Tag Archives: Reporting

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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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.

A Report Can Be Your Friend (Yes, Really!)

If you are not using reporting as a way to promote your organization and its mission and services, you are missing a remarkable opportunity.  Reports to your board, funders, donors and partners often have to be done, so it makes a lot of sense to make them work to your advantage.  If reports are not required, doing them anyway gives you the same opportunity to promote your work and serves as an anticipatory move that will give you an advantage the next time you make a request for funds or action.

 

Here are some ways that you can use reporting to your benefit:

  • Show, when done to the recipient’s requirements, that you are cooperative and compliant and have respect for their needs and specifications. All things that funders, boards and partners love.
  • Allow you to provide statistics and examples on how well you are delivering on the projected and desired outcomes. If you see this as an opportunity to brag instead of an annoyance, your reports will be less aggravating to do and present a positive impression.
  • Provide information that will be a foundation on which you will build future proposals and requests. You write the reports, so you can decide how they are written and what is included (beyond the required elements).  Use the opportunity to present the message you want them to receive.
  • Supply a document that can be used for other purposes such as a press release, a separate grant, another report, historical reference or the book you plan to write.
  • Offer an assessment of progress and obstacles to help your staff understand the situation and position you to inform board members, partners, stake holders, clients and even funders about things they can do to help or enhance and expand.
  • Provide 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.

Have you looked in the mirror lately?

By now you have probably started (and maybe tossed) those resolutions for getting personally healthier, fitter, thinner and better looking.  So now would be a good time to look closely at your reporting and publicity and see if it needs some help.

Have you ever seen someone and thought, “Obviously he/she does not have a mirror at home”? Well, let’s apply that to the image reflected in your reports and publicity.  If you hold it up to a mirror, would the image truly reflect any of the following:

  • programs and services you offer
  • benefits you provide to clients and donors/funders
  • integrity and quality of you and your staff
  • level of experience and expertise
  • outcomes of your programs and services

If it doesn’t reflect all of those it might be time for a makeover.  Now by makeover, I do not mean a new logo, new brochures, a new website or a new donor management system.  Although any or all of these could be part of your makeover.

A makeover can be deep or it can be surface.  So if you look at the things in the previous list and you see something that is not up to the standard you want or need for it to be — then the makeover needs to be deep.  If the trait or asset is there, but your reports and publicity do not reflect it, the makeover needed would be on the surface — cosmetic so to speak.

Does this sound like branding?  Well, yes, branding is part of it.  Actually branding is an outcome of the things in that list along with the other things that make an organization what it is.

So hold that mirror up to your image portrayed in your reports and publicity and see how well the reflection matches the accomplishments, values, quality, integrity and even personality of your organization.  If you think you need a makeover, then take the steps to accomplish it.  You don’t want anyone thinking your organization doesn’t have a mirror and does not know how it really looks to others — clients, funders  and partners.

Your Christmas Decorations Are STILL Up?

Do your Christmas decoration habits reflect your Publicity & Reporting habits?

It’s true, in the US we now have 5 seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall and Christmas or the Holiday Season.   Christmas decorations are now put up in stores while pumpkins and skeletons are still in evidence.  Santa shows up at malls the weekend after Halloween.

When do you put up your holiday decorations?  And when do you take them down?  I think that your Christmas decoration habits can give you insight into your personality and how it relates to your promotion and reporting habits.  Bear with me.

If you put your decorations up before Thanksgiving you may tend toward “showy” publicity and reporting.  You likely prefer events to one-on-one meetings.  You might use a power point presentation for a 10 minute talk and use long paragraphs in your reports.  You may be partial to promotional items and not so partial to statistics and outcomes.   None of this is bad – or good.  What is important is that you take into account your personality when you plan and execute your publicity plans and reporting.

If you always put your decorations up at the same time every year you probably like structure.  As far as publicity you either don’t want to do it because it seems so ambiguous and not easily measured or you have a real plan and you work that plan and you are not happy when something gets you off that plan.  Structure is a good thing and having a plan is essential to promotion but that plan should have room for occasional adjustments.  Structure can be a real asset in reporting as long you focus on measurements and outcomes.

If you leave your decorations up longer than twelve days after Christmas then you are either lazy or you have a hard time letting go.  Either one will get you in trouble if you treat publicity and reporting in the same way.   If you are lazy about promotion or reporting it will hurt your organization.  If you hold onto a promotion activity or plan when it no longer serves a purpose or it has become non-effective, you may as well not be doing publicity and promotion and save your money and effort.  If you are still doing reporting the way you did it ten years ago, you may not be meeting the expectation of your board, funders and partners.  Now if you say your decorations are still up because you are too busy to take them down – well that’s another problem.  If you feel the same way about publicity and reporting then you are cheating your organization out of possible clients and jeopardizing funding.

Now for those of you who say, “I don’t even bother with decorations!”  Not only are you a scrooge, you probably have stubbornly not seen the purpose of publicity and think it is fluff, just like decorations.  Even more risky, you may be jeopardizing current or future funding if you do not do a good job with reporting.

If you put your decorations up just a day or two before the holiday and then leave them up for weeks after the holiday you may be a procrastinator, not a believer in planning or just have bad timing.  If last minute is a way of life for you, you need to be sure you truly know and understand the needs of your partners and funders; otherwise you could lose them.  If you try to make up for being late by going overboard (providing lots of flowery information, profuse apologies or lengthy explanations) you may want to rethink that “I don’t need no stinking plan” attitude.

What are my decoration habits?  My husband and I put ours up about two weeks before Christmas and then take them down the day after Christmas.  Do I think this is the way everyone should do it?  No, but this is the way that works for my husband and I – it suits our personalities.   We are kind of “everything in its own time” people.   And by the way, I put up a few decorations for Valentines Day, Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving, ‘cause that suits my personality, too.

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