Next month, COCo will release the final report from our three-year In the Know project. Amongst other findings, the study reveals that Québec community groups have had a much harder time securing global mission (core) funding since 2003. There are far fewer new monies being made available for core funding and those who are receiving it may find that what they’re getting is just not enough – 56% of the groups we consulted reported that this type of revenue covers less than half their overall budget.
Then there’s another challenge – the intense annual crunch when reporting time comes around. To help groups get through reporting more smoothly and effectively, we’ve come up with a few basic tips to help us all through the process.
Plan reporting time generously
In national non-profit consultations conducted by Imagine Canada in 2006, participants identified the time and money required to fulﬁll the funder’s reporting requirements as a major concern and encouraged organizations to build core operating costs and the cost of reporting into funding proposals. Funders, they argued, should build core funding into grants and streamline funding application forms and reporting requirements.
Six years on, reporting can still consume enormous amounts of staff time and energy. One way of avoiding the headless chicken dance when reporting time comes around is to budget plenty of time for it in annual work-plans.
Keep abreast of funders’ reporting requirements
Allocating time for reporting is a lot easier when we have a sense of the volume and nature of information our funders will be requiring, and when. While this is not always possible to calculate perfectly – requirements are often tweaked from year to year – keeping complete, systematized records of past submissions as well as creating an annual funding task calendar can facilitate a much smoother planning process. Connecting with other groups who receive funding from the same source, either formally through an official network or informally through other avenues, can also help keep us in the loop around ongoing changes and requirements.
Create a streamlined strategy for tracking activities
At a time when a single source of core funding is hard to come by, it’s hard to imagine getting this type of support from more than one funder. Yet for those that have more than one funder, more reporting is also required. Taking the time to sit down and map various funders’ requirements and synchronize them with our own activity tracking systems can significantly reduce stress and uncertainty during reporting periods.
And finally…take a deep breath
While accuracy, transparency, and accountability are justifiably big buzzwords in today’s non-profit/community universe, it is also important not to lose sight of the forest for the trees. Reporting can cause some real head-scratching when the boxes provided don’t capture the nature or impact of our work. While some funders are increasingly attempting to explore qualitative impacts of community work, they may have yet to ask the right questions. Putting time, thoughtfulness and energy into reporting may help us to better communicate the importance of what we’re doing. But a certain distortion may be inevitable. In NGO’s and Organizational Change, author Alnoor Ebrahim explores an interdependency between funders and NGOs around “successful” projects which results in an emphasis on short-term and easily measurable activities, at the expense of longer-term and less certain processes of social and political change. In its Core Support Project, the UK-based Institute for Philanthropy argues that core funding “encourages funders and grantees to think deeply and holistically about their mission and how best to advance it, and to determine the most meaningful and useful ways to evaluate their activities.”
There may be subtle and strategic ways to stay true to the visions of our organizations and our movements, despite pushes and pulls from various directions. Taking the time to understand, plan around and negotiate the information we are required to provide to funders is certainly a key step in that direction.
– Laila and the COCo team
Do you have any best practices you follow when you’re reporting to funders? Any critical thoughts on the process or the structure as a whole? Drop us a line (firstname.lastname@example.org), give us a shout (514 849 5599), tweet us (@COCoQC) – we want to hear from you!