The Importance of Grant Reporting
As a grant writer, your first priority is writing proposals that get your organization grants. Once you have received a grant, you may feel pretty good about yourself, but it's important to remember that your work is not yet done. Almost all funders ask their grant recipients to submit reports on the funding they have provided, and chances are, writing these reports is going to be part of your job.
The reason funders ask for reports is both simple and obvious: they want to know what you have done with their money. Your job as the report writer is to tell them. But reports also can and should serve other purposes.
Perhaps the most important secondary function of the report is relationship building. Although non-profit organizations always are looking for new sources of support, maintaining relationships with funders is of equal importance. When we go to a new foundation or corporation, most of us are hoping to establish a relationship that will continue for a number of years. The grant report provides us with a vehicle to build that relationship. While you are telling your funder how you spent his/her grant, you also can tie the program being supported to your larger mission. You can provide the context that enables your funder to see clearly how important his/her support is, not only in immediate ways, but also over the course of time.
The grant report also provides a means to introduce the idea of continuing support. If you intend to ask your funder for a renewal grant, the report is the place to plant that seed.
Although a report should be short and to the point, you can use your report to put a human face on your funders' support. For example, if the grant provided was used to purchase equipment for an exercise program for senior citizens, include a quote from one of the program's participants. Let your funder see that this grant has done more than pay for weights; it has made someone's life fuller and richer.
Most funders ask for reports either after six months or a year. All of us are busy with many projects and, unfortunately, it is not uncommon for reports to get lost in the shuffle. Yes, it sometimes is difficult to keep track of all of the deadlines imposed on us by funders, but it is vitally important that deadlines for reports are met. Some funders are very good about late reports; some even mail out reminders to their grant recipients. But the responsibility for preparing and sending in accurate reports on time rests with the grant recipient, not the funder.
If you do miss a deadline and you have to send in your report late, accept your responsibility and apologize to your funder. It is not necessary to provide a host of explanations. The funder does not care whether or not you had six other deadlines that week or that your dog ate your report. It is not in your interest or that of your organization to present a portrait of the development office as a chaotic whirlwind in which no one can keep track of anything.
Sometimes, as we all know, things change between the time a grant is provided and the time the first report is due. Although lateness in reporting may not require a lot of explanation, changes in the program or the allocation of the funds do require explanation. The best approach here is to be honest. If you received a grant for an after-school program and it took you three months longer than you anticipated to find and hire an instructor, just tell your funder. The chances are good that the funder will have no problem with this kind of delay and you will be allowed to rollover the funds into the next fiscal year. If you raised funds for a program that just doesn't seem to work and needs to be redesigned, you will have to tell your funder what has happened and why. Some funders may authorize you to keep the grant money you have not yet spent because they still want to support the cause you represent. Others may decide to sever their relationships with you. The worst approach is to lie or try to cover up problems or difficulties you have encountered.
While many foundations and corporations do not require that you use a particular format for grant reports, some funders do have very specific reporting requirements. It always is important to submit proposals that are in the proper format; this is equally true for grant reports. If you funder asks for a three -page letter, do not send a 20 -page document accompanied by videotape. If the funder leaves the format up to you, keep it short and to the point, but also make sure your report is engaging and informative. Most funders do not want you to send along photos or videos, so don't do it.
Perhaps the best way to test the usefulness of your report is to pretend you are the funder. Does this report answer your questions about how the money you gave was spent? Does it make you feel as if your donation was worthwhile? Does it make you feel more or less inclined to renew your support? If the answer to each of these questions is yes, you have produced a good grant report.