Category Archives: Foundation

Taking The Pain Out Of Doing Reports

Preparing reports is not the favorite activity of nonprofits and other organizations.  As a matter of fact it is often the least favorite part.  Leaders and program staffs of organizations want to spend their time delivering their services – helping people.  The accounting staff wants to do accounting.  Fund raisers want to raise funds.   Grants staff wants to spend their time on identifying and writing grants.  But reports must be written or the funding dries up.

There are some things that can be done to greatly reduce the pain and frustration of preparing reports.

 

Before the Report

Before you begin preparing the report there are some actions that will not only make the report preparation easier, they will also improve the quality of your reports.  You may be reluctant to spend time on some of these suggestions, but it is really a matter of “pay me now, or pay me more later”.  The time you spend on these groundwork things will save you time and agony when you actually prepare the report.

  • First be certain that you understand the reporting requirements of the one who will receive the report. Recipients can be funders, partners, board members, donors and, sometimes, licensing/certification entities.  Your understand should include:

>  Process

>  Form

>  Timelines

>  Methods

>  Don’t assume anything.  If the requirements and guidelines are not clear — ASK

  • Be very careful that you do not use familiarity as an opportunity to scrimp on the details. When a funder has been giving you money for a long time or a donor has been supporting your efforts for years, you may feel that they are a sure bet.  They know the wonderful things you do and there is no reason that they will stop helping you.  But what if something changes – guidelines, contact person, number of competitors for their money?  Any report you provide should be done as if the recipient knows nothing about you.  Because you never know when that might suddenly be the case.
  • Make a timeline for all facets of the reporting process.

>  Set dates for everything – collection, tallying, analyzing, writing, proofing, etc.

>  Put actions on your calendar and the one for the organization.  Be sure everyone knows the dates.  This makes it a commitment and it needs to be a commitment to actually happen

  • Have someone from outside your organization look at your plan, including outcomes and measurements, to be certain everything is clear and rational. You can trade with another organization (they read yours, you read theirs).  You can hire an outside consultant or maybe use faculty or students at a college or university.
  • Develop a tracking plan that gathers the data as you go. No “catching up” (translation: recreating at the end of the month or when the report is written.)  This practice causes inaccuracies, stress and likely makes something else suffer.  Include dates, remember there is not a commitment unless there are dates associated with an action.  To be sure you are on target to meet your commitments and produce the expected outcomes.  There is nothing more frustrating than getting to the date you are supposed to write the report and find that you are missing things.   It’s better to spend a few minutes at pre-determined intervals to be sure you are on target than to get into a OMG situation where you are running around like a crazy person trying to find and recreate the information for the report.

 

Preparing the Report

When it is time to prepare the report it is crucial that you set aside the proper amount of time to do the work.  Report preparation does not turn out well when it is one task of a multi-tasking session.  Interruptions will actually cause you to spend more time on the report preparation.  Be very careful that you do not use other tasks and people to avoid doing the report.  Here are some tips that will help you do quality reporting and lessen frustration.

  • Do it in the manner required and/or agreed upon. Changing the manner could result in you not having the information needed because you gathered data for the original manner.  It could also mean the report will not meet the requirements of the report recipient.
  • Be on time. If you have done the proper work before the report and you set aside time to do it, this should not be a problem.
  • Do quality reporting.
  • Don’t make excuses. Even if funders are tolerant of excuses, you do yourself no favors for future funding.
  • Have someone outside your organization look at reports to ensure they are clear, concise and impressive. You can use the same organization or person you had review your plan for reporting.
  • Recognize when you need professional help and get it. Your specialty is not preparing reports; the quality and benefits may be higher from getting professional help.  Also, it may be less costly to outsource some or all of the report preparation so that you and your staff have time to do the business of your organization.  Some options for outsourcing:  Consultant, Higher Education, Intern, Board Member or even another organization.

 

Fallout from Inadequate Reporting

There are definitive consequences from reporting that is inadequate or late.  The most serious fallout is loss of funding either immediate or future.  If your funding is reimbursement based, you could not only lose funding, you would also have spent money that you will never recover.  Poor reporting is likely to ruin your chances for future funding from the report recipient and from potential funders, because funders talk.  Inadequate reporting will likely result in the need to supplement the original report; this takes more time than doing it properly the first time.  Supplemental reporting, loss of funding and worrying that the report might not be adequate cause stress.  Something you probably have more than enough of.

 

Benefits of Good and Exceptional Reporting

On the flip side of the consequences of inadequate reporting, there are many benefits of good reporting, even more from exceptional reporting.

