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As rain turns to sleet, and snow crusts over with ice, you may be dreaming of travel to warmer climates drenched in sun. But how you travel, where you go, and what you do when you get there are highly subjective choices influenced by budget, time available, and preferences. Whether it’s a book by the beach, a hike through the rainforest, or a stop at a sunny café after an action-packed day of sightseeing, your travel outcomes depend on multiple factors.
The same holds true for tracking outcomes from grantees. But unlike a dream vacation, it seems that no one is ever completely smitten with the process. As a grant writer and fundraiser for more than 22 years, I have sometimes struggled with many different reporting formats and metrics, often for the same grant-funded programs. But as a long-time grant reviewer and board member, I completely understand and support the need to develop and track meaningful benchmarks and outcome measurements.
Just like there is no single winter getaway that would suit everyone, there is no one winning way to track multiple outcomes across diverse organizations. It demands serious examination of your needs, interests, expertise, and available resources as a grantmaker in balance with those of your grantees.
The following models offer pros and cons for all parties concerned. Consider them pathways to strong partnerships with your grantees to effect positive and lasting change where it’s most needed.
Standardized Outcomes (The All-Inclusive Package Tour)
If your foundation operates under the All-Inclusive Package Tour model, you have created a standard set of measurements for all grantees to use in their reporting. Standardized data allows for easy comparisons across grantees and aggregated data across all grant programs that are easily reported for board members and other stakeholders. Most likely the grantees lack input or control over this level of standardization. If they have not tracked these metrics before, they must now do so. This approach can offer grantees guidance in building their internal tracking systems—just like an all-inclusive package tour offers novice travelers a chance to check off all the notable tourist sites and more easily navigate unfamiliar terrain. But, just like a highly structured tour, this approach only works if the travel company/foundation in charge has deep expertise and excellent logistics/technology to back up their tight schedule.
Outcome Options (A La Carte Excursions)
In this model, your foundation provides a standard list of measurements or outcome metrics from which your grantees select those most pertinent to their work. Think of it as a cruise ship that features many different entertainment, dining, and shore excursion choices. Aggregation of results across grantees is possible but not as straightforward as in the model of complete standardization. Grantees will most likely appreciate the ability to pick and choose among the options provided, just like passengers may opt for action-packed adventures or extensive grazing at the endless onboard buffets. In the end, all passengers travel on the same ship to the same pre-programmed destinations. This model of outcome options is also a natural fit for soliciting grantee feedback and using that information to tweak the choices available. It’s particularly well suited for funders who award grants in several distinct program areas.
Measurement Partnership (Choose Your Own Adventure)
A measurement partnership is all about your foundation and your grantees co-creating customized metrics at the start of your grant journey together. There is opportunity for listening and learning on both sides, along with capacity building. Think of this as the equivalent of plane tickets, fully charged cell phones, and a mutual sense of adventure. Or maybe it’s the ultimate road trip, starting with a full tank of gas, plenty of tasty snacks, and a well-developed playlist. As “travelers” together you have a common destination, but decide together on how and when you’ll arrive and what you’ll do once you get there. This can be a truly transformative experience for all involved and can take many different forms such as a workshop, a consulting-style framework, or just a series of in-depth conversations to refine and build consensus. Choosing to develop your own measurement adventure with each grantee demands time and resources, and does not lend itself to aggregated reports. It’s best suited to working with grantees who are deeply connected and experienced in the communities they serve and may be particularly helpful for foundations either newly established or those seeking to overhaul their funding priorities, or those choosing to focus on place-based funding.
No Two Grantees (Vacations) Are Alike
What may be most helpful in your foundation’s journey to reporting outcomes is a mix of the three models that varies depending on the program focus, the capacity of the grantees, and your own internal resources and bandwidth. Whether it’s seed money, program support or capital campaigns, foundations and grantees alike have the opportunity to work as a team to determine the best possible outcomes destination—and what it takes to get there.