Charities with an income of over £25,000 already have a legal and regulatory requirement to report on their activities. Their annual report and accounts must contain a trustees’ report that clearly articulates who they help and what difference they are making. It provides a base level mechanism for funders to perform due diligence on the organizations they fund. Whilst a handful of UK funders only ask for a copy of the annual report, this is rare. Most funders ask for a grant report in their own specified format, which can leave many charities repackaging the same information into multiple different forms.
Although charities are frequently frustrated by the additional grant reporting requirements, the IVAR-led workshops showed that charities saw potential benefits from grant reporting, if done well. As well as recording achievements, grant reporting could open up an important space for reflection and learning. This is important because it is through learning that charities can get better and improve their impact. With this in mind, the workshop attendees sought a meaningful and mutually beneficial experience.
In seeking to improve grant reporting, it was recognized that funders had their own legitimate interests and requirements. For example, whereas a funder reliant on fundraised income may wish to collate particular information for marketing materials, an endowed foundation probably won’t have such a need. As such, a one size fits all grant reporting template was rejected as a viable solution. Instead, the group devised a set of high-level principles that funders could subscribe to.
The five high-level principles are:
- Funders explain why they have awarded a grant.
- Funders and funded organizations are clear about what grant reporting will look like.
- Funders are clear about the type of relationship they would like to have with the organizations they fund.
- Funders only ask for the information they need and use, and question whether they need bespoke reporting.
- Funders give feedback on any grant reporting they receive and share their thoughts on the progress of their work.
The principles allow funders to interpret them in ways that suit their particular requirements. For example, one funder might satisfy the first principle by including a written reason for making the grant in their grant award letter. Another funder might meet this principle by having a grant inception meeting with the grantee at which they explain their reasons for making a grant. In both interpretations, the funded organization should be left in no doubt as to the funder’s broader strategy and what they’ll, therefore, need to emphasize when reporting back to the funder later in the grant process.
Overall, funders and grantees recognized that the principles were best achieved by moving away from paper-based reporting towards a more conversational approach. This allows relationships to develop and trust to be formed, which can facilitate a more open exchange of information and ideas. As such, it opens up space for a more honest assessment of challenges, limitations, and failures, which is a necessary precursor to high-quality reflection and learning.