Conquering Data: Dialogue is Critical

two people sitting at table

In the third blog of our five-blog series, Conquering Data, we want to share another essential understanding within the funder and nonprofit relationship. After explaining that it is okay to start small and asserting that nonprofits should take ownership of their program outcomes in our first two blogs of this miniseries, we now stress the importance of true dialogue within that same relationship.

When a nonprofit receives a grant award, the funder typically expects certain data reporting in return. The details of what is expected vary from one scenario to the next, but funders frequently desire data that demonstrate the effects of the grant dollars on the nonprofit’s service population. All too often, the terms of that agreement are treated as static. If nonprofits approach this partnership believing that this commitment is set in stone, they may be hindering their ability to affect true change and produce a scenario where both parties achieve what they desire.

In fact, this mindset is contrary to what we have seen over many years working with these organizations. In our experience, funders prefer to understand obstacles that have arisen in real-time so they can help strategize about how to navigate them, rather than being surprised at the end of a grant cycle.  A staff member from one foundation offered this insight when we asked about this common disconnect, “The most important thing an organization can do is to keep us informed.” If a nonprofit is able to identify where they are running into an issue, that often can blossom into an opportunity for the next grant.  Being able to produce these unexpected learnings is actually a service to funders.

Below are two easy to adopt strategies that will allow you to mitigate this common dilemma:

Be proactive about potential problems. Request an opportunity to establish regular check-ins with a program officer or grant monitor when you first receive funding. Set the expectation to have routine reviews of progress towards goals and outline the possibility for shifting implementation and/or evaluation strategies based on how the project develops.

Address unexpected obstacles quickly. Have a conversation with a grantor as soon as it becomes apparent that it will be difficult to meet the terms of the agreement. For example, if you cannot produce the outcome data you described in the grant proposal, identify alternative approaches to demonstrate program impact.

In today’s chaotic environment, where just about every well-laid plan has gone off the rails, it is more important than ever to engage in dialogue early and often throughout your relationships with funders. While this may be a new behavior and might seem a bit uncomfortable at first, it’s also how we continue to grow and learn. Do yourself and your funder a service and welcome the opportunities to work together to overcome obstacles when necessary.

To learn more about how to best navigate obstacles that arise within this relationship, read the prior two blogs in our Conquering Data miniseries.