The elusive grant – to use for whatever your for-purpose organisation most needs funding for now… it’s the dream, right?
Well, it can be the reality too.
I recently chatted to Naomi Lehrer, philanthropy manager at Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) – Victoria section, at the 2023 Fundraising Institute Australia conference, where we discussed the importance of developing an internal culture of cooperation and strong internal relationships in program planning, reporting and donor relationships.
There were two key takeaways from that conversation:
- Through building strong internal collaborative communication and educating everyone on donor expectations, internal relationships become highly effective and program teams get excited about being involved in donor communications and meetings.
- When program teams understand donor expectations and the need for outcomes and impact evidence, they capture and report the data well, so a lot of grant and major donor funding they now receive is untied.
“This has come through long-term trusted relationships where they instruct us to use the funding where it is most needed,” Lehrer says.
“An example is a PAF that we had a relationship with, who decided to cease operating and elected to give the remaining funds to us and one other charity. We proposed three programs, and they came in and picked the one that resonated most.
“While the funding can be used for whatever expenses are incurred in that program’s delivery, they still elected to allocate it to a specific purpose. So, it is untied on what expenses it can be used for but tied to a health program. At the time they chose a relatively new program as their funding enabled the program to be piloted.”
Demonstrating the impact of untied funding
The next big question then is, how do you demonstrate the impact of an untied grant or gift? The level of rigour in the research methods will vary, depending on the requirements of your funders. Case studies and qualitative feedback are valid, so long as that is what your funder wants. You may need to gather more rigorous data if you want to scale a new type of intervention, for example. Consider partnering with a university, to gain expertise and share costs.
At RFDS VIC the strategies they employ include producing twice yearly impact reports.
“They are simple double-sided cards,” Lehrer explains.
“The marketing team creates beautiful stories and videos with lots of testimonials at a top level and focuses on one or two of our total programs. I appreciate that not all charities have access to a marketing and comms team. When a grant acquittal report is due, the program team that delivered are across the deadline and provide us with the necessary data and information. More rigorous reporting is provided as required.
“And our programs team understands that funders want to see data and case studies. It does take ongoing education to remind the health team to capture the testimonials and the case studies. And it can be a challenge to capture it all as they may be in the field in tiny communities, many with poor or no internet access, so the process can be quite manual. They get used to hearing the stories and the impact these services have in the community, so we just need to remind them to pass on those case studies and testimonials as they are vital to story-telling. Our health teams are so busy, under so much pressure to assist as many people as possible, so passing on stories needs to be front of mind. It is continuous internal communication and education.”
While high level program impact reports can be used to demonstrate to donors the benefits derived from their support, through your financial acquittal or receipt, many donors would still like to see exactly what you spent their funding on. In that case, you should attribute the gift to a certain cost; salary, travel, equipment or capital and detail why that expense is needed by the organisation to create the impact that it has.
Demonstrating learnings through action research
Outcomes measurement is part of continuous improvement. It contributes to demonstrating your impact and should identify positive, negative, direct, indirect, intended and unexpected outcomes and consequences. It must be embedded into your normal workflow, daily activity and program delivery. And as far as exceeding donor expectations, it validates programs and encourages donors to re-invest or further invest to expand your programs and activities. Involving them in your learnings is an excellent way to increase engagement, as with this example from RFDS VIC.
Lehrer says: “In one of the partnerships we have with a charitable trust, at one point one of the projects we received funding for, telehealth for three-year-olds with a specific condition, was not working. The service delivery team determined that the age-group was too young for tele-health to be effective, so the scope changed to older children.
“We were very open and transparent with the executive director at that trust, who was very accommodating and understanding of our need to pivot to an older age group. That experience taught me that funders understand the best of plans can go astray and if the recipients are honest and transparent, the funder will understand and appreciate they have been part of an invaluable program delivery learning.”
How do less-resourced organisations capture data for impact reporting?
Our monitoring and evaluation blog explored the five ways to embed measuring and evaluation into project design and development:
- Develop a theory of change.
- Set realistic goals for short and long-term outcomes.
- Identify clear indicators and simple ways to measure progress.
- Design project budgets with M&E costs.
- Ensure M&E activities are built into project activity tables.
So, let’s talk now about who does the work? More often than not when we are discussing outcomes reporting frameworks with for-purpose organisations, it is said there is limited data capture and more support is needed. But on further investigation, we find there is a lot of data, it is just not collated, analysed and shared to identify the gaps.
Or the case may be that there are M&E frameworks across some program areas, but not all, and some program staff in regional or rural locations – as is the case with RFDS VIC – do not have the time or resources to easily capture the evaluation data. What then?
The choice of your method/s need to be reflective of the resources you have for your project including time and budget for the following:
- Staff conducting or participating in interviews/focus groups. Do you need to set time limits on your interviews/focus groups?
- Baseline, pre and post intervention data collection. Who will develop the questions to ensure the right questions are being asked? Do you need to bring in external expertise?
- Recruiting/ accessing your participants (i.e. transport to remote areas).
- Postage or emailing (if you are using a paid bulk emailing program) for surveys/questionnaires/polls.
- Data preparation. That is, are you outsourcing interview transcription or statistical manipulation?
- Staff time for evaluation, and reporting.
- Where will the data be stored? Who will have access?
If you are seeking funding to implement these data collection strategies, you must include them in your project budget and timeline.
Reporting to funders and donors
Whether the funding received is tied or untied, reports are always recommended – even when a pro forma or formal request is not requested, still provide some kind of visual document that shows the impact of the gift.
Some standard reporting questions to consider:
- What did you do? Brief summary of the specific activities, where and when they took place and who participated / benefitted.
- Did the project achieve its goals?
- Were any changes made to the program throughout delivery and if so, what and why? I.e. What did you learn?
- What were the key outcomes of the project? Were any of these unanticipated?
- How will you measure the long-term impacts of the program?
- What feedback have you received from stakeholders?
- What is the future of the project?
- Should the project be replicated? If so, what is needed to make this happen?
Infographics are a fabulous way to present data and tell the story.
To build trust between you and your major donors and funders, to reach a point in your relationship where you receive untied grants, you must be able to show them the impact their funding has had in achieving your mission.
Whether it is as mundane as new office equipment or IT infrastructure, you can still capture how the operational improvements have increased efficiency and created change, for example, how program teams now have more time to capture data. Remember to always bring the direct project outcomes and change that occurs back to how that piece of work has enabled you to better achieve your organisation’s purpose.
- Plan your outcomes measurement at the beginning, with your project planning.
- Once you have secured funding, incorporate funder reporting requirements into your outcomes measurement plan.
- Ask yourself the hard questions early: what counts as knowledge, what is going to produce meaningful information about my program?
- Use your organisation’s outcomes measurement approach to allow you to be responsive to issues or problems in the program and report them immediately to the funder.
Strategic Grants can support you along your measuring and evaluation journey and also with building effective internal structures and frameworks to ensure strong cross team education and collaboration. Get in touch to find out more.