One day a few weeks ago, Chuck popped his head into my office. He told me that he’d just finished up a videoconference with one of our grantees. They were wrapping up the first year of a grant, and the videoconference served as the formal report narrative.
They talked about all the things you’d expect a report to cover: they reviewed the past year’s activities; discussed progress towards the grant’s outcomes; highlighted successes, challenges, and learning; and went over possible work plan and budget modifications for the next grant year. Total time required to complete this narrative report? About an hour.
The best part? Chuck was able to ask clarifying questions, probe for more detail, and strengthen his relationship with the project director — and the Foundation’s relationship with the grantee agency — while saving everyone boatloads of time. The project director, who is dyslexic, told Chuck that doing the report as an oral conversation instead of in writing saved him at least 20 hours. That’s time he can put into his organization’s mission instead of filling out forms. (Wait: You mean grantees’ primary jobs aren’t to fill out reports for funders?) He can also have confidence that Chuck heard and understood the information he shared; written reports come with no such assurance.
This process, replacing a formal written report with a recorded phone call or videoconference, was a direct response to the feedback we’ve gotten from our Center for Effective Philanthropy Grantee Perception Reports. Grantees said that the administrative burden associated with applying for and reporting on our grants was excessive — an opinion borne out by the comparative data CEP showed about other foundations. We’ve only been doing it for a few months, but I don’t see us going back.
For what it’s worth, we still require financial reporting to be submitted in writing before the narrative reporting conversation. Even there, we’re content with a general ledger summary. Also, if grantees prefer the written report format, they’re free to complete their narrative reports that way. Not everyone likes videoconferencing or talking on the phone.
*Grantees: What are your funders doing to make it easier for you to report on grants?*
*Funders: What are you doing to make grantees’ lives easier?*