August 18, 2020
Whether you have a grant report to write in the near future, or you’re just looking for tips and advice to help you brush up on those skills for next time, keep reading for an overview of how to write a solid grant report that gives funders what they’re looking for.
While it’s important to be updating your funders informally throughout the grant period as part of your overall stewardship efforts, a grant report is a formal means of updating a funder on what you have accomplished with their grant funding.
There are several different types of reports you’re likely to come across in your grant writing career, and different funders may ask for different combinations of these:
The Center for Effective Philanthropy frames a grant report as a key opportunity for funders to explore the space between what they hoped for from a grantee, and what actually happened. And through that lens, a grant report can serve many possible purposes, including:
Of course, different funders will have different purposes and expectations for your report depending on their priorities, staffing, and sophistication of their own strategies. To glean some insight into what a particular funder is looking for, one option would be to ask them directly how they use your reports — whether during your site visit, after the award is granted, or through the grant period. Once you have a better sense of how heavily this funder will be engaging with your report and what they’re specifically looking for, you can invest the appropriate amount of time and effort putting it together.
Many funders will provide specifications for what to include in your grant report, and in what format. However, if your funder hasn’t given you a set of specific guidelines to use, our recommended list of components to include is below!
First, every grant should start with a thank you. You’ll never see this show up in the funder’s template or guidelines for what to include, but make sure to include one anyway! You may have to be creative for how to fit this in, especially if you’re using an online portal. Sometimes you can include a cover letter as part of a pdf that gets uploaded, if that makes sense for your situation.
Additional components of a standard grant report can include:
It’s a good idea to think about grant reports in terms of telling a powerful story. Compared to a grant proposal, a grant report is a great forum for leveraging the power of emotional appeal to sell a funder on your impact, and leave a strong impression. We often refer to the three-part storytelling framework below as a starting point, which dates back to ancient Greece:
For our purposes, this is about establishing credibility, This is where you’ll take the opportunity to remind your funder that you’re a credible organization and that you share their priorities and values; to demonstrate that you spent their funds responsibly; and to reassure them that they’ve invested in a feasible and important project that’s making a meaningful impact.
This is where your data and outcomes come into play! Using quantitative data in your reports helps create a clear structure, and paints an easy-to-digest picture of your program’s impact and success. It’s critical that you use facts to support your claims here.
Don’t go overboard with this part, but do keep in mind that this is your opportunity to really showcase how your programs are making a difference in your community. To do this well, use stories and quotes from your stakeholders, and highlight ‘real’ voices to show the more human side of your work and increase the persuasiveness of your report. This is especially relevant for direct service and more “charity”-based organizations.
You’ll need to find a balance between all three of these pieces, and that balance will vary based on each particular funder’s nature and priorities — but all three pieces of the framework are important.
If you don’t already have systems in place for collecting stories from the people you service, below are a few tips to help you get started in this area: