There’s essentially nothing a foundation must do when it comes to asking most nonprofits to provide reports on the grants they’ve received. In fact, there’s no regulation that requires a funder to have a reporting process at all. (Expenditure responsibility grants are a major exception, of course.) Yet nearly all foundations do require reports for virtually all their grantees. It’s a tragedy because, as far as I can tell, foundation staff and grantees alike often suffer under the burden of an invented system, filled with bespoke reporting requirements that don’t seem to be doing anyone much good. I’m going to take a risk here and suggest that funders should throw out reporting as it exists altogether.

In the Center for Effective Philanthropy (CEP)’s Grantee Perception Reports, we ask grantees to estimate how much time they spend on monitoring, reporting, and evaluation. For the typical grant, it’s about 8 hours per year. On average, grantees are often spending 30 hours or more across the lifetime of their grant. Multiply that across a nonprofit’s multiple grants, and what might seem like a minor annoyance can really add up. And while reporting isn’t the most common topic grantees write about in our feedback surveys (they’re more likely to suggest improvements to long and confusing applications), grantees sure seem to mention it when a foundation’s requirements — especially inflexible, detailed budget forms — diverge from common approaches.

I think of reporting requirements like Boston summer humidity — generally annoying and sometimes overwhelming enough to make everyone hot and bothered.

That pain could be worth it if reporting was providing great value to grantees, funders, or nonprofits, but, with a few exceptions, it doesn’t seem to be. In the Grantee Perception Report, questions related to reporting historically have received some of the lowest ratings in the whole survey. In fact, a question about the helpfulness of a funder’s reporting process in strengthening grantees was the lowest rated question in the entire grantee survey of more than forty questions. Not to mention, grantees can feel fundamentally disrespected when their reports, unacknowledged, seem to fall into a fiery furnace, as Jessica Bearman evocatively wrote in a previous lament about reporting.

Here’s the truth: we actually know what makes reporting more helpful — or at least what gives it a chance to be a substantive, strategic, learning interaction between grantees and funders.

Read the full article about foundation reporting requirements by Kevin Bolduc at The Center for Effective Philanthropy.