By now, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that PEAK Grantmaking and its Project Streamline initiative is focusing on grant reporting. We are very pleased to be the co-editors for PEAK Insight Journal’s Winter issue, which will be devoted to this topic.
We took on this reporting inquiry because, frankly, we had some questions.
Those of you who worked in nonprofit organizations earlier in your careers may remember – perhaps not so fondly? – completing grant reports. With a combined 30 years working in the nonprofit sector and for philanthropic initiatives that both gave and sought funds, we certainly remember both writing and receiving grant reports.
While we may have appreciated the chance to reflect on our work, we honestly don’t recall hearing from grantmakers about whether our reports helped them with their work or how what they had learned might help us as grantseekers. Reports simply seemed to be the price we had to pay for receiving grants. As grantmakers, we sheepishly suspected that grant reports reflected gratitude more than impact.
Too often, funders are missing the connections, lessons, and relationships that grant reporting could and should be making. Reporting is often our field’s first (and sometimes only) opportunity to explore the space between what we hoped for and what actually happened. Reviewing and responding to a grant report can be a critical part of an ongoing conversation between a grantmaker and its nonprofit partners. Reporting can be designed and deployed to benefit the shared work of the funder and grantee. Reporting can lead to greater results.
Requiring reports from grantees is common practice among grantmaking foundations, for a host of reasons.
- Accountability: a way to know whether and how the grant money has been used for its intended purposes.
- Documentation: to ensure a record of a grantee’s history with the funder so that when a program officer leaves, all information stays with the funder.
- Grantee support and relationship building: reporting can be used as part of an ongoing conversation with grantees about what they are learning and what they need to succeed.
- Grantee assessment: to determine whether a grantee is eligible and a priority for future funding — or whether that grantee could benefit from capacity support, field connections, or other resources that the funder could offer.
- Grantmaker learning to inform decision-making: to help determine whether a particular type of grant or portfolio of grants is effective and worthwhile.
- Stakeholder engagement: sharing grantee stories and lessons with board members, community stakeholders, or more broadly to increase enthusiasm for and investment in grantees’ work.
- Building a field: reports can be used, in aggregate, to draw useful conclusions about a whole field of work or a community — and findings can then be shared back out to the community.
But when it comes down to actual practice, does our design and use of reporting match our intentions?
In this journal, over the next four months, we look forward to exploring this and other questions about grant reporting practices, including:
- How do grantmakers currently use grant reporting? Why, when, and in what forms are reports required?
- How are grant reports used in philanthropy? What’s working well and what are the pitfalls?
- What are successful models for grant reporting beyond the usual suspects?
- How are funders using reports most intentionally and effectively to support better relationships with grantees, make smart grantmaking and strategy decisions, build the fields they care about, and improve their grantmaking processes?
This issue of PEAK Insight Journal will present and analyze findings from our recent survey of reporting practice, which drew submissions from more than 300 grantmakers from private, family, public, and corporate funders. It also welcomes guest contributors who will share their knowledge and perspective on topics including reporting’s ability to tear down the silos between grants management and program, reporting’s potential connection to equitable practice, the potential for greater impact through common reporting, and powerful alternatives to standard financial reporting. Finally, we highlight examples of reporting practice that stand out as particularly thoughtful, intentional, or innovative, from funders that have revisited their reporting to make it more useful – both for them and for their grantees.
We hope this issue of PEAK Insight Journal will launch conversations, so feel free to talk back. Send your questions about reporting, your stories, and your perspectives our way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jessica Bearman & Elizabeth Myrick