Grant reporting is broken. But we can fix it!

At Refugee Action, we value the opportunity to report on the impact of our work to our funders. We want to share with them how their support is helping us to enable people from refugee backgrounds to rebuild their lives in the UK. At a recent IVAR workshop on grant reporting, we charity colleagues in the room revealed that grant reporting in our experience often serves a primarily administrative function; accounting for our use of the grant rather than the change that it has helped us to achieve.

It was really encouraging to hear funded organisations and funders eagerly debate how we could improve our grant reporting culture. Everyone recognised that reporting is a valuable opportunity to reflect on the shared impact that we want to achieve; an opportunity to learn what interventions are creating social change and what is getting in our way. We agreed that reporting could be a valuable social change tool if we developed a more strategic, creative approach.

Colleagues in funded organisations were frank about their desire for more meaningful reporting relationships with their funders, and their fears of initiating such a change. Funders recognised that they have the power to reset this relationship. By reframing this relationship as a partnership to achieve a shared goal, funders could work with funded organisations to define reports that develops insight and inspires action.

Our conversation ended with a real buzz – everyone was eager to create impactful reporting.

Some interesting points arose:

1. Funders and funded organisations want to work together

Funders and the organisations they fund are working together towards a shared goal. Their relationship is defined by their mutual goals: funders cannot achieve their objectives without the organisations they fund. And organisations want to know how their work fits into a funder’s wider strategy, and indeed – why they have been funded.

2. It’s OK for funders to have some ‘hard’ requirements

Charities understand that their funders have accountability requirements, and that there may be particular data that they need to collect or are interested in collecting. That’s OK! Funders need to clarify what information they need for what purposes, and be realistic about charities’ ability to meet them.

3. We need to reset how we communicate

Funders and funded organisations need to work together to define a meaningful reporting relationship. Given the power imbalance between funders and funded organisations, funders need to initiate this conversation, to create new ways of sharing the learning from the funded work. We need to simplify and focus reporting, to ensure that it reflects the shared social change goal, the reason funders and funded organisations work together.

4. We need to change the conversation

Funders should encourage and support funded organisations to say how and when they would like to report. The best reporting is often the result of early conversations between funders and the organisations they fund about the information/data would be most useful for furthering their shared goals. So how can we make those conversations the norm?

Next steps

We’ve had interest in this work from other funders, who are keen to be part of the conversation and to make changes so that reporting is more useful, and less of a burden, to the organisations they fund. As a result, following the two workshops, (the first was in April and you can read about it here), we are developing a set of principles for aligning grant reporting which funders can discuss, disagree with, sign up to, aspire to, or use to track their progress against!

The principles will also, in the first instance, be tested by the funders who have been involved in the workshops. For some they will be used to facilitate internal conversations or develop thinking, and for others they will be tested through specific funds.

We’d love to hear any feedback on the conversations so far or from others who are interested in getting involved in this work.

You may also be interested in:

Annie Salter, The Tudor Trust.
6 things The Tudor Trust learned from Wellbeing Grants

– and how we did it

Read more Blog
a profile picture - Nick Addington - William Grants Foundation
Two practical ideas to increase unrestricted funding


Read more Blog
Profile pictures of Dan Chapman and Sonakshi Anand.
Listening to grantees: When and how should trusts and foundations respond to feedback?
Read more Blog
whois: Andy White Freelance WordPress Developer London