Funders strive to develop a logical, informative, and minimally burdensome monitoring approach for their grantees, but this is easier said than done, especially with long-term grants. For engagements that last 18 months or longer, funders may develop a monitoring approach well in advance of the core implementation work, so it’s important to employ processes that allow the monitoring to remain relevant, appropriate, and effective as the implementation period progresses.
This was underscored as my colleagues and I reflected on our recent work managing an 18-month competitive grants initiative for a large institutional foundation. Along the way, we adapted our monitoring approach employing three essential steps to benefit both the funder and grantees:
1. Develop tools and processes that create feedback loops and learning opportunities for funders and grantees. When funders provide feedback on grant reports, for example, grantees can be confident that the funder read their reports and that the resources they spent on drafting were not wasted. Taking this step also gives the funder a chance to share comments that will hopefully lead to improvements in the next report – for instance, by clarifying which information is most important to the initiative or by providing guidance on performance metrics.
2. Identify and pursue opportunities to share broader findings with grantees. Funders of multiple grantees have a unique, big-picture perspective that is valuable to share with individual grantees. Not only do these broader findings help the grantees put their work in context by seeing how it compares to other grantees’ efforts, but they can also be the source of specific and useful guidance, such as revealing the best metrics for measuring certain types of impact. Furthermore, sharing these findings helps grantees to understand the importance of monitoring efforts, and incentivizes them to thoughtfully complete a survey or draft a grant report. Funders can share best practices or lessons learned through a written document (such as a high-level grant report summary), during monitoring calls with individual grantees, or at grantee convenings.
3. Eliminate metrics that aren’t providing useful data. It can be tempting to stick with a monitoring approach that’s already in place, however, it is important to take time at regular points throughout the grant period to see if the data you are collecting are providing useful insights. As my colleague Jack Chin is wont to say, “What you measure today should be meaningful tomorrow.” Don’t be afraid to streamline the metrics you are tracking if one or more aren’t yielding useful information. This can save time for both the grantees, in terms of reporting, and the funder, in terms of analyzing.
With these tips in mind, funders are more likely to create and adapt their monitoring approach to serve their own needs and interests, as well as those of their long-term grantees. What are some other steps you have taken to keep your monitoring approach fresh? Please share them in the comments below.
Ginger Elsea is a director with an extensive background in international development and social impact consulting. She provides strategy, evaluation, and implementation consulting services to a variety of institutional and family clients. She tweets from @gingerelsea.