How to Write a Great Grant Report

by | Jun 24, 2024 | Development/Fundraising, Grant Writing


Do you ever wonder if anyone at a foundation actually reads your grant reports? If so, you are not alone.

Let’s be honest: writing a grant report can be time-consuming, frustrating, and stressful.

But grant reporting is also incredibly important.

So, let’s talk about why grant reports matter and how to write one that will set you up for future funding.


Why Grant Reports Matter

Grant reports are an important part of the bridge between current and future funding for your organization.

A well-written grant report demonstrates how a funder’s investment enabled your organization to create a measurable impact. This helps your program officer make the case to their colleagues and the board for why your organization should receive continued funding.

Of course, an excellent grant report is only part of the renewal process.

Cultivating a renewal proposal starts the day you receive a grant acceptance letter. Throughout the grant period, you should keep your program officer updated on the impact of your work. You also want to inform them promptly about any major changes in your organization, such as a leadership transition, to avoid negative surprises.


Grant Report Writing Basics

There are several common ways grant reporting can go awry and thwart or delay future funding opportunities. Here are the top five to look out for.


1) Meet grant reporting deadlines

It is hard to overstate the importance of tracking all grant deliverables. This includes deadlines for grant proposals and reports. You should also calendar in grant renewal outreach. The renewal process often starts at least three to four months before the end of the current grant, so be sure this outreach gets on your agenda.


2) Follow grant reporting directions

Yes, funder guidelines can be annoying. It can seem like every funder asks slightly different questions, in a different order, and using a different online reporting system. However, it is still on grantees to follow each funder’s directions.

Funders may ask questions in certain ways or provide specific reporting formats because they align with the foundation’s internal processes. By following the reporting guidelines, you make it easier for funders to quickly understand what you have accomplished and how it bolsters their priorities. This makes renewal funding that much easier.

In some cases, funders may allow you to submit an annual report or the equivalent in place of a grant report. It’s a great idea to take up this opportunity to save time. However, keep in mind that it then becomes even more critical to have additional conversations with the funder about your impact and the work ahead.


3) Put in effort

It may be tempting to throw down a draft of a grant report and hit send. Sure, not every grant report will be read. But you never know when a funder will choose your report to read with their morning coffee.

In our experience, a thoughtful grant report really can deepen a connection with your program officer. We’ve had clients receive emails from program officers saying, “Wow, you all have accomplished so much. Thank you for the incredible report!”

What does “putting in effort” look like?

To us, it means:

  • Taking the time to plan what you are going to report on and how (see more guidance on this below).
  • Doing internal due diligence to get updated information and metrics to demonstrate the impact of your programming.
  • Having at least one other person review your grant report and being sure to proofread it.


4) Write to your audience.

Now that you have gone through the work of cultivating a donor, submitting a proposal, and receiving grant support, you know what a funder is most interested in. Your grant report should these conversations.

When a funder reviews your grant report, you want them to see how their continued funding of your organization will help them achieve their own impact goals. For example, if a funder is interested in serving one neighborhood in your metro area while you serve the entire metro area, be sure to include extra information about your work in their priority community. You should do this even if the original proposal was for overall program support or even general support.


5) Make sure your grant report narrative matches your financials

Your narrative report and financial report should always align and tell a consistent story about the work supported by grant funds.

For example, if your report narrative says that you hired a new staff member for a project, but your salaries and benefits costs decreased, there is a mismatch between what you say you did and what your budget shows you did. There may be a simple explanation for this divergence (such as other staff member departures). If so, include this explanation in your report narrative to ensure consistency.


How to Write a GREAT Grant Report

At their core, all grant reports are about two things:

  • What your organization accomplished
  • What your organization did not accomplish

Sounds simple, right?

Yet too many organizations focus on the wrong things when writing about successes and challenges.


Writing about successes in your grant report

Many foundation grant reports open with a general question along the lines of:

Tell us about your work and progress toward your goals during the grant period.

Often nonprofits delve into listing activities here. Instead, we recommend focusing on impact. Think of the question this way:

What is the measurable change you made in the world as a result of the work funded by this grant?

For example, instead of leading with outreach numbers and following with intake and client-served numbers, start with the number of people directly served. Then describe how you increased this number using new, grant-funded outreach tactics.

Where possible, also personalize the impact. For example, a national advocacy organization working on climate legislation might share feedback from partners or elected officials to demonstrate how stakeholders value the organization’s work.

Not every project or initiative delivers results in one grant period. Sometimes, it can take many years. However, you still need to demonstrate the progress you are making toward benchmarks. For example, if you are advocating for a new public health clinic in your community, it may take several years to win this change. So, when designing your program, be sure to identify clear metrics and benchmarks that will enable you to show progress toward these longer-term goals.


Writing about challenges in your grant report

Not every project goes according to plan. Nonprofits are constantly dealing with changes in funding, in their local community, and in the overall environment in which they’re operating.

Luckily nonprofits are also incredible at adapting. This is what you want to demonstrate when writing about challenges in your grant report.

First off be sure to own up to any major setbacks for your program. Hiding things is never a good idea if you want to maintain a long-term funding relationship.

But how you talk about setbacks can make a huge difference in how they are received. For example:

  • If an external factor affected the success of your program, such as a policy change in your state, focus on describing how your organization responded to and adapted to these changes.
  • If an internal problem affected your success, such as a misstep in program design, explain what the problem was, what you learned, and how you have adapted the program going forward.

Sometimes, a setback or challenge leads to an incredible new opportunity. If so, make sure the funder sees this!

Of course, sometimes a setback really is just a setback, such as losing one or more major funders. Even in these cases, funders are looking for what you as an organization did to adapt and respond to these challenges.

It’s not about the problem. It’s about how your organization has dealt with the problem.

When a funder sees that your organization is dynamic and adaptable, even in hard times, it can lead to an even stronger funding relationship.


Your Grant Report Is a Prelude to Your Next Renewal: Use It Wisely

When writing a grant report, you always want to have an eye toward setting up the work ahead. Before you start writing, ask yourself:

  • What are you going to be asking for in renewal funding? Will you be seeking an increase? If so, make sure your grant report demonstrates that your organization is well-equipped to manage a larger grant and/or program.
  • In which areas of your work are you seeing the most impact or looking to grow? Be sure opportunities for such growth come through in your grant report in a way that demonstrates both the need and the potential for even greater impact.

With this perspective, a grant report can help you and your funders get excited about your vision for the future.

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