Not long ago, I wrote to my contact at a grantee organization, pleading for him to send in long overdue final reports that were required by the original terms of the grant. The work we’d funded had gone well—by all measures a success—but once the money was spent we had heard nothing, despite multiple reminders to submit the final narrative and financial reports. In my note, I simply let him know that the delayed reporting was causing extra work for my colleagues and myself, and blemishing the organization’s otherwise perfect reputation. He wrote back within hours as if he was surprised that anyone cared, promising (and then soon after delivering) precisely the reports we had been seeking.
In that instance, simply providing information about the importance of complying with the grant terms, and the consequences of not doing so, seemed to make a difference. So in the spirit of trying to make our relationships with grantees as good as they can be, let me share more broadly why you need to get your reports in on time.
First, you need to get your reports in on time because you promised you would. Each grant agreement letter spells out when interim and final reports are due. When a representative of a grantee organization signs and returns that grant agreement letter, we comply with our part of the deal—we cut a check—and we expect that the organization will take seriously all of its commitments, too.
Second, you need to get your reports in on time because failing to do so causes extra work for people you probably want to keep on your good side. Program officers, program associates, program directors and even the foundation president get periodic (and frequent) tallies of how many reports are overdue and from whom. For each person down the chain of command, if the number of overdue reports goes above a minimum threshold, the “gentle reminder” and “just wondering about your reports” emails start increasing in frequency. Do you really want to be the reason for your program officer’s bad day?
Third, you need to get your reports in on time because it is one of the few things that people working in non-profit organizations can do perfectly and with complete success. We’re all in the business of making big promises about what can be achieved to make the world a better place, working on shoestring budgets. And most of us routinely fall short of our goals. But writing a short report describing work we have done (and should be proud of) and presenting information about money spent is a lot easier than making governments work better, improving education, or protecting threatened ecosystems. And a special note to my friends from the academy: We do not grade, peer review, or publish the reports. They do not have to represent the most cutting-edge thought leadership—so they don’t require the intensity of effort (and accompanying procrastination) that your other work does. Just take an hour or two, write the report, send it in, and congratulate yourself on a job well done.
Is writing grant reports the most rewarding task for someone working diligently for social change or contributing to global knowledge? No. And neither is reviewing them the task my colleagues and I look forward to most. But both the writing and reviewing are parts of the process that allows us to keep the grant dollars flowing so you can keep changing the world.