End the Madness! Compulsive Nonprofit Report Writing Must Go!

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Papers

Paper pile – April 2011 / Sebastien Wiertz

July 18, 2016; The Guardian

Deborah Doane calls the problem of excessive report writing endemic to our sector. She entreats, “What good does all of this report writing do?”

Policy reports, project reports, evaluation reports, campaign reports. Oxfam UK alone has published 129 reports and papers since January of this year.

She goes on to point out the related environmental and safety concerns. “Show me one office that doesn’t use a stack of reports to prop up an old computer screen somewhere, gathering dust, and I’ll show you Nigel Farage participating constructively in a European fisheries meeting.”

Doane obviously knows this landscape well:

The familiar scene: a report crosses your desk with the requisite cover note that quickly goes into the recycling bin. With a heavy sigh, you glimpse through the executive summary, then throw it onto a pile, thinking, “I’ll get to that later.” Only you never do.

The writer of this newswire herself has perhaps hundreds of such reports—on her desk, floor, atop the bookcase, being carted around in her bursitis bag—so she is with Doane in her campaign.

And actually, she suggests, some information just isn’t worth the paper upon which its printed…

Too many public reports are peppered with something that passes for evidence or recommendations but instead are evidence-light with platitudes that pass as recommendations. A farming project that reports on income without looking at expenditure is a waste of time; a report that says “climate change is harming the world’s poorest” is merely a broken record. We know that we need to “build better institutional knowledge” or that women’s caring responsibilities are a barrier to their gaining employment. I don’t need another report to tell me so.

Doane calls for a full-on report moratorium, with people of conscience resorting to communications venues that are actually read once in a while or have some kind of impact. She suggests that after your next workshop, instead of spending time and money on an evaluation report, “Give some money to each participant to host their own event with another group of people to discuss what to do with the information and how to embed it.”

Along with the moratorium on reports, Doane goes further, calling for an end to report launches that use up hours where we might be talking to a constituent, eating bad sandwiches, or checking our phones.

Report launches should really read: “Come to the launch of our recent report where a panel of the so-called great and the good will say generalised things before you get to drink and talk to people who are more interesting than the panel.”

Finally, she suggests, many organizations are just too cowardly to say what they mean anyway. Writing this reticence down just makes it worse, and the beigeness of the end results waste everyone else’s time. So ditch the report, she begs, unless you are certain you’re saying something we can’t live without.—Ruth McCambridge

  • Robert Meiksins

    Does the moratorium apply to the reports donors require nonprofits submit? Some reports are required after expending a $2,000 grant!

  • Who Cares

    Reports document the activities of the organization and provide valuable public disclosure regardless if no one ever reads them- I’m at a loss for words here…