  • Meeting the requirements and being on-time shows that you are cooperative and compliant and have respect for the needs and specifications of funders and other report recipients.
  • Using appropriate statistics and examples shows how well you are delivering on your commitments and proves that you are producing the promised outcomes.
  • An exceptional report gives you an opportunity to brag, which in this case is not only satisfying; it also proves your value. If you see reporting as an opportunity to brag instead of an annoyance, your reports will be less aggravating to do and present a positive impression.
  • A report that delivers also provides a foundation on which you can build future proposals, requests and other things. In my experience as a consultant helping organizations with reports I have seen many uses for parts of the report, including:

>  Other grants

>  Funding justifications

>  Development of programs

>  Projections

>  Planning – strategic and tactical

>  Feasibility testing

>  Press releases

>  Annual report

  • A complete report provides an assessment of progress and identification of obstacles to help your staff and board understand the situation and positions you to make adjustments.
  • An exceptional report helps you build consensus and market your organization.

>  It helps you maintain belief and support among your followers

>  It aids you in development of advocates – partners, donors, fans

> It assists you in promoting your organization and programs to potential                   partners, funders and participants

  • A well-done report provides you and your staff with a sense of accomplishment. Seeing in print (or on a monitor) your progress and successes makes them more real and just plain feels good.

What Do Funders Say About The Organizations Who Want Their Money?

As a Non-Profit or Agency do you ever wonder what Funders say behind your back?  Well, you should.  As a consultant and evaluator I have had a lot of opportunities to hear from Funders.  Following are some of the principal comments and complaints they have about the organizations who are seeking money from them.

  • Applicants and Recipients track input and output instead of measuring outcomes.  Input and Output = activities, number of people touched, number of training completers, etc.  Outcome = Product, Systemic Change, improvement, enhancement
  • Organizations are focused on activities, not outcomes and do not usually show what change they plan to bring about or have accomplished.
  • Organizations very often want funding for something (staff, operation, equipment, etc.) and try to disguise their need inside a lame attempt to show they are seeking funding for a project or program that aligns with the Funders’ goals. But Funders have seen this before and they can smell desperation.
  • Funding requests often do not provide adequate proof that the fund seeker can deliver the proposed or expected outcome. The fund seekers often do not use evidence based elements such as:
    • Needs – lacks data
    • Situations – lacks examples and trends
    • Programs – does not appropriately correlate a program to a solution/outcome
    • Training – typically use homegrown instead of evidenced based
    • Improvements – lacks data
    • Differences – lacks measurement and/or proof of the improvement                You cannot say “We’ve got this, we are professionals
  • Reporting often does not prove that the organization is producing the promised outcome; they may be doing it, but are not showing evidence in reports.
  • Organizations usually only think of a Funder as a money source. This often means organizations hamper the ability of a Funder to help with things other than money.  They provide sugar coated reports to make them look good to the Funder.  However, if they shared information on obstacles with a Funder they  look more realistic and they also provide openings for Funders to help with:
    • Identifying and establishing partnerships
    • Identifying and obtaining resources
    • Finding a way around regulations
    • Removing roadblocks
    • Getting an audience

          Remember Funders have money and connections – people listen and respond              to them

 

A larger and disappointing reality

Sometimes an organization still gets funding because it is known to the Funder, but this can cause its own set of problems:

  • Complicates reporting – how do you report on things that are not definitive?
    • Vaguely
    • No or little proof
    • With anecdotes and testimonials which is not true substantiation
  • Jeopardizes future funding from the funders that know you because reports are lacking in statistics and other data; there is little justification for continued funding
  • Limits you to getting funding only from Funders who know your organization. Limiting the number of Funders results in limited funding.  Regional and national Funders are not likely to consider your requests.  Even new local Funders will be a hard sell since you do not have a foundation of proof to show them.

Funders Want Outcomes Not Output

Funders, foundations, government agencies and even donors, want the organizations they fund to demonstrate outcomes, not report activities and outputs.  They want to fund results oriented programs, not read touching stories.

