News & blog

Good news! Funders do read and use grantholder reports!

This image displays a newspaper. The title reads: Good news. The ESS logo is in the right hand corner. The main heading on the newspaper says: Funders do read and use grantholder reports!. The background is a display of scattered newspapers.

Evaluation is for you, not your funder. But grantholders do spend time communicating and reporting to funders and this contains valuable learning and intelligence. Grantholders can be frustrated that they don’t know what funders do with reports or feel funders could make more use of their learning and evidence.   

The good news is that some funders are using grantholder learning and doing so well!  Here are some tips from the Funder Evaluation and Learning group that might interest grantholders and inspire other funders. 

Funders use grantholder learning for a range of reasons:

  • To make good decisions ourselves. For example whether to fund that grantholder or that type of intervention again, develop new programmes or improve the funders’ own practice to better support grantholders.  
  • To help others achieve better outcomes. For example, providing advice to applicants and grantholders and using learning to influence other funders or policymakers. 
  • For our own accountability and learning. For example, to help us understand if our strategy is right or whether we playing our role effectively in helping grantholders achieve their outcomes. 
  • To build understanding internally. Funder staff use grantholder learning to help the board understand what is happening on the ground or make future decisions. Larger funders have staff with different roles who need to share their different perspectives with each other. 

Some tips about gathering and using grantholder learning for funders

Be clear about purpose

Learning frameworks provide focus. Eleri Birkhead from The Robertson Trust says, “our impact and insights framework helps us be purposeful in gathering and using grantholder learning. This helps us focus on what we are interested in and stops us burdening grantholders by unnecessary requirements” 

It’s a gesture of faith 

Kate Robinson from The National Lottery Community Fund says, “Grantholders should know we are interested in their work and vice versa.  When we use grantholder learning and talk to them and others about that learning we show we are interested and that their work matters.”  

Avoid being extractive 

Elaine Wilson from Corra Foundation “Sometimes a good way to use grantholder learning is just to shine a light on the grantholder and their beneficiaries – and not only the one that’s most photogenic!”  

“we’re noticing this, what do you think?” 

Don’t wait for perfect evidence or learning before sharing. You’ll have a long wait!  Rowan Boase from the William Grant Foundation says “we are planning to publish more blogs and talk to others about what we are noticing in our grant making.  We want to invite others into the sense-making and that process itself generates learning.”   

Learning through experience 

Sandra Chilton from RS Macdonald Charitable Trust says “we’ve been funding the same themes for a long time so we have a wealth of learning about what works in achieving outcomes that we can share with applicants and grantholders.”  Newer funders might have less learning to gather and share and that’s OK. 

Learning helps funders be brave 

Funders rightly fund interventions and activities that they know (from previous learning) will work. Elaine Gibb from William Grant Foundation says, “as we develop our confidence in a grantholder or an area of work we can build on learning to fund more innovative or challenging ways of meeting need. Learning helps us be brave.”

There doesn’t always have to be learning! 

Elaine Wilson from Corra Foundation: “Corra works hard to collate and share grantholder learning across our programmes.  But with some small grants compliance (the funding was spent on something good) is enough. That’s all a funder needs”.   

Written by ESS on behalf of our funder learning and evaluation group.    

Get in touch if you are a third sector organisation for help reporting to funders.  

Get in touch if you are a funder for help using grantholder learning.