Grant Report Basics: How to Give Funders What They’re Looking For

August 18, 2020

Winning a grant is a major accomplishment for your organization! But in many cases, the work doesn’t end once you’ve received a check.

Funders often require their grantees to submit reports during the grant period, as a way of checking in on a grantee’s progress and how well they delivered on what they set out to do in their initial grant proposal. But more just just a requirement, grant reports are also an opportunity to build trust and rapport with funders, and begin laying the groundwork for an ongoing relationship and renewal grants down the road.

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.

The Basics: What is a grant report?

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:

  • A final report typically comes about 30 days after the end of the grant period 
  • An interim report or progress report typically comes about half-way through the grant period. (For multi-year grants, you may need to submit multiple progress reports, typically on an annual basis).
  • Sometimes more frequent financial reports are also required. For example, public funders often require monthly financial reports

What are funders looking for in a grant report?

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:

  • Accountability: to confirm grant money has been used for its intended purposes
  • Documentationa record of a grantee’s activities and history with the funder
  • Grantee support and relationship building: part of an ongoing conversation with grantees about what they are learning and what they need
  • Grantee assessment: to understand if a grantee is a priority for future funding or could benefit from capacity support and connections 
  • Grantmaker learning to inform decision-making: to determine if a funding strategy is effective and worthwhile
  • Engage Others: sharing grantees’ data, stories and lessons with community stakeholders to encourage other investment 
  • Building a field: to contribute knowledge to a field of work, especially a newer one

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.

What goes in a grant report?

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:

  • Grant Activities & Changes to Project Plan
  • Results & Impact of the Project
  • Challenges & Lessons Learned
  • Financial Statement
  • Sustainability & Future Plans
  • Attachments

The secret ingredient for a memorable grant report: Storytelling

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:

Ethos — an appeal to ethics 

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.

Logos — an appeal to logic

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.

Pathos — an appeal to emotion

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.

How to collect stories for your grant reports

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:

  • Work with your marketing team: find out what they’re already doing, to keep you from having to reinvent the wheel. For example, are they producing a newsletter (print or email) that includes client stories? These can be repurposed for grants! You may have to adjust the language slightly, but it gives you a place to start. Other questions to ask yourself might be: do you have an existing organizational video (including unused footage) that includes quotes? Do you ever ask participants to speak at fundraising events or participate in advocacy? These can also be great sources for powerful stories to include.
  • Begin to build a repository of quotes and stories. The word “repository” might sound intimidating, but this can be as simple as a Word document that gets added to over time. You might also consider creating a system of ‘tags’ in your repository, to make it easier to find what you need later by topic and/or source.
  • Talk to program staff about what types of stories you are seeking. It might be helpful to create a list of the specific types of stores you need based on your programs and typical reporting requirements, and ask your program staff to help you collect these specific types of stories as they’re working on the frontlines. Depending on how your team works best, you could also systematize this process a bit by asking them to send you stories on a quarterly (or otherwise regular) basis so that they remember to be on the lookout for them. 

About the Authors:

Michelle Anthony LaCroix