At Hyphen8, we feel privileged to work with over 75 funders across the UK. One of the common areas that can pose challenges for grant-makers and grant recipients, is grant reporting. That is the requirement for grant recipients to feedback on how they are spending the grant to evaluate its impact. This blog explores 5 ways in which Salesforce helps funders to alleviate the most common challenges of grant reporting.
We are in the unique position to hear about the challenges of grant reporting from the perspective of both the funding organisation and the funding recipient. So what are the challenges?
Challenges for the funding organisation
- Some funders have to meet reporting requirements imposed by government departments or major donors so are forced into capturing data in a certain way – even more challenging if they are working with multiple funders
- Many Grant Managers spend way too much time chasing overdue reports and are increasingly having to hold back the final % of payment to encourage submission of end of grant reports
- Smaller or newer funders may not be sure where to start when it comes to how they should evaluate their impact as there are so many varying models or in their aim to satisfy multiple stakeholders
- Grant Managers know that conversations are often the best way to hear about funded projects but high volumes or time limits make this impractical
Challenges for the funding recipient
- Reports are often difficult for grantees to complete, particularly when they are not confident with written communication or English is not their first language
- Funded organisations often already have other reporting commitments for Trustees or for their annual reports so are spending a lot of time providing the same information in different formats
- Reporting on progress can be perceived as a chore rather than an opportunity to share amazing stories of the great work that grantees do, particularly if they are not sure how the information will be used
- Grant report form templates are often one size fits all and not scaled to the size or type of grant
- Too many reporting requirements associated with successful grant applicants may put off the types of organisations that the funder is hoping to attract – they want to be trusted to know how to make a difference in their own communities
Grant reporting is a hot topic
The topic of grant reporting is a hot one amongst funder collaborative groups. In 2018, IVAR and Esmee Fairbairn published New principles for grant reporting following workshops attended by a group of funders in which they outline ways in which some of the above challenges can be addressed. (Read our previous blog on how Salesforce can help to deliver these principles).
The ACF, in their excellent 2020 report Funding Practices The Pillars of Stronger Foundation Practices, encourages funders to apply the principle of proportionality to grant reporting so that funded organisations don’t face ‘undue burden by asking for information that can be found elsewhere or won’t be used’.
The strains on resources caused by the pandemic further emphasised the need to make reporting easier and more inclusive. Esmee Fairbairn have set an impressive example by allowing all active grantees to use reports that they have already produced and for small grants they have a conversation instead. We are always interested in seeing more innovative ways to manage reporting such as the shared learning programme run by Evaluation Support Scotland.
So how can the right technology help?
There is a reason why we believe that the Salesforce platform is a fantastic choice for the end-to-end grant management process, and why so many funders are selecting it. The following are 5 of the benefits of using Salesforce to manage grant reporting – each benefit has a separate blog with funder case studies to bring each benefit to life.
- Create different grant reporting form templates related to different funding programmes to reflect different questions, scale the questions asked to the size of the grant
- Tailor the method of submitting information to the grantee’s preference or capacity whether it is:
- completing an online form
- allowing them to attach an existing document such as an annual report
- providing a link to a video
- log conversations that have taken place with related notes
- not asking for any reports!
- Edit report due dates simply for specific grants where delays need to be negotiated due to unforeseen circumstances
- Option to replicate recognised impact models such as Sustainable Development Goals or to integrate with specialist impact evaluation products or sites or to replicate your own categories, outcomes and indicators
- Scalability to start simple for new programmes and evolve if you are not ready to define how grants will be evaluated
Salesforce comes with impressive tools that allow system administrators to manage their own workflow. This saves a huge amount of time that can be spent analysing results or having more conversations. Of course, you have the flexibility to NOT automate in the cases where manual control is important! Read our full blog on this topic with examples to show how the Halifax Foundation for Northern Ireland is benefiting from automation.
