Now that you’ve received a grant, you can take some steps right away that will save time and make your life easier later. One of my favorite sayings is, “Begin with the end in mind.”

1. Start a file for the grant.

Whether you prefer an electronic or paper version (or both), you’ll need some way to gather and organize all of the paperwork pertinent to the grant, its management, and whatever reports you are required to submit. Even if it’s duplicative, keep each grant’s information separate. Trust me! It will be easier in the long run.

You should plan to keep, at minimum, copies of the following:

Information about the grant

  • The original grant RFP, posting, or similar information
  • The original grant proposal
  • The grant award letter
  • The grant contract (if you receive one)
  • Any other correspondence to/from the funder

Financial Information

  • Disbursement letter from the funder (if you receive one)
  • Any matching, challenge, or reimbursement requirements, if applicable
  • Proof of gifts to meet matching or challenge requirements
  • List of gift amounts and donors
  • Copies of all invoices paid and receipts received for payment, related to the grant-funded work
  • Copies (front and back) of all cancelled checks for invoices paid on grant-funded work
  • A summary spreadsheet showing the project budget, income, and expenses

Project Information

  • Correspondence
  • Project plan and schedule documents
  • Meeting agendas and minutes
  • Lists of vendors and volunteers
  • Any informational and/or marketing materials produced for the project
  • Boilerplate descriptions of any partner organizations, and electronic files of their logos

2. Plan to document the project

Don’t wait until the work is done to think about the final report! Plan ahead to make sure that you have the documentation you need, when the time comes to assemble that report. Even if you are not required to create a final report, you should still plan to send one with a thank-you letter. You can also use this information for publicity and on your website.

First, you’re going to need photographs. In the case of a project that involves construction or changes to the physical environment, plan to capture:

  • “Before” photos to document the pre-project condition of the site, building, artifacts, etc.
  • “During” photos: any ribbon-cutting or kickoff-type events, staging of materials, work while underway, start or completion of any clearly defined project phases, craftspeople and volunteers at work, etc.
  • “After” photos of the completed project, particularly details that contrast the completed condition of specific elements with “before” photos; also, crew thank-you events, grand opening or unveiling events, etc.

If your project involves activities such as educational programming, photos throughout each activity will help to tell the story, with a mix of group, individual, posed, and candid photos.

Decide who will be responsible for taking pictures, the level of resolution desired, where the photo files will be stored, and how they will be organized. I recommend NOT using the date/time-stamp feature on your camera – the one that puts the date on the front of each photo. In some cases, those can be set (or accidentally reset) to the incorrect date, which just complicates things; in any case, the presence of text on the photo detracts from the image.

Take notes, too. If your project will last more than a few weeks, you will be glad that you’ve captured plenty of information while it was underway. This will also help you report knowledgeably to the Board of Directors and to any funder who requires an interim project report.

Try assigning one person (maybe an intern or enthusiastic volunteer) to “play journalist” and interview the different people involved in the project on a regular basis, then write articles for your organization’s newsletter.

If your project involves technical work, such as materials conservation, find a source who can explain those things to a non-technical audience, and include those explanations in your files in case you need them later.

If the project has generated CAD drawings, illustrations, or other images, ask the architect/designer for copies as .pdf or .jpg files.

Keep copies of all media coverage that you receive, including press clippings and your own press releases. PDF copies of your newsletters and website pages, describing the project and acknowledging donors, should go into the same media file.

3. Document obstacles, problems, delays, etc.

Inevitably, your project will not go smoothly; unexpected problems will arise to affect your schedule and budget. Be sure to identify and document these challenges, including

  • The date when the problem came to light
  • How the problem was identified and by whom
  • Potential responses or solutions considered, including which was selected and why
  • The timeframe for resolving the problem, including impacts to schedule and the date(s) when the resolution was selected and completed
  • Detailed descriptions of impacts to budget, with documentation of any quotes, estimates, bids, and actual costs
  • Lessons learned from this experience, to be applied to the rest of the project

I know this sounds picky, but two years down the road, when you’re trying to explain to a previous funder or a new potential donor what happened and why you weren’t able to get the work done as expected, you will be glad that you have all of this information on hand. It’s difficult to recall details after time has passed, and when you’re in the thick of it, things can happen quickly – you will be under pressure to resolve the issue and move forward, so it’s especially important to capture this information.

4. Don’t count on your vendors or contractors to do any of this work for you.

They have their own jobs to do. This is your job.

5. Allow plenty of time to prepare the final report.

Ideally, you’ll have several weeks of dedicated time to get this together.  Plan for that. The final grant report is your primary deliverable to the funding foundation or agency, so this is not the time to slap something together the day it’s due. The quality of your report may significantly affect your ability to get another grant.

If you’ve followed my advice so far, you should have what you need for the final report – but go back over the requirements and make sure you haven’t forgotten something. You might need to scramble to collect information, images, etc. retroactively, and that takes time.

6. Final thoughts

If the foundation or agency requires you to put together your budget in a way that doesn’t reflect reality or make sense, just roll with it. I’ve run into this before, and it’s honestly just easier to give them the information that they want, even if it’s based on your original budget estimate numbers and the actual budget is completely different, or if they have some weird way of calculating what you “actually” spent.

You may have questions about the required format or content. Try to get all of your questions together and send one concise list to the grants officer, rather than multiple emails asking questions as you get to them. Your performance in terms of communication with the grants officer is super important and tells them a lot about you. I’ve had funders give my clients grants just because the funder knew I would make sure everything was completed as promised and that their grant report would be done on time and provide the information they needed. Make it easy for donors to do business with you, and they will be more likely to continue doing just that.

Tell the funder if their gift functioned as seed money that enabled you to get additional funding. This is critical information that they want and need to know. Don’t assume that they are aware of your fundraising efforts or results.

Make sure that the information you’re providing with your grant report is clearly organized and makes sense. If necessary, include an index page that describes each document that you’ve provided as backup. You may want to annotate that to provide further clarification. Try to anticipate the funder’s questions and answer them in advance.

Lastly, say “Thank you.” Write a cover letter for your grant completion report that expresses your appreciation for the gift that you were given and its impact on your organization. However, be aware that many funding organizations do not want a plaque or chunk of crystal or clock. Your sincere thanks and recognition of their gift are most appropriate.

I hope this will help you be better prepared to submit a terrific grant completion report that impresses your donors and positions you for additional funding. (These tips apply to interim reports, too!)