Shifting Our Approach to Traditional Reporting Relationships

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I have long sat at the intersection of philanthropy and technology. My parents started the Payne Family Foundation 25 years ago, committed to organizations focused on youth development, education and healthcare. At the heart of our giving is a relationship-based approach to support mission-aligned grantees with flexible capital and open communication lines, creating space to learn from the grantees in partnership.

Along our journey of philanthropy, we have learned  that many nonprofits find it challenging to articulate and communicate progress towards their goals, making it difficult to drive deeper donor engagement beyond reporting requirements and an annual report. The reality: nonprofits are not equipped with resources or data capacity to fully understand or communicate the extent of their impact.

This realization, combined with the passion to scale impact, led our family to launch the UpMetrics platform with the objective to provide grantees and funders access to data and technology to drive informed decisions, streamline reporting processes, and optimize programs for greater impact. Most importantly, data is now being leveraged to inform rich narratives that explain how nonprofits are achieving progress toward their missions. While UpMetrics is an impact analytics platform that fuels the technology side, success in this effort requires a change in how we’ve traditionally approached reporting relationships in philanthropy.

Moving away from a reliance on static data

Historically, as a sector, we’ve relied on the static annual report. Today, we simply cannot. Think about this past year and the wide range of challenges that communities navigated, requiring trust-based, fast, and flexible capital to meet their needs. Today’s challenges are too complex to rely on data from a single time in the year to communicate the full value and impact of the work.

The halo effect of this realization brings us back to grantee capacity. Nonprofits are already working with limited resources, and top-down reporting requirements from multiple donors is taking up time that could be more effectively allocated towards their work. So as funders, if we seek more information at a higher frequency to best support our grantees, how is that possible without providing additional resources?

The fact is that it isn’t possible without a significant shift in how we approach reporting.

Double down on trust-based relationships

Traditionally, reporting has been a top-down, accountability driven process based on custom reporting metrics. In response, the nonprofits provide the requested information, typically through various dated systems and formats with the expectation that there will be limited discussion or context relative to how the information will be leveraged by the funder.

In order to evolve to a power dynamic that empowers grantees, we need to shift the reporting relationship to fuel transparent, collaborative conversations throughout the entirety of the program.

Early conversations, where grantees outline data driven success metrics, will encourage stronger alignment and understanding around the desired overall impact. The Schultz Family Foundation is an excellent example of an organization prioritizing this effort with their recent responsive grantmaking initiatives around COVID-19 in Washington. Their new initiative, WA Covid Response Corps, created in partnership with Serve Washington, was created to combat record numbers of food insecurity due to COVID-19. In collaboration, funders and grantees created four key metrics that reflect their ability to drive change in the areas they intend. Each grantee tracked and communicated progress toward these goals in a platform provided by The Schultz Family Foundation. This absolute clarity into desired impact and the ability to track progress toward these goals across program participants provided the insight and direction needed to have open conversations about what’s working (and what’s not).

Provide the tools

To be able to track progress toward goals, grantees may need additional support. The solution here is driven by grantee needs in combination with funders encouraging and funding capacity building and technology assistance.

However, there are other ways that we can support grantees. Have conversations that encourage innovation and new ideas rooted in data and the mission of the nonprofit. Create opportunities for open, honest, and ongoing communications centered around learnings. Do your research on what data might already exist—you may be able to use publicly available data to solve some data gaps rather than ask the grantee to collect that information.

Finally, help all stakeholders with change management. This is uncharted waters for everyone. While funders will need to lead this shift, we can acknowledge that we may not get the process exactly right in the first go. When something doesn’t work, have an open conversation around why, always mapping back to mission and impact.

Lead the way

The time is now to shift from a traditional reporting mindset toward one that encourages goal setting, learning, and open collaboration. As funders we have to reflect on our actions, and recognize that we have the opportunity to upend the status quo. Let’s empower grantees to define success and drive deeper engagement throughout the year to reflect on the learnings, collaborating towards positive change. In partnership, let’s start small and think big.

Drew Payne is the CEO of Upmetrics and VP of the Payne Family Foundation.


The views and opinions expressed in individual blog posts are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Center for Family Philanthropy.

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