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Grant reporting is broken. Can we fix it?

Grant reporting is broken. Can we fix it?

May 2018

Gina Crane | Communications and Learning Manager at Esmée Fairbairn Foundation


‘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.

  1. Let people tell their story in the way they want to, and listen to what they say.
  2. 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?

Funders could:

  • 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?

Further reading: 


(Aligned Reporting Workshop Report-18 April)

Back to results


  1. This is an absolutely fantastic conversation.

    We would welcome trying out different ways to report both in terms of form and in terms of aligning EF reporting with existing formats/timelines (in particular for ACE).

    Form – previously in face to face conversation with EF we have proposed different ways to move forward with ideas and been given helpful feedback that has guided the next stage of our planning. We would love to see this ‘conversational relationship’ developed further. It helps to build the sense of a partnership where aims and aspirations are clearly aligned. Face to face time set aside to review where things are going together also means that different voices are given space to communicate: it is a more accessible format. Often the reporting process means that the person in the organisation that is a good writer/has English as first language/has no communication access needs is the main communicator, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Face to face reporting would also allow an honest sharing that could help to identify what of particular significance is emerging from a given period of activity.

    Alignment – It is often the case that the reports that we actually want and need to produce – Annual Report, Impact Report, business plan – are at the bottom of the list when it comes to reporting because of the pressures of funder requirements. If we could use those to tell our story would be extremely grateful!

    Like many arts organisations we have a small team that is trying to achieve a great deal in a responsible manner. This would not only help us be more efficient but would also feed our thinking and process.
    Becky Chapman

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