How to Write a Grant Report that Exceeds Expectations | CharityHowTo

Blog Post by CharityHowTo Expert Diane H. Leonard, GPC

The grant report is a critical document in the grant relationship maintenance process, especially when your focus is on expressing genuine next-level gratitude to your grantmakers

A grantmaker relationship should not feel transactional to either party if it is to truly be a funding partnership. A dry grant report that arrives the day of the deadline with no prior conversation and no follow-up afterward feels transactional to a grantmaker if they only hear from you again when it is time to apply. 

While many nonprofits focus on the grantmaker relationships prior to applying, the grant report document, and the interactions leading to and following the formal submission of the report, are also key relationship touchpoints for the organization looking to secure another award from the grantmaker.

As you strive to put your best foot forward in the grant seeking world, consider these 6 tips as you prepare your oh so important grant report.

6 Tips to Help Your Grant Report Meet Requirements and Exceed Expectations

Here are six tips that can help you learn how to write a grant report thatstands out in the sea of paperwork and become a meaningful communication tool that will build your relationship with your grantmaker.

1. Go Beyond the Bare Minimum

The grantmaker may provide a framework for a report and ask you to answer three specific questions. The questions may or may not be “the right” questions that would provide meaningful information about your success with the grant funding and your lessons learned. 

Yes, you need to answer the three specific questions. You should do so in more than one sentence per required question (unless of course, that truly is the length of what is necessary to provide a meaningful response, but that seems unlikely). 

You should also provide additional meaningful information that may be helpful to the grantmaker in valuing you as a funding partner and feeling positive about your work as they consider future requests.

2. Don’t Deliver Any Surprises

The grant report is NOT the time to deliver any news about your outputs, outcomes, budget, etc. that is a deviation or surprise to the grantmaker. Such news should be delivered personally to the grantmaker as soon as it becomes apparent to you during the implementation of the grant award. 

Instead, The report serves  as a chance to document what you learned during the grant award period and what happened as a result. 

Even the result of what you changed or tried differently should NOT be a surprise to the grantmaker. Engage them in at least one update after the first discussion so that they feel as if the information in the report is “just” a formal representation of what they have already been discussing with you, their trusted funding partner.

3. Make Your Report Visually Appealing

Ensure that you answer all of the required report questions. Then think about how you can make your report information easy for the grantmaker staff to review, digest, and share. Basic formatting like headings, white space, bold, and italic should be considered to guide your grantmaker through the report document.

While the layout of the narrative response is important, ask yourself if there is a simple chart, graph, or infographic that could help present your information in a visually appealing way to the grantmaker. 

Does a bar graph show how far above average performance your students in the tutoring program performed this past year? Does a line graph show how dramatically you changed results for those in your nutrition program?

A great way for you to identify what data you want to visualize in your grantmaker report is to look back at the SMART objectives that you provided in the original grant application.

Look at the measurable components of the SMART objectives in the application, and turn the key measurable components into visual elements in your application.

Another way to make your report visually appealing is to review the questions posed by the grantmaker (or if no headings, what information you have provided in the report) and look for where a few key photos from the program or project could be inserted. 

Perhaps you don’t have a photo of the project or program, do you instead have a quote from a program participant or someone impacted by the funded work? You can include that quote as a simple call-out text box within the report or an italicized portion of your text.

4. Be Sure the Report Has Shareables

You want your grant report to be used more than once. You want your grant report to be read and filed so that you can formally be considered for future funding, but you also want to look at how the grant report could be used as meaningful information by the grantmaker. Here are some questions to consider as you design your report:

  • Are there key statistics that illustrate the success of your project/program? Can you make them shareable callouts in the report that could then be easily pulled from the report by the grantmaker staff and shared with their leadership and stakeholders? 
  • Have you made key elements of the report into social media posts and tagged the grantmaker (on the networks where they overlap with your accounts) so that they can see the information shared and share it with their stakeholders as well?

This is a great opportunity to engage other colleagues from your organization. Does your marketing staff create infographics for your organization’s annual report, special events, or social media? Do your other colleagues in the fundraising department create infographics or images that are used for fundraising events? 

Ask around in your organization to see what other images have been created that help show what your organization is doing, who you are serving, and how you are creating an impact in your community.

5. Address Future Sustainability

Grantmakers want to understand the impact that is created with their grant dollars. Part of the impact is about the immediate change or knowledge/skill gain, but grantmakers like to understand the longer term return on investment (ROI) that their grants have in a community or target audience. 

The continuation of a program and the methods by which it will be sustained (if it is meant to be continued) is one way that you can help the grantmaker see the larger ROI of their grant award to your organization.

So even if the grantmaker does not specifically ask about the sustainability of the project/program they funded, share information with the grantmaker about one of the following messages:

  1. How you will continue the program now that their support has ended with other funding you have secured; 
  2. How you will take the lessons learned and share them with others in your community and/or field; or
  3. How will you address the next phase of your project or new modification of your program based on what you accomplished or learned with the grantmaker’s support.

6. Follow-up With a Sincere Offer to Answer Questions

Once the report is sent via email/mail/online portal, you are done. Right? 

Nope! 

If you have a direct relationship with the grantmaker, follow-up to ensure that the report was received and to sincerely offer to answer any questions about the report. Be prepared to be asked questions about your outcomes and any deviations from the original proposal. 

This follow-up to the final “formal” step of your grant award helps to build stronger relationships with the grantmaker and show how this is a funding partnership that you value and not a transactional relationship.

7. How to Write a Grant Report with No Required Format

And a seventh bonus tip…for those scenarios where you are asked to provide a report, but the grantmaker does not provide a report format or even require a grantmaker report.

This is a good opportunity to show the grantmaker how much you value their funding partnership. 

The first step would be to reach out when an award letter is received that mentions a report, but does not mention providing a report document or format, to clarify if they will indeed provide one prior to the due date. 

If you are unable to reach the grantmaker, or they clarify that they do not have a required format, you should select a report format that has worked well with other grantmakers and provided your organization a chance to share your success stories and impact. 

A second step could be to ask other colleagues or peer organizations if they have a go-to report format template that they utilize and are willing to share for your usage.

Time to Get Started!

These tips will help to elevate your grant reports beyond simply meeting requirements, and instead, exceed your grantmaker’s expectation, positioning you for a stronger grantmaker relationship.

You don’t need to incorporate all of the tips into each grant report. Start with one and see how your grant reports are transformed and how the interactions with the grantmakers for your organization become more meaningful. 

What tip will you try first in your next report to a grantmaker?

Looking to learn more about how to implement each of these tips in your grant reporting process?

You can learn more details about Grantmaker Relationships in this recorded webinar.

About The Author

Diane H. Leonard, GPC, President of DH Leonard Consulting & Grant Writing Services, is an experienced and respected grant professional who has provided grant development counsel to nonprofit organizations of varying size and scope for more than a decade.

In addition, Diane is an in-demand speaker and trainer on the topics of grant readiness, grant writing and grants management and regularly provides her expertise to audiences ranging from national conferences to boards of directors for small, nonprofit organizations.

Check out all of Diane’s CharityHowTo trainings here.