Funders want to see:

  • Strategy more than tactics – Improve graduation rate through tutoring VS X number of participants in an after school program
  • Big picture versus tallies of activities – Produce X number of people in jobs that pay $15 or more per hour employed for 1 year or more VS Train X number people in manufacturing skills and Assist X number of people in resume preparation
  • Partnering more than referring – Partner with X number of organizations to provide GED qualified participants for a workforce development program VS Refer clients who cannot read to literacy organizations.  Partner implies interaction – Refer implies you are done.
  • Effectiveness instead of blood, sweat and tears –X number of program participants plan to choose a career in healthcare VS Spoke to 25 student groups on healthcare careers and participated in 3 high school career day events
  • Systemic change versus heart rending anecdotes – Facilitated the adoption of new policy by the Sheriff’s Department that directs officers to contact Solicitor’s office before detaining juveniles VS Story about a School Resource Officer that counseled two eleventh graders and kept them from dropping out
  • Evidence of follow up and follow through – Provided resources that enabled X number of program graduates to stay employed in years two through five VS Contacted X number of program graduates to complete survey about employment status
  • Depth, breadth and commitment of relationships with stakeholders – Coalition of a high school, a community center, parents, Boy Scouts and two churches provide tutoring and support for at-risk sixth graders. Detailed MOUs exist between the organizations; parents and student participants sign commitment letters.  Grades and test scores of student participants are monitored.  The outcome goal of the program is that promotion from sixth to seventh grade will improve each year.  VS A community center that offers an after school program for middle schoolers with volunteer tutors and monitors.  There are no MOUs with other organizations or schools.  Participation by students is voluntary; parents are not required to be involved.  Because there is no formal relationship with the school the community center cannot obtain grades or test scores.

 

Obviously it takes time to focus on outcomes and develop program, measurements and relationships that will accomplish those outcomes.    But the time is an investment in a proposal and a program that will get funded.

Ignorance Is Not Bliss, Ignorance Is Dangerous

Ignorance for Non-Profits and Agencies seeking funding and striving to maintain funding is nowhere near bliss.  An Officer will tell you as he gives you a speeding ticket even when you claimed you did not see the speed limit sign, “Ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law.”  Ignorance is also no excuse for under-performing when seeking funding or reporting to Funders.

Ignorance about Funders and your own Program or Project is dangerous and usually results in cost:

  • Missed funding
  • Lost funding
  • Reduced Funding
  • Wasted Time
  • Extra Cost

 Because lack of information and understanding can be embarrassing and costly, before you even seek funding you need to know:

  • The goals, mission, priorities and funding history of the funder – potential or existing
  • Where your organization/project fits in the funder’s scheme
  • The requirements and expectations of the funder
  • Outcomes – what do they expect you to produce
  • Measurements – what and how
  • Reporting – statistics, form, software, proof
  • Timeframes – reports due, project completion, phase intervals
  • Leniency – do not assume that because the Funder is altruistic they are equally as understanding of missed deadlines and outcome shortfalls
  • What constitutes non-compliance – non-compliance is not just for government grants, promises not kept are actually non-compliance and can result in discontinued funding and/or no future funding

Without all the ingredients a cake will fall flat or lack taste.  You wouldn’t start to bake a cake without all the ingredients, would you?  Everyone has done it and suffered the consequences of an aborted bake, emergency trip to the store or failed attempt to substitute.

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?  The funds or the program/project? 

An undeveloped or underdeveloped project/program/organization will not get funding – at least not sustained funding.  It is getting harder and harder to get funding, even initial funding, because of the competition and because funders have been burned.  Even if you are seeking funding to develop a program you still have to completely flesh out the “project to develop the program”.  So fully develop the project/program/mission before you seek funding!

Including:

  • Outcomes and measurements – what you will accomplish and how you will know you accomplished it
  • Steps to outcomes
  • Budget – a real one for the life of the project
  • Parts and pieces
  • People
  • Supplies
  • Equipment
  • Partners – with a fully developed role and commitment, not just a “we will participate” letter. Don’t assume you will work out details and roles later.  If not fully developed and committed before starting a program/project the partnership may not materialize at all or not in the necessary form.  It does not enhance your reputation/relationship with a Funder if you have to say that a partnership did not work out.
  • What you bring to the party
  • Experience
  • Research / Data
  • Clients
  • Donors
  • Space
  • Program that can be expanded
  • Measuring and Reporting – how you will gather and present. Don’t forget to calculate the cost of this:
  • Actual costs
  • Software if you have to purchase
  • Additional personnel – maybe specialized
  • Outside evaluator – if required or if you need one to keep you on track.
  • Soft costs
  • Time not spent on other activities
  • Changes to present operation methods – accounting, tracking, use of space, privacy policies
  • Follow Up – typically underestimated, but almost always required to do proper measuring and reporting Funders want outcomes – outcomes require follow up
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