Writing Grant Reports

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Just as in most stories, the fundraising process has a beginning, middle and an end: The first part is the request (usually filling out an application) to some private or public agency for money; the middle sequence is actually performing the work or service for which the funding was requested; the final part usually is letting the agency know what was done with its money.

The last area is probably the least structured and consistent in the fundraising process, as the requirements for a final summation differ from one agency to the next. Some allow artists and craftspeople to tell in narrative (perhaps even handwritten) form what went on during their project or fellowship period, while others send out questionnaires of between one and four pages that must be filled out. Some agencies require fellowship recipients to detail how the money was spent, while others show little interest in the subject. Other funders hold back a certain percentage of the award until the final report is in, while others put no strings on the disbursement of funds.

It is not possible to generalize about the reporting requirements for any particular class of funders — for instance, that public arts agencies call for more documentation than private philanthropies, or that smaller or local agencies require less paperwork than their larger or federal counterparts — and they must all be viewed individually.

The Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Foundation and Craft Emergency Relief Fund, both of which are private nonprofit organizations that provide emergency assistance to artists in financial need, have very different ideas about reporting. The Gottlieb Foundation demands that recipients describe by letter how money was used within six months of receiving their grants. The letter accompanying the Foundation’s check states, “You should be advised that the Foundation may request copies of receipts, which document your expenditures.” Craft Emergency Relief Fund, on the other hand, requires no reporting whatsoever for their loans (up to $2,000), believing that the essential documentation took place as part of the application process.

At times, a private or public funding agency’s application guidelines indicate how money will be released to an individual artist or organization and under what terms. Even when that information is provided, many applicants will overlook it as they are concentrating so intently on describing their projects and monetary needs in a way that is most likely to appeal to the granting agency. As a result, agency reporting requirements may come as a surprise, pleasant or otherwise. Artists and organizations may not decide to forego applying to a particular funding agency because of its reporting or other requirements, but they would want to know what they are getting in for.

Among the issues that artists should be aware of early in the process are:

Interim Reports. Not only do agencies ask for final reports, some ask for progress or interim reports during the period of the project or fellowship. Bush Artist Fellowships, which offers fellowships of $36,000 to artists in seven counties of Minnesota and the Dakotas, requires quarterly reports of approximately 100 words that describe the recipient’s activities during the preceding three-month period. The money is paid over a 12- or 18-month period and the organization may withhold payments if quarterly reports aren’t submitted. The Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based Pew Fellowships in the Arts, on the other hand, which provides grants of $50,000 for fellowship periods lasting up to two years, asks for brief reports or “updates” every six months, and most of these are the length of a paragraph.

The National Endowment for the Arts requires fellowship and project grant recipients to submit a progress report after they have received two-thirds of their allocation in order to receive the remainder of the money. In a very different approach, the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York City contacts grants-in-aid recipients three times during the grant period by telephone, in March, July and October, in order to discuss their work. “We don’t just forget them but try to see what else they need, what else we can do for them,” said Jane Stevenson, director of the Elizabeth Foundation. She added that recipients are also asked to complete a two-page questionnaire at the end of their grant year, detailing how the money was spent and the effect that the funding had on their work.

Grant Disbursement. Every agency has its own ideas about how money should be paid out. Pew Fellowships provides a monthly stipend (the same amount each month during the fellowship period), while the Kentucky Arts Council and the Massachusetts Cultural Council award the entirety of their fellowships and project grants up-front. Bush Artist Fellowships spread out payments evenly over the fellowship period, although it will make an initial pay-out of up to $10,000 when asked. Such a request may be the result of the costs of purchasing materials or equipment, without which the project could not be accomplished smoothly.

The Ohio Arts Council pays half of the fellowship amount in one calendar year and the remainder in the next calendar year in order to not burden artists with a large tax liability in one given year, while The Elizabeth Foundation allows artists to receive half of their grant in July and the rest in January or to take the entire amount all at once. The Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts have the most artist-friendly approach, distributing fellowship awards in whatever manner the artists want them.

Public Service Requirements. Fellowships essentially mean monetary awards with no strings attached. Artists can use the money to create a new work or simply to pay their rent and buy groceries. It is unclear why an agency would require a final report for a fellowship recipient when it makes no demands on how its money is used, and some artists may feel obliged to claim that the award helped to complete a new work when it actually was part of a down payment for a house.

At times, a fellowship comes with a specific public service requirement, such as a demonstration, lecture, visit to a school or something else. Both the New York Foundation for the Arts and the Seattle Artists Trust pay artists 90 percent of the total amount of the fellowship, holding back the final 10 percent until a community service function has been performed. The New York Foundation for the Arts allows an artist or craftsperson up to 18 months following the completion of the fellowship to fulfill the public service requirement. There are reminder calls to artists about fulfilling their public service requirement and that artists will forfeit the final 10 percent if they do as expected.

Final Reports. Whereas an application for a grant or fellowship is often read by a number of people (a program director, peer review panel, agency director, board of directors), it is never quite clear who reads an interim or final report and what is done with that information. It may be just one person at the agency, checking to see that a certain amount of information has been included. Those funders who send out questionnaires usually have something specific they want to know, such as the attendance at a certain event, the demographic breakdown of an audience, how their money was spent or what artistic achievements their grants helped to create. This information may be used solely for statistical purposes or to show an agency’s accomplishments to legislators or the public.

At other times, final reports are examined by one or more agency personnel in order to determine the effectiveness of a program and whether or not changes should be made. The reports are read; they don’t just get filed. Agencies and organizations do want to learn how better to perform their roles.

The two-page final report form of Bush Artist Fellowships is, in many ways, typical of most agencies’ questionnaires. On the first page are asked three questions — to describe the activity for which the artist needed funding, to describe what the artist had hoped to achieve during the fellowship year and to note what actually the artist accomplished. The second asks the artist to provide a “best estimate” of how the fellowship money was spent, listing seven categories (materials and production costs, transportation costs, food and lodging, insurance costs, utilities, taxes and miscellaneous).

Prodding artists, craftspeople and organizations to complete their questionnaires is a major activity at most arts agencies. Reporting requirements tend to become more optional the smaller the amount of the award and, sometimes, they are more like requests.

Some individual artists may worry about incurring disapproval from an agency over what they actually accomplished during a grant or fellowship period and do not submit a final report (Would they ask for the money back? The answer is no, but the artist might make him- or herself ineligible for future grants.)

There is a hierarchy of difficulty in final reports. Fellowships tend to require the least paperwork and take the most relaxed attitude about what the report says, while project grant recipients (typically organizations) have to provide more documentation about what was done and how as well as provide an accounting of expenditures. In some instances, organizations receive a certain percentage of the project grant award (say, 75 percent) up-front and the rest at the conclusion of the project after the report and budget have been submitted; at other times, payment is only available on a reinbursement basis – submitting specific receipts to the agency for which a check will be issued. The most onerous reports are those by recipients of operating support grants, who must usually provide the agency with quarterly financial statements and pay for an audit.

By Daniel Grant

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