Tag Archives: Grants

Is Good Enough Reporting Limiting Your Funding?

When you choose a birthday gift for a family or close friend do you pick something good enough?

Would you return to a restaurant where the wait staff asks “Is your food good enough?”  instead of “Everything taste good?”

Probably not.   So why would you expect your funders, board members and partners to accept reports that are barely good enough.  And why would you accept good enough for your organization when you have an opportunity to be outstanding in the reporting of your accomplishments.

I am often told by funders that they provide funding to local organizations because they know the organization and its purpose.  The funders say they do not rely on reports because they are in regular contact with the organizations they fund by virtue of operating in the same community.  But even though this coziness makes it easy to get some funding, it also creates artificial limitations.  If you structure your reporting to only meet the expectations of the local funders who do not require much detail or measurement, you will minimize the possibility of appealing to regional and national funders and diminish your chances for larger funding opportunities.  Non-local funders do not know your organization and grantors who make large donations have complex expectations for reporting.  Good enough reporting keeps you local, outstanding reporting broadens your funding prospects.

 

Here are some things that will make your reporting outstanding:

  • Include measurements that matter. Say your goal is to increase the number of students that graduate from high school.  The appropriate measurement for your reporting is the number of students that graduated, not the number of ninth graders who got tutoring at your after school center.  Including statistics for activities along the path toward your goal (number of ninth graders tutored, number of parents trained, number of PTA speeches, number of eleventh graders who improved grades, etc.) can be appropriate.  Reporting these things in the proper manner help you demonstrate that your strategy is working and show what it takes to reach the goal.  This will justify the money, support or partnership you are seeking.  But the measurement should be the one that reaches your goal.
  • Treat your reports as marketing collateral. If a report is written properly it can be included in whole or in part with grant applications or partner proposals.  This not only saves you time down the road; it is also a real illustration of your accomplishments.  An actual report is more impressive than a description – it is tangible and more succinct.
  • Match your reporting to the goals of funders and potential partners you want to approach. In anticipation of seeking funding from a foundation or agency make yourself familiar with their goals.  In hope of collaborating with another organization be sure you understand their mission and goals.  Then include statistics and other information in your current reports that address those goals.  This serves several purposes:
    • Makes you look more broadly at the goals and actions of your organization or current project
    • Does future work now – if you have to write a report anyway, prepare it in a way that it can be used in the future thus eliminating duplicate work
    • Enhances the aspirations of your organization or project
  • Illustrate how your strategy and efforts are scalable. Most funders who do not limit their funding to a local community want things they fund to be scalable.  Usually funders require that a grant application and, especially, reports demonstrate scalability.  Thinking about how your program can be scaled – duplicated, expanded, built on – and showing that in reporting eliminates the artificial limitation that you can only get local funding.  Demonstrating scalability will not hurt you with local funders and it will certainly make regional and national funding a stronger possibility.

 

Some of you are probably thinking that reporting already takes up too much time, not to mention that it is annoying.  Just take a deep breath and read the above bullets again.  This time try to think of all the time you have spent writing a grant from scratch (because you could not use reports or anything else already written) and the frustration you felt when you did not get funding (because they didn’t see the value of your proposal, project, organization).

Bottom line – do reporting on a level that matches your aspirations not on a level that is good enough.

3 Most Time Consuming Mistakes In Reporting To Funders

For 20+ years I have been helping Nonprofits and government agencies do reporting to funders (donors, foundations, government grant providers) and partners.  I have seen a lot of processes and lack of processes for doing reporting.  I am usually hired to help with a report because an organization doesn’t have the staff and/or time, is at the end of their frustration rope or realizes report development is not their strong suit.  But even if an organization hires me, they still have to supply information.  Following are the 3 mistakes that, from my experience, cause the most frustration and waste of time.

  1. Not tracking as you go.  Waiting until the last minute to compile numbers puts you at risk for errors and omissions.  Because this usually means you have to recreate and guestimate, it is likely you will over or underestimate your statistics.   Overestimating could cause you to be non-compliant in your grant or to ruin your reputation with a funder – either could cause loss of funds.  Underestimating robs you of an opportunity to show the magnitude of your efforts, which could also negatively impact future funding.  In addition to increasing the likelihood of mistakes, it also takes a chunk of time, when tracking as you go takes small amounts of time along the progress path of your project.
  2. Not understanding what the report recipient wants. Speaking of time . . .  this mistake can take a lot of time.  If you have to redo reports or backtrack and gather information you didn’t know you needed, it will take a lot more time than it would have taken in the beginning to understand what the report recipient wants.  A good way to look at it is, “pay me now, or pay me more later.”  Also, if you don’t do reporting according to specification you risk losing the funding or partner or not getting future funding or necessary partners.  Keep in mind that you are using someone else’s money, so their rules trump everything.  One other important point.  It is actually rude and disrespectful to not attempt to understand the needs of people you report to (Board Members, Funders, Donors, Partners or other departments) and disrespect will not win friends and funders.
  3. Putting it off until the last minute. Reporting usually takes more time than you think it will, no matter when you do it – just the nature of the beast.  So, likely if you put report preparation off until the last minute, you will not allocate enough time.  This will result in one or more of the following:  an incomplete report, a poor quality report, working on the weekend and/or at night, other things suffering (including personal life) and, last but certainly not least, frustration.  Often I am hired by an organization or agency to do or help with a report because someone has put it off.  This works well for me because I make money.  But it’s not the best situation for the organization that hires me.  Sometimes it is best to hire an outside person to develop a report because:  it is outside your ability or time scope, it will help to have an outside view or the funder requires it.  But having to pay someone just because you put it off is not prudent use of funds.

 

During my time of helping organizations with reporting I have learned that the 2 most effective tools for avoiding these report development mistakes are:

  • Include reporting in your plan (strategic, tactical, budget, etc.). Plan the who, what, when, where and how of you will do reporting.  Include the cost in your budget whether it is for an outside source or for the time to be spent by you and/or your staff.
  • Put commitments for the activities related to reporting on the calendar. This should include tracking, collecting, analyzing, writing, etc.  If you put it on the calendar you are giving it the importance of meetings, fund raisers, vacations and other vital things.  And once you put it on the calendar do not take it off; you can move it, but don’t remove it.

Before You Ask For The Grant, Be Sure You Can Fulfill The Requirements

Would you leave home naked to go to work, the grocery store or a movie?

Would you set off on a trip to a place you have never been with no GPS, directions  or map?

Would you attempt to eat a whole turkey with all the trimmings by yourself?

Not likely.

But organizations often seek funding before they know if they can fulfill all of the requirements.  They often seek funding for projects they hope they can fit their current programs or services into.  The lure of funding sometimes overrides good sense.

Organization and agency directors are always under pressure to see that they have adequate funding.  Urgency sometimes means they may not have set up the processes necessary to ensure that meet the requirements and expectations of a funder.  They may cause their organization to sacrifice something important by committing to requirements that take them away from their core programs and services.

Often it takes partnerships for organizations to operate or take on big projects.  This might mean a temporary partnership is necessary.   Not working out all the details of that partnership can cause many problems when it’s time for the partnership to operate.

I have worked with many organizations and agencies who were not prepared when they got the grant.   All of them suffered in some way from the lack of preparation.  No matter how big the pot of funding or how tempting it is to apply for it, it must be a fit or it can cause more harm than help.  I have seen evidence that an organization that knows it is prepared does a much better job at convincing someone to fund them.  They are confident in their abilities and that confidence comes across to funders and donors.

Remember that not being prepared leads to failure and failure can ruin your reputation.

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