Purpose as a Compass: Grant Reporting - What is the Purpose? Linking Values, Vision, and Practice 

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Purpose as a Compass: Grant Reporting - What is the Purpose? Linking Values, Vision, and Practice
By: Rachel Kimber, Vice President, Grants Management, Smile Train and Blanch Vance, Senior Manager, Grants and Strategic Operations, The Grove Foundation

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. But if we’re being honest, this secret is not so secret. 

Here it is: The grantee report as we know it is dead. Or at least on life support.  

You don’t have to pour over years of grantee perception data (CEP did that for you) to know the picture is grim. 

For too many grantees, reporting has become nothing more than a rote requirement that contributes very little to their ongoing growth. And for funders, instead of a launch pad for iteration and improvement, these reports too often go underutilized or unread. Yes, I just said that.  

This isn’t a knock on my foundation friends. The idea that grantmaking should be responsive to and driven by reciprocal relationships between grant recipients and funders is not particularly revolutionary. But in practice, it has been elusive. Easier said than done? You bet. Essential to our work? Absolutely.  

It’s time we make a change. 

Oral and alternate reporting (OAR) is an emergent practice that strives to rebalance power between funders and their grantees, drive insight and collaborative engagement around “wicked” problems and make efficient use of limited resources. Sounds good, right? But what makes OAR different? 

OAR centers learning for impact at the crux of this new way forward. To do this we put relationships first. We align our processes with our organizational values. We rewrite the data collection process for a more inclusive and trust-building assessment and evaluation. And we embrace the transformative power of democratic collaboration. 

What is wrong with status quo grant reporting practices?   

Today many grantmakers have robust but siloed data ponds that aren’t living up to their potential as vital tools for learning. Transactional status quo reporting doesn’t support the advancement of learning organizations within mission-centered ecosystems. Instead, it creates an imbalance of power between funders and grant recipients. While reporting should provide an opportunity for grant recipients to speak candidly about what went right (or wrong) and which resources were well-received (or not), the open secret is that this is rarely the reality on the ground. 

Without an ongoing trust-based and psychologically safe relationship between the funder and the funded, the inherent power dynamic will continue to thwart the delivery of the most impactful resources to partners.  

Disrupting philanthropic practices from the inside out. What have we learned?  

As grants management professionals, too often we see first-hand the systemic power imbalances in grantmaking. So, it came as no surprise that OAR sprung to life organically from a PEAK Grantmaking Connect forum thread in the summer of 2021. Soon after, we hosted our first interactive workshop with three foundations engaged in various reporting methods. Our subsequent six sessions have provided space for nearly 1,000 grantmaking staff to learn and grow together. Our goal is to continue to be a space for collaborative learning and relationship development so that we might hold each other accountable as we collectively tackle how to ground our reporting and grantmaking operations in our organizational values and ensure our methods are responsive and supportive of our nonprofit partners.   

From this place of collaboration and alignment, we developed an actionable framework that makes explicit the need to align grantmaking practices with organizational values. We’re not here to provide prescriptive solutions, but instead we encourage attendees to co-create values-driven solutions alongside their stakeholders from the very start. We are here to help build sector-wide momentum to scale small victories into more significant transformations. Transformation that begins with listening and learning. And promotes deeper authentic relationships between grantmakers and grant recipients. And ultimately, transformation that drives social sector impact.  

Walk the Talk: Grants Managers in the Driver’s Seat 

The good news is that front-line grants management staff are uniquely positioned to drive and encourage the sector toward values-driven practices. We have the opportunity to live by our values and cultivate the trust-based relationships we need to foster our partners’ best work. And by deploying a tool already part of regular grantmaking practice – the grant report – we’ll make dramatic strides in gathering data that can be used to address the pressing issues the nonprofit sector aspires to alleviate. Grant managers are ready to lead, and we are providing space for exploration, iteration, and innovation. Values often emerge from strategy-level vision and through the codification of those values in daily organizational practice. OAR discussions equip grant managers to ask the essential question: Do your values and practices align? 

Who has been on the journey?  

The Center for Effective Philanthropy was integral in providing initial sector-wide data on the global pain point that is the grant report. The grantee perception survey has captured grantee feedback on reporting practices for years and the picture is grim. The single lowest rating across CEP surveys is the helpfulness of final reports. However, most organizations surveyed spend 8 hours per grant on reports and approximately 30 hours over the lifetime of the grant. Substantial resources (time is money) are poured into the reporting function across the nonprofit sector. We can change this practice and better understand how grant outcomes drive impact. PEAK Grantmaking and Philanthropy New York have been champions in linking values, vision, and practice and making space for these status-quo challenging conversations.  Trust-Based Philanthropy, Technology Association of Grantmakers, and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations have all been providing space to explore emergent status-quo challenging conversations.  

Join Us! 

Please register for our next session at the PEAK Grantmaking Conference on May 9th and look for us at GEO’s Learning Conference on May 22nd. Reach out if you have questions about our past sessions and/or want to join our community of changemakers. 

August 3, 2021 – First Session Oral and Alternate Reporting Working Group 

  • Speakers: Blanch Vance, Grove Foundation; Steven Casey, MacArthur Foundation; and Kerry McHugh, The Helen J. Serini Foundation 

October 27, 2021 – Oral and Alternate Reporting Working Group Case Study Session 

  • Speakers: Rachel Kimber and Glo Ross from Arcus Foundation; Kevin Bolduc, Center for Effective Philanthropy; Julia Plume, Internet Society Foundation; and Elaine Mui, General Service Foundation 

February 2, 2022 – Case Study Deep Dive 

  • Speakers: Shaady Salehi, Trust-Based Philanthropy, Amber Eby and Irene Chansawang from Maddie’s Fund, and Ashley Clark and Jenny Herrera, at the Libra Foundation 

March 22, 2022 – Work Group recruitment and introductory conversation as part of PEAK 2022 

June 14, 2022 –Grant Reporting – What is the Purpose? Linking Values, Vision, and Practice, in partnership with Philanthropy New York 

  • Rachel and Blanch facilitated a group discussion about assessing your current reporting process, shared strategies for effective collaboration with internal teams and nonprofit partners, and an oral and alternate reporting action plan. 

November 3, 2022 - Building Partner-Centered Grantmaking Infrastructure 

  • Speakers: Ray Holgado and Danielle Royston-Lopez, at the Kataly Foundation, Facilitators; Rachel Kimber, Cochair, and Blanch Vance, Cochair 

May 8-10, 2023 – Learn, Share, Evolve: PEAK Grantmaking Conference  

  • Rachel and Blanch will facilitate a group discussion to review lessons learned, survey results, and guide Action Plan deployment break out conversations.  

May 22-23, 2023 – Courageous Unlearning: GEO Learning Conference  

  • Rachel and Blanch will facilitate a group discussion to explore what effective grantmaking practice could look like when developed in partnership with nonprofits. Participants will explore ways to use grant reports for learning in service of greater impact for the communities we serve. 
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