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The seven secrets of grant reporting

by Optimy
November 23, 2020 - Reading time: 12min
The seven secrets of grant reporting

Social reporting is one of the most important elements of grant-making. Preparing and publishing documents that present useful information regarding corporate social activities can play an important role in any business. The grant report may be used to inform stakeholders how a company has addressed or is addressing stakeholders’ CSR concerns and incorporating them into the company’s strategic decision-making processes.

But in the development of reports, grant managers might face a few questions: How to create such a report effectively? How to measure results and which grant reporting tool to use? Worry, not! We will walk you through the sometimes painful process of reporting grant-making.

Imagine a tool that provides you with a good amount of reliable, useful, and up-to-date information about your grant-making activities. Amazing, right? And this is exactly what a grant report should be. In simple terms, reports are a set of information from a specific sector or activity that aims to present the general situation transparently and directly.

An efficient report provides a complete and balanced view of an organization’s material topics and their respective impacts as well as how those impacts are managed.

Needless to say that the disclosure of Social Responsibility reports seeks to encourage good transparency and management practices in organizations. Besides, these reports seek to identify, measure, and disclose their social and environmental performance.

In a nutshell, the information provided in grant reports is necessary so managers can monitor projects and think ahead. This leads to better decision-making based on the data previously collected and presented, considerably increasing the chances of grant-making success.

Many corporate foundations are already used to creating reports to their boards and explain how their budget was allocated. In that case, the board and funders might send some guidelines on how the report should be like. But what if you have no guideline at all?

Here are some key strategies that will help you to write an insightful report for grant and other CSR activities.

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#1 Start with a thank you note

An opening letter from the corporation’s chief executive officer and/or chief CSR executive is a great way to start your report. This letter should express your organization’s gratitude towards its funders and make them feel appreciated.

Another report strategy to add at this point of the document is the connection between the business side of things and the corporation’s grant activities. Does it sound complicated to you? Here is a quick example. The CSR executive of a corporate foundation from the entertainment industry could start their letter by saying that their goal, in everything they do, is to make people smile. As a socially responsible organization, their goal of spreading smiles throughout society’s members is a big part of that mission. The best way to achieve such a goal is through meaningful and transformative CSR activities. They could even add a paragraph with a short personal story on how they were personally involved with the organization’s social projects. After all, this is also the moment to humanize your brand and show the faces behind all the numbers.

#2 Show the management commitment

The report’s credibility can be supported by the commitment of top management, description of corporate policy and introduction of personnel responsibilities, and the objectives. Of course, this even more so when reporting on a range of CSR projects, such as employee volunteering and community investment. Still, it is relevant to discuss how management should always be involved in social good projects or any organization. This sounds like a no-brainer, but many people take this part of the report for granted. And this is why: many times, the management team is not as involved in the grant-making and other CSR projects as they should.

As we all know, many managers are so swamped with deadlines, meetings, and projects of their own that they are barely involved with the CSR projects at all. After all, they are too busy meeting targets and KPIs. According to Caroline Modave, this is one of CSR executives and HR managers’ biggest challenges when trying to implement employee engagement activities. As she explains, the way to solve this is to make sure to create CSR strategies that involve the company as a whole: “I think the key ingredients indeed start with first thinking: What is your organization standing for? What type of activity will they do? What is its purpose? That specific purpose as an organization to really get the traction at the senior leadership level to get their sponsorship, but also for people to really understand what the impact is I can have within the organization. I do believe that the way you will engage your management is by really understanding those managers’ situation. So it requires a certain dialog within the organization.”

So it is safe to say that management should be involved in the early stages of the CSR process. But once all of this is done, it is vital to explain in your grant report how the management was involved in the decision-making process and what were the impacts of their involvement.

#3 Use Transparency to achieve credibility

A worldwide consumer review showed that CSR stays a ground-breaking differentiator, impacting both consumer habits as well as public options on brands. Virtually all consumers in that review noticed that when organizations participate in social activities, they have a more positive image of the company, would be more likely to trust that organization, and would be more loyal to that company.  Buyer respondents added that it is satisfactory if an organization isn’t perfect, given that the organization is straightforward and transparent about its CSR endeavors.

It is important to ensure corporate transparency. One of the main advantages of management reports is the possibility of different professionals having access to the same information. In other words, these documents allow transparency at work to be something practical and not just a symbolic value. However, this benefit can only be obtained if there is an information-sharing system in the company. Logically, management reports do not have to pass through all employees, but it is interesting that most leaders can check the data in a clear and direct way.

Thus, the grant-making report gives to the corporation the great opportunity to communicate to its stakeholders its efforts on being a socially responsible organization. Furthermore, this is the chance to discuss certain successes and challenges on a wide array of CSR issues, including how the foundation tackles corporate governance, climate change, employee engagement, social inclusion, and community investment.

Keep in mind that the report is a medium for transparency and it should be used as an effective outreach tool as part of an ongoing stakeholder relations campaign.

#4 Address your stakeholders

The annual grant reporting is a good moment to strengthen stakeholders’ position and their involvement in your foundations/corporation decisions. The relations between your organization and your stakeholders should not be taken for granted. Many times, public perception doesn’t separate corporations and foundations from their funders/shareholders/employees/contractors.

