Aligning Our Reporting
DONOR REPORT WRITING. It’s part of our work and it can be a painful process – let’s jump into at least one aspect of it: structural alignment.
It seems logical that we’d structure a reporting system in which weekly data easily feeds into a monthly format, monthly into quarterly, and so on. It seems logical that we’d structure our reports around something like our M&E plan, workplan, or even more radical, our contract.
But it’s easy for our reporting structure to run wild so that our logical sequence is broken and our ability to drive our organization’s narrative is undermined.
I know it well. I’ve spent the last week constructing a Frankenstein-like quarterly report made up of various body parts stolen from past reports, plans, and proposals.
The re-alignment process is never easy – the report seems to be growing a life beyond my keystrokes.
Our donors, even our bosses, don’t always make it easy. Yes, they have their demands and they often request information in strange formats under unreasonable deadlines.
But we can’t blame them for this one. No, setting up an effective reporting system falls on the communications department.
Let’s start with our donor contract or other binding document. It’s essential to always be able to demonstrate how our reporting structure or format clearly addresses contract requirements.
Presumably our organization or project has associated performance indicators to report against. We can now turn toward our M&E plan or other monitoring guidelines to assess how to incorporate the structure and format of our indicators and broader logical framework into our reporting structure.
(If we aren’t reporting against a set of agreed-upon M&E indicators, that’s likely a deeper issue that our organization needs to address immediately.)
M&E plans and logical frameworks are helpful, but they are often designed to capture longer-term data and storylines that are more appropriate for quarterly, semi-annual, and annual reports.
How do we show weekly or monthly progress when we know we haven’t had enough time to demonstrate longer-term results or impacts?
Our action plan, which hopefully is guided by a broader workplan, specifies the series of tasks and activities needed to achieve broader goals and objectives. That sounds like a good place to help complete our weekly and monthly reporting structure. Keep it simple, keep it clear.
Finally, the key to a good reporting structure is a strong and clear alignment at the monthly report and quarterly report intersect.
Transitioning from a monthly outlook to quarterly one is when we begin making our organization’s argument that our daily / weekly / monthly activities are in fact, building towards larger results and impacts (which should begin to come to life at the quarterly reporting stage, and more fully through semi-annual and annual reports).
Just as important, this when we begin to show the donor that their money is being utilized the way it was intended.
Enough writing for me this evening. I’ve got to keep my brain fresh for the monster report that will greet me tomorrow.
Thanks for reading.