Oral Reporting with Grassroots Organizations—Here’s How!

The approach of many international small grantmakers is distinguished by their willingness and ability to make application and reporting process practical and accessible to grassroots organizations. Ultimately, staff aim to decrease the reporting burden on applicants and grantee-partners. Yet grantmaking staff also recognize that often they do not receive the quality or quantity of written information from grantees to “paint a full picture” of their work, accomplishments and challenges.

Oral reporting is a way to close this gap. More in-depth and detailed information can be gleaned through a semi-structured interview with grantees using funders’ existing final report questions. The process described below, which I developed and led within a grantmaking team at a private foundation, can reduce the time and expense required of partners to submit their narrative reports. It can accommodate any sort of reporting structure/questions/indicators that the aid partnership requires and supports grantmakers’ aim to foster open, empowering, and flexible relationships with their grantees.

Objectives of Oral Reporting

  • Decrease the time and effort required from selected grantee-partners in preparing a typed, narrative report to donor.
  • Enable grantee-partners who struggle with written English to more fully describe their work.
  • Enhance donor staff’s opportunities to appreciate and comprehend the work of grantee-partners.

What kinds of grantee organizations can benefit from oral reporting?

  • IN GENERAL – “those for whom reporting is a barrier or an undue burden” (due to email access, written language usage, etc.)
  • Organizations with an overdue site visit
  • Poor reporters – those grantees where you suspect there is “more to the story” than what is coming through on paper.
  • Emerging community-based organizations (CBOs) submitting their report for the first time – to help build confidence
  • Organizations where concerns have been noted

Advantages & Disadvantages of Oral Reporting



GRANTEES –        Chance for dialogue and feedback from donor on report
–        Less reporting “burden,” especially for grantees that struggle with how to present their work on paper
–        Can enhance report writing skills by demonstrating what donors look for
–     Still have to send documentation, e.g. financial report and renewal application
DONORS –        Chance for dialogue and feedback from grantee
–        Gives a fuller picture of what group is doing, including how proposal builds on previous grant (Can also enable staff to capture how their perceptions of the organization shifted as a result the interview.)
–        Richer stories, ex. beneficiary profiles
–        No need for written follow-up questions, esp. if proposal already received
–        More information on outcomes received – easier to probe the “then what?’ and the “so what?”
–        Can include communications and development staff to enhance their understanding of grantees’ work
–     Effort/time required to set up calls and send report to grantee for approval
–     Final report questions can be awkward if not adapted to interview format
–     Staff without sound interviewing skills or biased staff may skew report

Suggested Steps in Oral Reporting:

1)    Each program officer to identify grantees to which they would like to offer an oral reporting option.

2)    Send invitation to grantees. (See template below). The following points should be included in your invitation and subsequent correspondence with grantees:

  • Objectives of donor in offering an oral reporting option to its grantees
  • The final report questions that will be the basis of the conversation, thus offering some structure about what information they might want to prepare.
  • Explanation of the steps following the phone conversation, e.g. you will be making a written record of the conversation in a document that will then be sent to them for final approval to ensure accuracy of what was captured.
  • Suggestion of dates/times from which they can choose for the phone call.
  • Whom you would like to be present for the conversation
  • Verification of the number you should use to place the call
  • Invitation for the grantee to identify any specific issues, stories, or challenges they would like to share/discuss during the session.

3)    Before the phone conversation, review the group’s previous final report, proposal, response to follow-up questions, and grant summary. Identify additional themes or questions that you want to touch on during the oral reporting conversation.

4)    Conduct oral reporting session on agreed upon date. (Review guides for tips on interviewing if necessary.)

  • Take notes during phone conversation to complete final report questions, including any numbers for tables on beneficiary numbers, etc.

5)    Program officers should finalize final report document, e.g. filling in details, making complete, coherent sentences, etc. and send to grantee for their approval. Also, ask grantee to provide feedback on the overall experience of oral reporting.

6)    Once grantee has approved report, treat as regular final narrative report. NOTE: Grantee will need to submit a final, written/typed financial report as per existing guidelines/procedures, as well as a renewal grant proposal and budget.

Invitation Language:

Dear partner,

We have developed a new option for some of our grantee-partners to decrease the time and effort needed to write a narrative report on your grant. We would like to offer this to your organization for oral reporting on grant #XXXX. We hope that this will enable you to more fully describe your work. Also we hope that reporting via phone or skype will give our staff an enhanced opportunity to comprehend and appreciate your work.

We would like to invite you for an oral reporting interview during the month of X. Kindly inform us as soon as possible if you would be willing to utilize this reporting option and submit your final narrative report in this way. IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Your organization will still need to submit a final financial report for grant#XXXX, as well as a renewal grant proposal and budget if you would like to be considered for another grant.

If you agree, these final report questions (see attached) will be the basis of our phone interview. Please review these so that you can identify what information you would need to prepare before our phone call. We would also welcome you to identify and share any specific issues, stories, or challenges they would like to share/discuss during the phone interview.

Following the phone interview, our staff will prepare documentation of what was presented by your organization and discussed. They will then send the draft report to you for your final approval to ensure accuracy. Once we receive confirmation of your approval, this will be your organization’s final report on grant#XXXX.

Overall, we hope that we continue to make our reporting practical and accessible to local, community-based organizations. If you are interested to participate in this opportunity for oral reporting, please contact me as soon as possible. Also, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Our best,

Oral Report Documentation: (To include at top of documentation or oral reports prepared by donor staff (gray portions must be completed and returned by grantee)


To learn more about improving grant application and reporting in ways that support grantee or implementing organizations, I recommend Project Streamline. Its report “Drowning in Paperwork, Distracted from Purpose: Challenges and Opportunities in Grant Application and Reportingis a must-read for all aid workers and do-gooders.


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  1. Lisa Elliott Grose

    Absolutely fabulous post Jennifer! This would be perfect for the 2 NGOs I work with in Uganda. They are both short of staff, and especially don’t have time to dedicate to highly detailed report writing. While I understand grantor’s needs to know what is happening in full with the project they funded, sometimes the degree of reporting can be burdensome to small NGOs. Great solution to that problem.

  2. Bernard John

    Oral reporting as described here sounds like a very practical,workable and potentially mutually beneficial tool for both the grantee and grantor. This could be especially useful to small grantees where the grant disbursements (tranches), are linked to the receipt of written reports.

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  4. O my God, this is like a whole new and innovative aspect of monitoring and evaluation. I guess the author can serve succinctly in the role of a local champion in M&E. Thanks for this innovative knowledge exchange, its immensely beneficial to all who come by it.

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