is rare and a real bonus. Your organization needs to have a system of keeping track of reporting requirements, whether it is on a shared calendar or assigned to one person. Find a system that works for your organization and build it in a way that considers the fact that changes in staff and dates may occur along the way.
2. Report On Time
It can be quite damaging to your credibility when a funder is forced to chase you for your required reports. There is a reason the reports were scheduled for a specific time. Perhaps the dates were set to correspond with the scheduled release of your next cheque or because the funder needs to collate findings to report internally. In that context, completing the final report is just as important as progress reports. Many organizations are vigilant when submitting progress reports as they know that future cheques depend on it, but too often grant writers become less attentive when they have a final report due.
Remember, as a grant writer, you are in the business of relationship building and everything you do during the course of any grant will impact the possibilities for the future. If a funder needs to send frequent reminders of overdue reports or make several phone calls, you will be considered a higher maintenance organization and that will be in their mind when they review your next application.
3. Use The Reporting Forms Provided
You may think you can design a much better form than the one provided by the funder but don’t be tempted to alter the format. There is a reason the funder has asked for information in this specific order. The report questions are also developed with intentionality, so although they may seem redundant or you may consider providing different information than what is asked for, know that the funder has likely spent considerable time designing their reporting forms to allow them to more easily review and potentially to collate information from various grantees to give them a better sense of their impact. If you are unclear as to what is expected as an answer to any one question, give the funder a call – most of the time, they will be happy to provide clarification. Remember, you really are on the same team, and they want nothing more than for you to be successful in your grant.
4. Consider Reporting Even When You Don’t Have A Report Due (I.e. Keep The Funder In The Loop Of What Is Going On With Your Project)
One strategy that can be effective, especially with a longer term, more complex grant, is scheduling check-ins with your funder. Ideally, these would be in person, but the reality is, that often will not be possible. Phone or Skype check-ins can be just as effective. Not every funder will be open to this idea either because of workload or ideology, but it doesn’t hurt to inquire. If they accept your invitation, make sure you are prepared for your conversation. Prepare an agenda and think through what the most important thing is that you want them to hear. Include that statement on the agenda so the funder can take it away after the meeting – that way, they will have that one key statement or fact reinforced and you improve your chances that they will remember it. Some of my most accountable and successful grantees I worked with over the years used this approach and it made the entire process feel so much more like an equal partnership.
5. Respond Promptly To Requests For Additional Information
Just because you have submitted your final report doesn’t mean you are completely finished. You may experience situations where your report raises a question for the funder and they contact you for additional information. Don’t be alarmed, but be pleased that they have thoroughly read what you have submitted and are interested in your work. Carefully read their questions and consider how to answer them.
Do You Have Any Reports To Write Right Now?
Take some time in the next few weeks to identify any reporting due dates, whether progress reports or final reports, and schedule them into your calendar so you can be sure to have them completed on time.
Reporting can be hard work and takes time, but it is also an incredible opportunity to share important stories with your funder. Take the reporting part of the granting process as seriously as your original application and be sure funders get your very best, all the way to the final report.