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New principles for grant reporting

Over the course of two workshops in April and September 2018, a group of funders and funded organisations developed a set of principles to make grant reporting a shared, more meaningful and mutually beneficial experience.


Our intention from the outset was to see how much progress could be made over two workshops and early on we decided to focus on core funding, rather than project funding. At the end of the second session we all felt there was merit in sharing and testing the principles we had developed: 

  1. Funders explain why they have awarded a grant. 
  2. Funders and funded organisations are clear about what grant reporting will look like. 
  3. Funders are clear about the type of relationship they would like to have with the organisations they fund. 
  4. Funders only ask for information they need and use, and question whether they need bespoke reporting. 
  5. Funders give feedback on any grant reporting they receive, and share their thoughts on the progress of the work. 
  6. Funders describe what they do with the information they obtain from funded organisations. 

For each funder, this will mean something different. For some, the principles will facilitate internal conversations and thinking; for others, they will be directly applied to a grant-making programme.

Investigating opportunities for aligned reporting

At the May 2017 convening of the Evaluation Roundtable, participants agreed that there was merit in exploring whether grantmaking charitable trusts and foundations could move towards more aligned arrangements for grant reporting. There was interest in simplifying and possibly harmonising grant reporting, with a view to reducing duplication and effort by grantees. It was noted that a similar approach had been taken by Evaluation Support Scotland through their Harmonising Reporting work. 

At our request, twelve charitable trusts and foundations shared details of their grantee reporting requirements. This included information on: 

  • Details of the timing and frequency of grantee reporting. 
  • Standard written guidance and specifications for grantee reports. 
  • Other means by which funders expected to stay in touch and connect with their grantees. 
  • Details of other grantee reporting arrangements that funders thought might be relevant to this study. 

We looked at the common questions asked by most trusts and foundations, and this paper summarises what opportunities this could offer for aligning grant reporting. 

Summary report: The Future for Communities

This 18 month research project asked ‘what needs to happen for communities to feel and be more powerful in the future?’. The findings paint a picture of strong, resourceful communities affected by the challenges of poverty, transience and isolation; but also people and places where resilience and hope offer the prospect of positive transformation and change. In particular, it highlights the need for sustained investment in supporting community-level infrastructure – places to meet, organisations to bring people together and people to facilitate engagement. 


The research was commissioned by Local Trust, carried out by the Institute for Voluntary Action Research (IVAR), and funded by the Community Development Foundation (CDF) and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF). 

Commonweal Housing: Replicating interventions to address social injustice

Over the past 18 months, we have been working alongside Commonweal Housing to help them enhance the way they use learning and evaluation to inform their work on housing solutions for social injustice.

Our work with Commonweal has coincided with the culmination of the charity’s ten-year
 Re-Unite project . In many ways, Re-Unite was a formative project for Commonweal – it was one of the charity’s earliest projects, and while it was successfully replicated it also faced considerable policy challenges. As the charity moved on from Re-Unite to new projects, they wanted to be sure that they were taking what they had learned with them. 

This framework shows Commonweal Housing’s approach to piloting interventions that address social injustice, then replicating these solutions. 

Community accountability in community business

What does it mean for businesses to be accountable to their community? We carried out 12 in-depth case studies of community businesses, who understood community accountability as being responsible, responsive to and engaged with their community. The idea of being accountable to the community was at the heart of who they are and how they work; and helped them to operate with dual drivers – to serve their community and to be a viable business. As they said, they were not businesses that decided to involve the community, but rather community members who decided to set up a business.

Our final report draws learning from the case studies, a literature review and a series of interviews. You can visit the Power to Change website to read: 


Detained Fast Track Litigation Case Study: Detention Action

Are you interested in the practice of bringing lawsuits to effect social change? This case study, commissioned by Detention Action, looks at the collaborative process that led to the suspension of the Detained Fast Track. We highlight the success factors, risks and challenges, ending with  four lessons from the strategic litigation: 


  • Issues suitable for strategic litigation are likely to be entrenched, highly politicised, unlawful, well-evidenced and well-timed
  • Using strategic litigation as a campaign tool is a huge undertaking for a small organisation, and relies on quick, strategic decision-making in response to a shifting external context
  • A well thought through advocacy strategy that considers the external political and policy environment, carefully considering what approaches to use
  • Having a capable and mature NGO to front a coalition – someone to ‘put [their] head above the parapet and undertake the largely invisible legwork of building a collaboration


The Detention Action case study sits alongside another report by Dr Vanhala of UCL, examining Just for Kids Law’s intervention in R v Tigere in the Supreme Court. This case concerned the denial of student loans to lawfully resident young people who were not British citizens. In this blog, Shauneen Lambe from Just for Kids Law sets out the key findings from both case studies and invites NGOs and lawyers in the UK to think about how the law can be used to bring about social change. 

Esmée Fairbairn Foundation: learning in responsive grant-making

The theme for the third UK roundtable was ‘learning in responsive grant-making’. Around 20 trustees, current and former staff and grantees of Esmée Fairbairn Foundation agreed to be interviewed for a teaching case telling the story of how the Foundation has developed its approach to, and use of, learning over the past 15 years.

Note: the lines are numbered in the teaching cases to support detailed discussion. 

Sussex Community Foundation Unrestricted Funding Study

In 2016 Sussex Community Foundation commissioned IVAR to carry out a study exploring the value of unrestricted grants made to four organisations working with children and young people in Sussex. This was a new way of working for Sussex Community Foundation – bringing together unrestricted, larger grant-making and multi-year elements for the first time.

The initial impetus for this programme came from the Blagrave Trust, which has a strategic interest in unrestricted funding. Specifically, funders were interested in ‘looking to see how the grant would enable local organisations to make a significant step change in their ability to make a difference to the lives of disadvantaged children’.

The research highlights the range of ways organisations have used the funding to:

• Explore new ideas and plan for the future
• Working towards financial sustainability
• Strengthening organisational structure and systems
• Using research to improve services

The funding led to increased confidence, stronger networks and in some cases, an ability to influence the local environment. However, change was not without its challenges and organisations were faced with challenges around leadership, strategy and operations as they developed.

York Pathways: Supporting individuals experiencing mental distress

This case study is one of five exploring how independent charitable funders and local, regional and national public agencies can work together in a given geographic area. 

The case studies are part of IVAR’s wider work on place-based funding approaches, which includes Working in Place: A framework for developing and designing place-based funding approaches and Working in Place: Collaborative funding in practice.

York Pathways is a service that supports individuals experiencing a range of mental health support needs, including people who have complex needs such as substance misuse issues or a history of offending. It was set up with the express intention not just to fill gaps in services and reduce demand on the emergency services but to identify where the gaps were and identify long-term solutions for tackling the issues, centered around improving multi-agency relationships and partnerships.