4 Tips for Leveraging Data in Your Grant Report

Note from Diane: Grant reporting is a key part of the grant life cycle if you want to build and maintain strong grantmaker relationships. You’ve seen our team share information from MyFedTrainer.com, podcasts on the topic from Fundraising HayDay, and our own team talk about and present on “How to Make Reporting to Your Funder a Snap,” so we’re excited to bring you this guest post today with some tactical tips to help with your upcoming grant report.


Grant management and reporting are crucial aspects of the overall funding lifecycle. If your organization is new to grant seeking, or you’ve only recently incorporated grant applications as part of your development operations, curating your grant calendar and sending out proposals can seem high-stakes enough.


However, don’t forget that effective reporting is just as critical. Tracking expenses is essential to fulfill the conditions of most grants and retain the awarded funding. Additionally, sharing how your participants are better off as a result of your programming can go a long way to help cultivate your relationships with funders, increasing your chances for future funding.


In this guide, we’ll examine four helpful tips for incorporating data into your grant report:

  1. Collect necessary and relevant data.
  2. Reference your proposal and reporting plan.
  3. Use data to demonstrate your transparency.
  4. Balance a mix of data and anecdotal details to tell your story.


Conducting an impact assessment can provide valuable data in your grant reporting. With relevant metrics, you can communicate your accomplishments to funders and demonstrate whether you’re on track to reach the objectives laid out in your proposal.


1. Collect necessary and relevant data.

As you prepare to report on your nonprofit’s impact and performance, be sure that you’re actively collecting and studying the key metrics that the funder will be considering. Funders are looking to place their money where they can get the best return on investment. The goal of your grant application is not to sell your mission, but to convince the decision makers that your programs fulfill their mission and achieve measurable impact. Some foundations may want to know about statistics such as cost per successful outcome, the number of services delivered by your program, or overhead costs vs. program costs. They also may want to know if your programs are delivering equitable outcomes for the diverse populations that you serve.


You can optimize gathering and reporting on these important metrics with resources such as impact management software, accounting tools, and grant management software.


Emphasize intentional and continuous data collection as part of your funded program and case management so that you can accurately measure the initial and long-term impact of your nonprofit’s activities. By openly sharing your results, you’ll be able to foster strong, long-term relationships with your funders.


2. Reference your proposal and reporting plan.

When you’re collecting a wealth of useful information that paints an exciting picture of what you’re accomplishing with the awarded grant, it may be tempting to get a little too thorough or detailed with your reporting.


As you report back to funders, concentrate on their expectations. Your initial proposal and reporting plan can be extremely useful references when you draft new reports. Construct them around any predefined benchmarks and metrics to stay aligned with your initial guidelines.


For reimbursable grants or grants with contingencies, you’ll have to take special care in financial reporting to fulfill the conditions set forth by the funder in order to maintain their support. Involve your stakeholders from teams such as leadership, accounting, and human resources to stay on top of any requirements you need to satisfy.


Of course, if you have plenty of great data that illustrates your successes so far (or provides helpful context for why you might be coming up short), you can still provide it. Just be sure to stay focused on the topline data and priorities determined through your funder research. Use appendices or footnotes as needed.


3. Use data to demonstrate your transparency.

Transparency is key to bolstering relationships with funders. Remember that there is a person behind every decision or communication, so once you’ve discovered your shared values, be sure to establish a foundation of trust as you move forward. Double the Donation’s guide to corporate sponsorships offers some instructive tips on both asking for financial support and cultivating productive nonprofit-funder relationships.


In addition to the impact data you’ve collected so far, provide updates on your budget and timeline so that funders can remain aware of how you’re putting their contributions to good use. Don’t leave them in the dark about any changes that crop up as you begin a program or initiative.


Financial reporting will likely be built into the grant’s reporting process as a primary component. Funders should specify how they’d like for you to record the funding and report expenses based on the type of grant. Ensure that you abide carefully by these guidelines to avoid any miscommunication as you share the results of your project.


If you notice your program falling behind, don’t panic or try to obscure the truth. What will help in the long run is using data to clearly explain what’s happening. Then, lay out a concrete plan with specific details, names, resources, and projections for getting back on track. Building relationships with transparency in mind will allow your nonprofit to establish a good track record that will aid future grant seeking efforts.


4. Balance a mix of data and anecdotal details to tell your story.

At the end of the day, a funder’s ultimate goal is to help you drive impact by putting your proposed program or project into action. Data can be of great service in illustrating your impact and progress, but it can’t tell the whole story. 


You need to do more than just objectively communicate the extent of your results. Stories can help your funders and stakeholders emotionally connect with your nonprofit’s impact. Where appropriate, infuse your report with anecdotal details from staff, volunteers, and most importantly, the constituents and clients you’re serving.


Consider these questions as you try to capture anecdotal insights:

  • How are you feeling about the new program?
  • What constituent feedback have you received?
  • What do you think about the program’s impact so far?
  • Do you see any challenges with the program moving forward?
  • What are you excited about?
  • What do you think the program’s long-term impact will look like?


It’s always important to encourage feedback from everyone involved in your program to ensure that they’re satisfied with their level of participation. For instance, you can even motivate your board members to take on more significant roles in your grant seeking efforts by including them in this process.


Remember, grant officers are people! By offering them a memorable impression of what you’re accomplishing, you’ll be able to lay the groundwork for a productive philanthropic relationship.


Ultimately, grant management and reporting are all about telling your nonprofit’s story in the most accurate and helpful way possible. SureImpact’s toolkit for nonprofit impact stories even recommends using a traditional story structure in emails and other communications to emotionally connect with your funders, stakeholders, and constituents.


The grant seeking process may seem complicated and intensive, but it can be incredibly rewarding if you take the time to build a foundation of data and trusting relationships with your funders.


                                                        Sheri Chaney Jones

President & CEO of SureImpact

For more than 20 years, Sheri Chaney Jones has applied performance management, evaluation, and organization behavior best practices to non-profit organizations and government agencies to improve outcomes and efficiencies. An author, professor, and internationally recognized expert, Sheri believes in data, metrics, and accountability.

Sheri’s foray into entrepreneurship began with Measurement Resources Company in 2010. Now a national firm, Measurement Resources increases the capacity of non-profit and government sector organizations through high-performance practices and data-driven insights. In 2018, Sheri launched SureImpact to automate and simplify the process of collecting and sharing outcomes and impact data. 

Sheri is a thought leader on public sector evaluation and applied organizational research. She is the author of Impact & Excellence: Data-Driven Strategies for Aligning Mission, Culture, and Performance in Nonprofit and Government Organizations (Jossey Bass, 2014). 

Sheri is passionate about women’s equity and the advancement of girls. She is the Columbus Chapter President of the National Association of Women Business Owners and a Commissioner for the Columbus Women’s Commission for the Mayor’s Office. 

Sheri holds a Master of Arts degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Central Michigan University and a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from The Ohio State University. Sheri, her husband Matt and their four children live in Columbus, Ohio.

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