- Automatic creation of the default grant report schedule associated with a specific funding programme – so for example, for smaller grants, you can specify a single end of grant report and for multi-year larger grants you can specify annual reports related to payment release
- Time-triggered sending of requests for grant reports – these can be driven by the due date on the report requirement so if the date gets extended, the timing communications will adjust
- Automated sending of reminders if reports have not yet been submitted – these can be based on both status and date and have different email content if relevant
- Automatic notifications to Grant Managers to inform them when reports have been submitted
- Dynamic filtered reports and charts to display real-time information such as overdue reports or beneficiary data that can easily be downloaded or exported for inclusion in stakeholder updates
3. Real-time engagement with grantees
Funders using Salesforce are increasingly choosing to invite grantees to interact via an online portal. This allows applicants/grantees to log in to view information instantly, submit requested information and engage in real-time with the grants team. Read our blog on this subject to hear how Comic Relief is capturing Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning data via a portal.
- Clear and open information – grantees have instant access to content to clarify reporting expectations, provide instructions on reporting requirements and advise how information will be used. This can be populated directly from programme records in Salesforce and controlled by internal team members. This makes changes very quick and easy
- Full visibility of what is needed and when – Logged in grantees can view a full list of requirements with due dates with the option to filter to see those that are due soon
- It makes it easier to save and resume incomplete forms instead of searching for a link in an email
- Flexibility to capture reporting data in multiple ways – the upload of documents or completion of a form so that responses can feed directly into reports. Or both!
- Queries can be posted in the context of specific reports to provide a full audit trail of communications
4. Simplified analytics
We hear repeatedly how time consuming it is for funders to pull together the analytics required by multiple internal and external stakeholders. This can be due to data being held in several different places, or captured inconsistently. Having a single data repository like Salesforce with a sophisticated and flexible native reporting is a huge time-saver. Read our separate blog to see how some of the funders we work with are benefiting from simplified analytics.
- Responses entered via fields in online forms or via a portal can feed instantly into formatted reports and visual charts in a variety of formats – bar charts, tables, doughnuts and more
- Data can quickly be sliced and diced to isolate a particular geographical area or fund or programme
- Report data can be exported to Excel for further manipulation if required
- You can schedule reports and dashboards to be sent by email on a specified day to be referenced in planning meetings
- Charts can be downloaded as images to paste into Word or Powerpoint
- You have the option to use advanced analytics tools that integrate with Salesforce such as Tableau for more sophisticated reporting
- Salesforce can be integrated with website pages to provide up to date funded project information displayed on maps or filtered by categories or themes
- Information can easily be transformed into 360giving standard format for exporting and inclusion in open grants data (see our related blog on data consistency)
5. Data consistency
One of the difficulties of producing meaningful data is the inconsistent way in which it is captured – both across organisations and even within the same organisation. We have seen SO many variations of grant beneficiary type lists and demographic data and it causes a lot of confusion for organisations to evaluate their impact accurately. Introducing a new system like Salesforce is a great time to collaborate internally to specify data standards, taxonomies and to define categories. Read more about the importance of data consistency in our separate blog on this topic.
- Salesforce can become the single source of all data which provides an opportunity to encourage and enforce consistent data entry processes. Irrespective of the technology being used, both internal and external users need clear guidance on what data should be entered. At Hyphen8 we are big fans of on-screen dynamic guidance where users can be prompted with guide notes without having to refer to a separate user guide
- If grants teams are structured to work on specific programmes, reporting questions tend to be phrased differently on forms even if they are effectively asking the same thing. To simplify analysis, comparisons and system maintenance, these questions can be mapped to the same field in Salesforce from multiple sources
- Hyphen8 are huge supporters of 360Giving who continue to champion consistent grant data standards. Salesforce can be configured to output data in the required format to meet this standard as we have done for many funding organisations
What is clear is that there is a growing commitment by funders to explore how to make reporting easier for grant recipients in order to provide useful insights. Funders should not feel shackled by technology – it should help not hinder.