City of Sydney shares its grants reporting smarts with the sector

Posted on 10 May 2021

By Joshua Presser, director of special projects, SmartyGrants

Leading grantmaker Jeremy Kelshaw from the City of Sydney has some hot tips for grantmakers wanting to do better with their reporting and is happy to share some of the tools he’s helped develop to make it happen.

Mr Kelshaw was a popular presenter at the recent Grantmaking Intelligence Conference with his nuts-and-bolts approach to funding, combining a keen understanding of “the back end” of grantmaking – such as the SmartyGrants platform – and a tenacious problem-solving attitude.

His unflappable presentation at the virtual event in the face of technical glitches was indicative of the kind of style he has brought to his work.

Mr Kelshaw is currently seconded to the role of acting executive manager in the CEO’s office, but was until recently the manager of grants and sponsorship for the City of Sydney. In that role he oversaw a $20 million grants program supporting the city’s culture, society and economy.

So what can a leader of arguably Australia’s biggest local government grants programs tell us about best practice? Plenty, according to a snap poll of delegates at his session. They were impressed by a presentation that gave great guidance and demonstrated a series of Excel template tools designed assist relationship managers to administer grants and to cross-check applicant letters.

Many conference delegates have been in touch with SmartyGrants seeking a copy of those reporting tools and templates. Scroll down for details about how to download your copy.

Jeremy Kelshaw
The City of Sydney's Jeremy Kelshaw has managed the organisation's $20 million grants program

That allowed grantmaking staff to modify report criteria or to change the frequency of reports based on the needs of other parts of the organisation.

“We’re pretty well placed to change things and give people the information they need.”

But that focus continues to evolve. While until now, most of the city’s grant reporting has been based on “internal reporting and evaluation”, “the next phase we’re going to look at is a Power BI dashboard that pulls together evaluation and acquittal information, to tell us stories about what impact we are making.”

Q. How early is too early to start thinking about what you need to report on?

Mr Kelshaw accepted the City of Sydney could have been more proactive on its reporting needs early on, when it first took on the SmartyGrants system, but it had adapted.

“We just didn’t (know) what information people would need (but) we set ourselves up for success by giving ourselves the ability to report on anything, at any time.”

Mr Kelshaw was open about the fact the city hadn’t always been perfect with its grants program management but said it had a clear focus on developing best practice.

He took delegates along on the City of Sydney’s reporting journey from the era of paper-based applications, to adopting SmartyGrants in 2013, through to its current focus on “real-time reporting” designed to drive data-informed decision making.

During the presentation, he was quizzed by Jodie Shanks, director of platform transformation at SmartyGrants.

Q. Is there such a thing as over-reporting?

“I think you need to ask for feedback from your stakeholders on whether reports are meeting their needs.”

The city had many stakeholders and the grants team relied on them to alert the team if changes to reports were needed, Mr Kelshaw said.

“What we’ve tried to do is make a pretty good skeleton of a reporting standard that can be customised to meet different stakeholders needs.”

He said the use of “standard fields” in the SmartyGrants system was a powerful way of developing that ability by standardising data.

“Every time we introduce a new datapoint, we try to ask: ‘Is this needed in other areas? Is this needed in other programs?’”

He said making that approach work well meant properly understanding what the grants platform could do.

“You need to have that love for the back end of SmartyGrants, the enthusiasm to really understand how the platform works as a whole, especially if you don’t have a consolidated grants team.”

“I would recommend that (grantmakers with multiple separate programs) put together some sort of working group, so that all of your programs can function in the same way (and) you can pull information from across the various programs.

“Without that thought put in the back end, it just kind of goes sideways, and it becomes very difficult to grapple with.”

Q. What skills or expertise do grantmakers need in their teams for good reports?

“It is 100% attitude.”

“I love Excel. I love having a program working and singing.”

“All those 200 people around council, they don’t care about Excel, they don’t care about SmartyGrants, they just want it to work.”

“You need tenacity, and you need the energy to go with that, everything else you can self-teach.”

“You need to share that love and energy around your team, you can’t just do it yourself or you’ll become the source of all knowledge. We’ve gone through a phase as a team, to try to make sure that everyone has a responsibility to be able to ‘play’ in this space.”

“Yes, it’s about technical Excel training at some point, but it’s also about attitude and saying ‘I’m going to give this a crack, and I’m not going to let this go until it’s done.’”

That approach has led to a suite of customised reporting tools he has developed with his team including:

  • A letter checking tool, which ensures that information is sent to the right applicants, eliminating laborious manual checking of system-generated correspondence.
  • A relationship manager dashboard that helps the City to quickly access important grant data, and monitor the status of live grant agreements.

Both are Excel-based technical templates which have been customised to work with Sydney’s grant programs and the SmartyGrants platform.

The relationship manager dashboard, for instance, reports on a customised relationship manager contact “type” set up in SmartyGrants, which can also be included in grant agreements, eliminating the need for manual data input.

The relationship manager dashboard generates a report that pulls together information about contracts, filtering grant data by individual relationship managers to display key relationship manager actions such as contract executions, payments, and reports.

The tool allows Sydney’s grants team to monitor the live status of contracts, and whether they’ve been completed, are overdue, or are missing a crucial step.

The City of Sydney is now developing an integration using Microsoft’s Power BI to make that tool (and others) more sophisticated.

It is yet another demonstration of the City’s commitment to further innovation and better reporting.

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