Grant reporting is broken. Can we fix it?
‘Funder-led. Bureaucratic. Time-consuming. Misunderstood.’
These are words used to describe grant reporting by six UK funders and six organisations they fund, at a workshop run by IVAR and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation in April. As funders we each have our own finely crafted reporting system to learn from our grants. But our system is just one of many others the organisations we fund have to negotiate. No matter how simple and clear we think our own system is, it still forces charities to repackage similar information for each funder, on a different date, with a different word count and in a different format.
We did not set up this workshop so that funders could come up with a common reporting form or system. We wanted to explore how to put the organisations we fund in the driving seat on reporting.
Be careful what you wish for!
I expected the meeting to come up with practical changes – big and small – which could help make reporting easier for charities and social enterprises, and make funders work together more. It did, and some of those changes are listed below. What I did not expect was so much challenge on the fundamental issues behind reporting: power and relationships.
Everyone recognised the value of reporting for accountability, and in providing an opportunity for reflection and learning, (download full report below), but we all agreed on two big changes funders need to make if reporting is going to improve.
- Let people tell their story in the way they want to, and listen to what they say.
- Make reporting a two-way conversation; part of a relationship not a dry exercise.
Could small changes be the key to making a big difference?
These are big changes for some funders to make, but there are many different small changes every funder could make which could contribute to the bigger change. Could you commit to one or more of these?
- Tell the organisations they fund why they are funding them – what is it about their work that chimes most with the funder’s mission, and what they are less interested in
- Be clear with organisations what they are doing with their reporting/data.
- Make reporting more proportional to the grant
- Accept reports that funded organisations already produce (Annual Report, Impact Report, business plan) instead of asking for bespoke reports
- Ask funded organisations when they are already reporting and fit more to their timetable instead of making them bend to funders’ own
- Ask funded organisations who else is funding them, and contact those funders to agree a shared timetable and/or format of reporting
Funded organisations should be encouraged to:
- Ask funders why they are funding them
- Ask what the funder is doing with their reporting and data
- Be creative in telling the story of their work in a medium which suits them
- Tell funders when another funder is asking for less information in return for more money
- Ask funders what assumptions they are making based on what they learn from other organisations, and feel able to challenge the funders on those assumptions
Tell us what you think, and get involved
A small group of funders are going to pilot and test some of the changes above, and report back on how it’s going at a meeting in September.
Please comment below or email with any other ideas, or advice. What would really make a difference for your organisation? Are there other ideas you have explored? Why did or didn’t they work?
- Grant Reports are broken. Is it worth trying to fix them? Feedback Labs conversation between David Sasaki and Dennis Whittle
- Listening for Change – survey commissioned by The Blagrave Trust and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation
- Harmonising reporting – learning and reports from 10 years’ work by Evaluation Support Scotland