Could we make grant reporting fun?

04 February 2020
Trusts and FoundationsRelationship BuildingMonitoring and Evaluation
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Emily Dyson-Hawkes, Head of Communications at the Institute for Voluntary Action Research, takes a look in this blog at principles for funders to adopt that help to ease the burden of grant reporting.

It’s a notoriously painful process – the annual report to your grant funder. Or more often, the fifteen reports to fifteen funders at different points in the year, all with slightly different questions, word counts and terminologies.

Nearly two years ago, we at the Institute for Voluntary Action Research brought together a group of charities and funders to work out if there could be a way to make grant reporting easier and more meaningful. We planned two workshops, and agreed to abandon the initiative if after the second we had made no progress. I’m pleased to say that was not necessary.

'Charities do have power'

One of the most surprising and exciting things about having charities and funders together in a room, was the recognition that actually – charities do have power here. If there were no charities, there would be no one to deliver a funder’s objectives. Social change is a collaborative process, and grant reporting should be a useful tool that supports the common goals of funders and the organisations they fund. It should be an opportunity to reflect, learn and grow.

I know, it’s not quite that straightforward. There are layered power dynamics at play, and some reasonable due diligence requirements.

We ended up with a set of six principles for funders to adopt that, we felt, would help to ease the burden of grant reporting. Things like ‘explain why you have funded an organisation’ – it makes reporting easier if you know which bit of your work a funder is interested in; and ‘only ask for information you need and use’ – for some this will mean cutting down from ten questions to eight, for others it’s about accepting a charity’s annual report or their submission to another funder. These principles are modest, but they are also flexible for restricted and unrestricted funding – and we hope they will prompt fundamental change.

Our original group of nine funders have been testing out the principles over the last year, and we’ll be calling for more UK trusts and foundations to adopt them from May 2020. This is our next challenge: essentially, we are asking funders to make their lives more difficult.

“Why on earth would they do that?”, I hear you ask.

Encourage funders and hold them to account

We brought together a group of ‘funded organisations’ (recognising it’s not just charities that receive grant funding) to help us answer that question. Our experience of developing the principles with charities and funders made it clear that the energy and motivation for improving reporting would have to come from those that will benefit – we need to both encourage funders and hold them to account. Our workshop on ‘the best and worst of grant reporting’ yielded two clear motivations for adopting the principles:

1. Grant reporting takes UK charities 15.8 million hoursIf you simplified grant reporting, the organisations you fund would have more time to diversify income; become more beneficiary-focused; improve health and wellbeing (of individuals and organisations); horizon scan and develop strategically.

2. Reports would be more interesting. What if we lived in a world where grant reports inspired and energised? Where they piqued your interest and renewed your enthusiasm? We all care about the same thing – let’s celebrate what’s working and explore what we could be adapting.

While grant reporting may not ever be fun, exactly, our vision is to build a movement of funders and funded organisations that believe in making grant reporting less burdensome for charities and more meaningful for all involved.

I’m looking forward to sharing more about the principles and how you can get involved at the Institute of Fundraising Trusts Conference on 24 February along with Shiona MacPherson, Grants Fundraiser at One25 and Milton Bevan, Fundraising Manager Trusts and Foundations at ThamesReach Charity. Shiona and Milton are members of the working group that developed the principles.

Emily Dyson-Hawkes
Emily Dyson-Hawkes
Head of Communications at the Institute for Voluntary Action Research
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