Thursday, March 27, 2008

A Few Thoughts About
Performance Reports

For those of you new to the grant world, grant recipients are usually required to submit some sort of performance report to the funding source to give information about how the grant is being used and how successful the grantee has been in meeting goals and objectives. These performance reports are due at least annually. Some programs require them twice a year. Others require them quarterly.

Here are some of my issues with performance reports:

1) They are usually due at a strange time of year, before most outcome data are available. I understand that funders want to use the information to make decisions about continuation funding for the coming year, but how useful is that when most of the data are missing because they are not yet available? The effect it has on grantees is very stressful. They worry that they won't be refunded because they don't have data, but everyone knew the formal outcome data wouldn't be available until later. My favorite example of this is standardized test scores for schools. Students take the tests in the spring. Results are available in the summer. Grant performance reports are due in the spring. Grantees are forced to fill out all sorts of forms that mean nothing because all they say (in many different ways, in several boxes) is that the data are not yet available. Then they have to fill them out again and submit them as "updates" in the fall once they have the data. Isn't there a better way to do this?

2) Everyone acts like the reports are unexpected, when they aren't. As an evaluator, I have many grantees who don't want to make time to meet with me to discuss evaluation throughout the year, but they panic and want me to drop everything when they get a notice that their report is due in a few weeks. If you keep up with your evaluation as you go, the report is no big deal. If you wait until the report is due to talk about how you're doing, there will be panic and stress. There is a better way.

3) Funders keep the report guidelines and due dates a secret. OK, maybe not a total secret, but I find it very annoying that at least a due date can't be published months in advance. Would it hurt anybody to let people have some planning time? Is there a good reason why the deadline date has to be withheld until 3 weeks before the report is due? If so, please share the reason with all of us. If not, please stop it.

4) Report formats are becoming more and restrictive. It used to be that a grantee could report their outcomes and progress following a basic narrative template. Nowadays, more and more funders are requesting restrictive data sheets and limiting the amount of narrative a grantee can provide. I understand the need to force people to report both quantitative and qualitative data - and sometimes a form is the best way to do that. I understand that the people reviewing the reports want to minimize the amount of time they need to spend reviewing the reports. I also understand that reducing paperwork requirements on grantees is, in general, a very good thing. However, in many cases, the minimized reporting formats actually prevent the grantee from fully explaining what they have done, why, and what the outcomes were. How is that a good thing?

Alright, that's enough whining from me (for now). Back to my reports......

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About Creative Resources & Research

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Woodland, CA, United States
Creative Resources and Research is a consulting firm specializing in grant writing, grant seeking, program evaluation and professional development training. We have worked with hundreds of clients including public and private schools, school districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and social service agencies throughout California, securing over $155 million from federal, state and private foundation funding sources over the past decade. Our primary grant writers and program evaluators have over 50 years of combined experience in the education and social services fields. At CRR we prefer a personal approach to the clients we work with; by developing long term relationships, we are better suited to match client’s needs with available funding sources. We provide a variety of services to help assist you, including grant writing, evaluation consulting, professional development opportunities, and workshops.