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PEAK Grantmaking

Making Reporting Mean More

Streamlining Basics Series – Project Streamline Essentials for New Grantmakers (and Everybody!)

What do you know about streamlining your grantmaking? If you are new to the field, your answer might be nothing. And even if you’ve been in your role for a while, there are a lot of field trends, best practices, and hot new things to pay attention to in the philanthropic sector. It’s possible that these ideas haven’t caught your attention.

So let us (re) introduce Project Streamline!

This series of blogs will remind you of Project Streamline’s diagnosis of our field’s application and reporting challenges, streamlining’s core principles, and practical recommendations for good practice.

Streamlining Basics blogs will tackle the following topics:

Making Reporting Mean More

Grant reporting… you’ve been hearing a thing or two about grant reporting lately. If you are a regular reader of PEAK Grantmaking’s PEAK Insight Journal, you may have seen the Revisit Reporting edition of the journal. You might have caught a conference session in March or a webinar in April focused on this topic.

And if you’re like me, you just can’t get enough of this topic! We posited that grant reporting is a missed opportunity for philanthropy – our chance to learn, reflect, and build meaningful relationships. Yet it is too often a rote task on both ends. Since grant reporting is not usually required by law, it is yours to shape. PEAK’s Project Streamline proposes a rethinking of reporting to focus it directly and transparently on gathering only useful information that matters to your organization and to the fields you care about.

I’m flying home right now from two days with a funder that is taking action right now to revisit their grant reporting. Because this is work in progress, they will be anonymous for now, but I’m sure they will share more about their journey once it is complete. Like many of you, they had been requiring a standard sort of narrative and financial grant reporting from their grantees for a long time. Grantees weren’t complaining, but didn’t know what reports were used for. And reports were sitting in the files, often un-discussed, sometimes un-read, and always the least interesting part of the process.

But then some intrepid staff started asking a set of questions:

  • What is the purpose of our grant reporting?
  • What structure and requirements would get us what we need?
  • How will we use what we collect?

In other words, they asked questions related to the three core principles of reporting: clarify the purpose, choose a smart structure, and share learning.

And as a result, they are in the process of creating a new approach:

  • They have clarified the purpose of their reporting internally
  • There will be much greater communication and transparency inside and with grantees about reporting’s purpose
  • Reports will be annual by default, unless particular circumstances warrant more
  • Progress reports will focus on learning and providing support to grantees
  • The reports require less writing by grantees and less sifting through narrative for POs
  • POs will have phone conversations with grantees to learn more after receiving reports
  • Learning and evaluation staff will more readily be able to identify key lessons across grants to help drive internal learning across the foundation

Pretty exciting stuff! I couldn’t help but notice that their changes align well with the specific practice guidelines that we shared as part of PEAK’s Revisit Reporting project!

Perhaps you’ve been feeling some stirrings of discontent about the usefulness of grant reporting at your organization. Maybe you’ve looked up at the stars and wondered if there’s a way to encourage grantees to report in ways that are more useful, less burdensome, and more interesting. If so, take another look at Revisit Reporting and the basic principles and specific practices we recommend for streamlined and sensible requirements. Read the inspiring profiles of organizations that have made their reporting requirements work for them. You’ll never regret it!

We are in the process of developing a reporting resource center. Tell us what types of resources would be most helpful to you!

Dr. Streamline is Jessica Bearman of Bearman Consulting, LLC. She provides facilitation, organization development, and research and development to help grantmakers and other mission-focused organizations align strategy, practice, and culture for greater effectiveness, equity, and joy.