Funder reports


Reporting results is my favorite part of working on the nonprofit sector… no, it’s not actually… in fact, it’s my pet peeve.

 The joy of multiple programs is multiple funders each with their own reporting requirements including level of detail, frequency, templates, portals, and restrictions. As the Director of Finance for a mid sized nonprofit, I have thirty programs funded by over ten major sponsors to contend with, and sometimes even the same funder has different requirements for each of their programs. Unfortunately, there are situations where certain funders assume they are the only program we are running; probably because they themselves despite having multiple deliverers, are only running one program. The result of this can sometimes lead to angst and increases administration costs of program delivery.

 Before we get into the details of funder reporting, let’s have a discussion on why we are reporting in the first place.

 When you tender a requirement for a contracted good or service, you review the bids for value for money and select the appropriate bid given various criteria not just limited to price. As long as the goods or services are delivered to your expectations, you pay the provider with no further questions asked.

 With a cost plus an allowable profit portion contractual arrangement, it is a different story in that you negotiate the costs line by line then have to account for the actuals at a later time. Unfortunately, this later arrangement is common in the nonprofit sector, less the plus part, which leaves service providers with the sometime onerous task of funder reporting.

 Having worked in both government and nonprofit, I prefer a hybrid approach where we negotiate the terms and conditions including a line by line for establishing the price, then as long as the deliverables are met, the payments are satisfied; if the deliverables are not met, then we have a conversation. Unfortunately, there are many funders who want a detailed accounting even if you exceed their service deliver expectations; for those who argue they are protecting either the taxpayer or their funder’s donations, I would remind them the more we spend on unnecessary administration, the less we spend on front line service delivery.

 In order to maintain information for funders, managers, regulators, and auditors, we set up various horizontal and vertical accounts. By horizontal accounts I am referring to the lines you see in a financial statement such as salaries, benefits, rent, utilities etc; by vertical, I mean the name or nomenclature of the program these items apply to. Although we strive to match our horizontal lines to what the various financial statement users demand, when they have different requirements, you cannot use a one-size-fits-all approach. Further complications include for example travel alone can be found in different places depending on the funder: travel costs for transporting clients, travel for staff to attend clients, and travel for staff to attend other functions such as training. For some financial statement users, it is just travel. Further examples of varying detail are one funder would like to know natural gas versus electricity versus sewage, where another just wants to know your utilities costs; others want to know what you spent on cleaning supplies versus maintenance, versus pest control, where others only want to know your building operating costs. Even better, is when a funder simply wants to know the total cost of accommodation which even incorporates rent, property tax, and insurance.

 So, why do we have these varying details of reporting? In my opinion it comes down to trust, or lack of it, and the need to exercise control. Unfortunately, there are funders who treat nonprofit organizations as through they are extensions of themselves versus an independent contractor; having been a federal government regional comptroller who worked with both service contracts and grants, I would have been happy with less detail unless your total costs appeared to be unreasonable given the economic conditions of the service area. But then again, I am a strong believer in autonomy until something happens which then leads me to change this approach.

 Regardless of whether or not you are able to customize reports in your accounting program, or are handy with spreadsheets, you will still have to transpose your data into either the funder’s spreadsheet or portal. Further to this, frequency and timelines of reporting vary. For example, some require an annual report, others quarterly, some monthly, and one I work with requires the first report after four months, the second after six, then next after eight, the final after the year is complete.

 A unique situation I encountered was one where a government department had a contract with Nonproft-A to deliver a particular program, but also provided a grant to Nonprofit-B for a specific initiative in which Nonprofit-B subcontracted Nonprofit-A, and others, to carry out this particular service. The government agency then demanded the subcontractors including Nonprofit-A report the results of their own program as well as their application and use of the funds provided via Nonprofit-B. The proper treatment would have been for Nonprofit-A to report the results of that specific initiative to Nonprofit-B who would then in turn report to the government department. The reason for this, is Nonprofit-A is accountable to Nonprofit-B as this is who their contract is with, and Nonprofit-B is accountable to the funder being the government department. This is Contracting 101; my experience however, is many program managers are not versed on business concepts such as accounting and contracting, which is the reason for me writing this guide in the first place.


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