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Strengthening Grantee Relationships: A Data-Entry and Reporting Love Story

[Quick Take: Tables on forms are a great way to make things easier for applicants and staff. You can format them in cool ways to make them easy to input and report on. Tables can free up staff time to be more engaged and strengthen grantee-partner relationships by meeting their needs and providing transparency. Staff training is essential. Learn how to apply this to your work]

The need for granular data to measure program impact continues to butt up against the applicant experience across philanthropy. While some funders have updated their applications to remove detailed and time-consuming data input questions entirely, many are taking a hybrid approach to ease the burden of data entry for grantseekers. Read on for tips, tricks, and best practices to align your needs with your applicants’ wants.

Data-Entry Options

User-friendly, simple text questions allow applicants to type in or copy and paste rich text answers. While this can offer applicants an easy way to reuse and tailor previously successful responses, it leaves something to be desired on the reporting side. Admins who need to sort through the details to report on data such as populations served, health metrics, education reporting, and more will find this method less than efficient.

File uploads enable applicants to upload files with the requested information, often contained in a document they already create daily like follow-up reports or budget reconciliations. Uploads are helpful when you want to see the whole story and understand how the nonprofit or program reports on its outcomes. Knowing how your applicants track their success is also valuable. The upload method almost eliminates the possibility of reporting on the data unless your admins wish to comb through PDFs and Word docs, input the information themselves (manually!), and then try to build a functioning report…and then do it all again the next cycle.

A third option comes with ease of use for both your grantee and you but requires some added setup by your admin on the front end. The ability to create a table question to collect your data can solve many of the frustrations you may run into if you're not collecting detailed information from your applicants upfront. Think about it like a report they're filling out for you but with the ease of clicking through fields with pre-qualified information, minimizing data entry. This method also offers a simple way for applicants to organize information in rows and columns, such as budgets, board member lists, additional funding sources, funding amounts, or outcome metrics. For you as a funder, this means all the entered information can be included in custom reports to suit your needs. This method also lends itself to keeping consistent formatting between anticipated numbers on applications and actual numbers on grant reports later.


As with any option, tradeoffs have pros and cons, so you must choose the most suitable method to obtain the right data. Once you've outlined what you need and how you want to be able to report on it, it becomes easier to choose. Here are some quick comparables to (hopefully!) help make your decision easier:

Text Questions

  • Easy for applicants to copy/paste
  • Allows for storytelling and anecdotal evidence for programs that are more focused on individual outcomes rather than large populations
  • Gives grant writers the ability to get creative and write to their audience
  • Caution: Character counts are a double-edged sword—too many and grantees feel they must fill the space and run the risk of watering down their story of impact; too few, and your applicants will get frustrated!

File Uploads

  • Easy to upload ready-made documents, which also saves time
  • Allows applicants to illustrate their own storytelling and evaluation strategies
  • Gives your staff evidence of the quality of work you can expect from applicants you may not be familiar with
  • Caution: You can only report on this method with significant manual work!

Table Questions

  • Easy for grantees to input
  • Easy for admins to report on
  • Consistent across all applicants, reports, and metrics
  • Caution: Ensure you know how you want to report on the data before building your table. This will give you a "map" to follow, so when you start, follow the instructions!

What's the answer?

This might not come as a surprise, but the best answer (most of the time) is to implement a mix of all three methods. Unless you are making grants to known grantee partners who work with you year after year, you'll need to see answers to different questions in various formats.

(Caveat - make sure you right-size your grant applications!)

Open-text questions paired with the option to upload documentation with proof points, organizational marketing materials, or program evaluation reports (to name a few) will give you a clear picture of what you can expect from this organization. When you can add a table question to the application for quick and easy input of data like demographics or budgeting, you can remove a significant burden of manual data entry from both your grantee partners and your staff. The added bonus is that you can pump out ready-made reports on the other end for your needs.

Best Practices—Table Style

Creating a table question allows grant managers and funder boards to decide what information is vital as they work to make specific progress in their communities. A table keeps it focused and intentional on how you define success and what information you need to know you've achieved it.

In the application stage, a defined table question, rather than only using text questions, provides transparency as to what demographics you wish to report on and, therefore, which your grantee partner should track. Often, these expectations are unclear until the grant report stage and may require extensive reconstructive work and post-event surveys to gather the necessary data. We could even go as far as to say, "Put all your cards on the table!"

Consistent data formats across all grantee partners allow for complete community and board reports that show collective impact across all funding. A consistent table format will enable you to apply the same strategy across all grant programs to compare reports one-to-one and help stakeholders and constituents understand your mission impact.

Using a table as an input field in your applications allows a grant manager to go from providing a quick summary to their board about how each grantee used their funds to sharing a visual of the demographics impacted by 50 grants that year and calling out specific stories to illustrate and humanize that impact. Data and storytelling go hand in hand when discussing the good work of grant programs. Well-formatted tables take funders one step further in that journey.

A Cautionary Tale

A word of caution to those whose brains are on overdrive working out how to hack your Google Workspace to do all this for you! Don't do it. Unless you run one grant cycle a year and receive less than 10 applications, do yourself a favor and invest in a system that will do all the heavy lifting for you.

The time it would take your staff to manually retrofit all the sheets, docs, and forms into some semblance of a reportable application would pay for itself 100-fold. The efficiencies can't be beat, and your staff will be happier, less stressed, and more engaged in the good work they want to do instead of manual data entry.

You Have Options

The good news is, there are options—many options. Wait! Don't Google just yet. There's a sea of confusion out there…tables from every website. We've had our interns hard at work researching key search terms to get you started:

  • Tables on a grant application
  • What grants management system uses tables
  • Using tables on a grant application
  • Table question option in grant application

Once you've started the search, you'll find the best fits, and your favorites will naturally float to the top, but it takes time. Before deciding, create a decision matrix to help you make the best choice for your needs. Think about your process: Do you want to have to export the data for reporting, or would it be easier to have your data populate native in-system custom reports?

When you have your matrix, narrow your search to no less than three and no more than five solutions—this gives you options but keeps it from getting overwhelming. Once you engage with a vendor’s staff, you'll quickly know whether it's a fit. Ask about guarantees, contracts, and support services. These areas alone should help you narrow your pool down by half.

Finally, once you've chosen, commit to the training and all the steps (so. many. steps.). But it's worth it! Having well-trained staff cannot be stressed enough. Do it. You won't regret it once you see the confidence in their faces as they launch that first grant program or present that first pristine report. It's a gift, really.


Specific use cases/examples:

  • A table where grantees could enter the top five zip codes they drew participants from and the number of participants from each zip code
  • A list of conferences where research was presented
  • Data by school, such as percent of free and reduced lunches


  • Maximize convenience and usability
  • Reduced need for applicants/grantees to upload separate data
  • Better applicant experience
  • Maintain the integrity of the user experience for both mobile and printed applications by limiting columns
  • Reduced time for the creation of future tables with the ability and recommendation to clone

About the Author

Foundant Technologies has specialized in making philanthropy easier and more impactful through innovative software solutions and exceptional client experiences since 2007. Passionate about philanthropy, our team is dedicated to meeting the unique needs of grantmakers, scholarship providers, community foundations, and nonprofits to enable change-makers to make the world a better place for all.

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