The process of reflection that comes with writing a grant report can be cathartic and useful for planning and iteration.
It can also be overwhelming.
The polished package that is delivered to the funder is actually months of documentation, data gathering, deep-dive analysis, first drafts, scrambling for more contextual content, second drafts, editing, making it pretty, and getting it submitted to the funder on deadline.
While funders may have their own reporting formats, the information that they are looking for is typically common across the board. Get a head start by gathering these components of a grant report and make the whole process just a little smoother.
First up, save yourself any wasted time. Check the funder’s reporting requirements. Do they have their own form? Is there an online portal where you need to submit the report? Do they have a list of questions they want answered? Once you have reviewed the funder’s expectations, make a bullet point list of what you need to address for the funder’s specific reporting requirements.
Next, review the original proposal and pull out the objectives that you had hoped to accomplish with the funding. Make a note of what was actually achieved and what didn’t happen. Also, make a note of how you said you would evaluate your success. You’ll use those notes later on.
I never begin a report without first creating an outline. Diving into a grant report can be messy and distracting. It can feel like an epic spring cleaning of your entire home after a long winter.
An outline guides the process so that you don’t waste time going down rabbit holes you don’t need to go down. It allows you to clearly see what information and content you need to collect, along with how you’ll get it.
For your outline begin with the report format and original objectives above, then add in each of the items below.
The single best way to attack this is to track your program activities throughout the year, rather than wait until the last minute to scramble for report content in retrospect. I know this is easier said than done! I have two tricks for this:
1. For activity tracking, I have a single spreadsheet with a column for who, what, when and where. Who did you serve? What did you do to serve them? When and where did it take place? This basic data becomes the opening paragraph for the grant report’s section on program activities.
2. I also have a folder where I dump everything that comes to me throughout the year. Links, videos, photographs, testimonials, feedback, background information, communications, programs, press mentions, notes. You name it. If it has anything to do with our programming, it goes here. When report time comes around, I mine this folder for juicy tidbits to include.
Your original proposal likely laid out the evaluation criteria that you would use to measure the success of your programming. Grab that as inspiration for this section. You’ll want to note if your activities happened as planned and what worked. If things didn’t work out as well as you hoped, you’ll address it next in Challenges.
Now that you’ve noted anything that veered from your original proposal objectives, here you can explain further. Along with detailing the challenges that you encountered, you can also explain how you solved the problem.
Most funders also want to know what you learned. Use this as an opportunity to share your knowledge and insights with them. Being honest and sharing openly also helps to keep everyone, funders and activists alike, on the same page as to the realities on the ground.
Wins and Impact
This is your section to shine. What worked beautifully? What is your success story? What are you celebrating?
Simply put, you need to be able to demonstrate how you spent the money. And if those numbers vary from how you said you would spend the money in your original proposal budget, you need to explain why. Also, make sure the expenses that you list in your financial report jive with what you said you did in your narrative report.
What can you include with your report that gives your funder a deeper look into your work? These days, the supplementals that I include are mostly online, so I actually link to them directly in the report, but if there are printed materials, I like to include those as supplemental material.
I also like to break up the report text with plenty of photographs. Some funders are now also asking for a brief, informal video of the team talking about the work in addition to the written report. If video is your thing, this is a great way to put a human face to the often formal, dry process of grant reporting.
Yes, be sure you are submitting the report on time.