Nike’s sweatshop scandal in the ’90s is a good example of this. Back then, a labor activist wrote a report on Nike’s factory’s practices exposing child labor and appalling conditions. Quickly, Nike vigorously denied the charges and claimed that the corporation had no control over independent contractors. The public opinion shamed the organization for having partnerships with such suppliers, and protests during Barcelona’s Olympics in 1992 provoked a wave of negative media attention. Nearly 30 years later, the company continues to report on its commitment and standards as part of its corporate social responsibility reports to show their consumers that those practices are no longer in place.

That shows how important it is to connect yourself with the right partners in all dimensions and how important it is to explain in your report how each of them is connected with your organization’s CSR activities. Some of the key stakeholders can be:

Funders – grant report is a formal way for you to keep your funders in the loop regarding what the foundation/organization has accomplished with their grant money.

Shareholders – you should address the organization’s business model and corporate governance, including disclosing the board’s role in topics such as risk management, sustainability reporting, and evaluating CSR performance.

Suppliers – a socially responsible organization makes sure to partner with suppliers who have high labor standards. This is just as important as making sure your own organization follows labor standards, as mentioned previously.

Employees – part of social good comes into place by promoting diversity, safety, a healthy work environment, and fair wages. Make sure to address in your document the actions in all these dimensions.

Local communities – this will most likely be the biggest part of your report. When addressing your grant results, clarify and analyze the real impact it had on the local community.

Governments and other Regulators – here, you should address the impact of public policies when it comes to environmental and societal regulations.

#5 Use easy-to-understand data to show grant results

“Thank you” letters, chapters explaining the grant-making process and furthers activities, and explanations on how your grant is being invested; All those points should be addressed in your report, no doubt! But we should keep in mind that many people will only scan the document and look for numbers. Thus, it is vitally important to have a data-focus section in your report. This section can vary depending on what types of projects you implemented.

A good way to approach this part of the report is to first explain the data collection methods to show credibility. Using flexible and efficient grant reporting software can help you analyze and collect this data quickly and ensure the report’s integrity.

Some of the data you can add to your report include:

  • Financial data such as how much money was allocated during this year.
  • The number of community members positively affected.
  • How many grants the organization awarded.
  • Which areas (health/education/housing) you currently fund.
  • How many grant applications you received.
  • Where grantees are located.

Over time, you will realize that measuring long-term success requires more than just collecting numbers; it also requires surveying participants regularly and constantly asking for feedback. Contextualizing the numbers found is also appropriate. Here are some ways to review and investigate those numbers.

Economic considerations — disclose the organization’s impacts on its stakeholders’ economic conditions and economic systems at local, national, and global levels.

Social Impact — disclose the organization’s impacts on the social systems within which it operates, including those relating to human rights, society, and product responsibility.

Environmental impact — reveal the numbers and analyze the organization’s impacts on living natural systems (land, air, water, and ecosystems), including impacts related to energy and water, as well as emissions, and waste.

Stakeholder Engagement — this section will be different depending on the activities you promote together with your stakeholders. It can be especially insightful for those organizations promoting employee engagement projects such as corporate volunteering.

#6 Showcase the cross-sector partnerships between businesses, government agencies, and non-profit organizations.

Bring your stakeholders into the report and give them a voice. Ask them what their perspective is on the community investment projects your organization has been managing. A good idea for those corporations that have implemented corporate volunteering projects is to invite non-profit organizations to write a short testimonial of the impact of employee engagement activities on communities. Ask your partners to share quotes or stories of transformation that are a direct result of your project.

This collaboration brings the participating groups a positive synergistic effect. The synergic impact of common participation among organizations committed to social good really comes when competent managers are part of creating the framework, in this manner expanding its validity, productivity, and viability. Keep in mind that reporting is a part of this bigger process.

#7 Establish Goals for the next year

In the process of writing your grants report, you will come across many methods and structures that you can improve. Use this moment to learn from your experiences and establish new goals for the year to come. Showcase to your stakeholders that your organization is in constant evolution and will keep on having new and higher goals.

This section of the grant report is also the moment to explain your organization’s biggest challenges during its grant-making process. Some of the topics you should include are:

  • Unexpected factors that affected the grant-making process, such as the  COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Lessons learned from these experiences.
  • What went better than expected.
  • How you plan to change or adapt the grant-making process to improve future efforts.

Funders like to know the successful projects they’ve supported will be around for a while, so make sure to share as many details as possible about the next projects at this point.

Bonus: why Optimy is an excellent grant reporting tool

As discussed above, different organizations might have different needs reporting-wise. A flexible grant management software can be a true help when reporting your impact. And that is why Optimy has created a grant management tool in which you can have grant applications, selection, communication, budgeting, and reporting covered. Our super-flexible grant tool aligns with your workflows and needs.

Our budget tracking feature, for example, can save you some precious time when reporting on your grant projects. With this tool, users can create budgets with categories and define the period of time they want to track. Foundations and corporations can also create a specific budget for one of their departments to have an overview of the spendings and revenues.

The charts feature is another big ally when writing reports. It helps you visualize all the data inside of the Optimy software quickly and easily. Users can choose how to display the information, so it’s presented in a way that everyone understands. It is an amazing feature, especially when forms are created smartly, so you can take information straight from the form answers and create charts out of it.

Optimy is the best-kept secret that helps foundations and corporations measure their return on investment and reach their goal with ease. Birgitta Hultfeldt, project manager at Ideas for Life from Sweden, agrees: “I like to be able to generate reports in the solution, export projects, easily adapt the form myself without the need for any further support from IT. Previously such a simple task could take me up to 6 months to make any amendments. We don’t only grant projects but also provide them with tools to measure the effect/impact on their project in society.”

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