Does Your Grant Reporting Make Sense?
By Colton Strawser, The Community Foundation of Muncie and Delaware County
I have said for years that I find it extremely ironic that foundations require the nonprofit they fund to conduct evaluations to better measure their performance; however, foundations are not always willing to do the same thing. Having a foot in the grantmaking world as well as a foot in the grant writing world has provided me a unique perspective regarding post-grant reporint. In fact, it is probably safe to say program officers within foundations dislike grant reports as much as program directors for nonprofits—well…maybe not as much, but pretty close.
In a perfect world, the perfect post-grant report would highlight the societal change that has occurred as a result of your foundation’s philanthropic investment, include quantitative and qualitative metrics that you can share with your board and grants committee, and provide a clear picture on how the money was used for a specific purpose.
Unfortunately, a perfect grant report is a rare occurrence. Sometimes, the nonprofit organization is to blame. However, it could be argued that the lack of comprehensive grant reporting is due to the foundation not being completely transparent on how it evaluates its grants. Foundations need to ask themselves questions along the lines of: Does our grant reporting make sense? Are we asking the right questions? Why are our current questions included on our post grant report?
Recently, Jenna Wachtmann, a Program Officer with the Ball Brothers Foundation, conducted a workshop on grant reporting with the East Central Indiana Program Officers Network. During this session, participants were challenged to question their post-grant reporting requirements. For example, should a nonprofit that is putting a roof on their building have a year to complete a post-grant report when the roof is going to take six weeks to repair? Should an organization purchasing a new computer be held to the same reporting requirements as an organization receiving operational funding for an afterschool program? While these questions may be relatively simple to answer, the act of actually making these decisions may be more complex.
Evaluating how your foundation conducts grant reporting may be a good idea from time to time. Maybe you end up having a different post-grant report for capital projects versus grants supporting operational expenses. In fact, foundations are not legally required to ask nonprofits for post-grant reports. So it is completely safe to erase the drawing board and start from scratch.
During her training, Jenna shared five “best practices” when it comes to post-grant reports. If you are considering changes to your reports, these may be of use:
- At a minimum, acknowledge to your grantees their report has been received and read.
- Streamline your process by asking yourself why you require post-grant reports and what the information is actually used for within your foundation. If you simply want to know if the receipts add up, could you just ask for them?
- Be clear about your expectations with post-grant reports, and be consistent. Remember, the post grant report is the evaluation of the grant—not a separate step. Therefore, ensure your grant application is encouraging nonprofits to identify what they are planning to measure as part of the grant evaluation process.
- Written reports can never replace relationships. While most foundations require some form of written evaluation, do not forget about the relationship component of philanthropy. Encourage your grantees by sending them emails when their programming is kicking off, make a phone call when you see a great article about a grantee in the local paper, or consider setting up a meeting with the executive director to ensure everything is on track.
- Use the reports by starting somewhere! At The Community Foundation of Muncie and Delaware County, we use our post-grant report for social media and our newsletter. Therefore, we encourage nonprofits to share stories we can share through our marketing channels, as well as our board and grants committee. In addition, you could consider following up with praise and suggestions for improvement in the future as well.
I challenge you to consider whether or not your post-grant reporting requirements are helpful to you and your grantees, or if they’re an annoying and needless step for both you and your grantees.
If you want to further explore grant reporting, I recommend the following resources:
- GrantCraft: Alternatives to the Fiery Furnace: Thoughtful Reporting Requirements
- Center for Effective Philanthropy: Working Well with Grantees: A Guide for Foundation Program Staff
- Joel Orosz’s book The Insider’s Guide to Grantmaking
- Project Streamline: Drowning in Paperwork, Distracted from Purpose: Challenges and Opportunities in Grant Application and Reporting
- Exponent Philanthropy: The Many Forms of Evaluation [VIDEO]
Learn more about grantmaking at IPA's November 10-11 program, Grantmaking 101, which is a 2-day crash-course in effective philanthropy
Colton C. Strawser is a program officer with The Community Foundation of Muncie and Delaware County. He is a graduate of the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.