Nonprofits: Consider Using Dashboards for Better Reporting

  • Innovation and disruption
  • 2/10/2023
Businesswoman leading team meeting in coworking office

Key insights

  • Nonprofits that track data in real-time digital dashboards have an easier time communicating important information.
  • Dashboards allow nonprofits to visualize and simplify complex and large amounts of information.
  • Dashboards also help nonprofit executives and their boards to consistent agreement on metrics (both quantitative and qualitative) that matter.

Want to learn how dashboards could benefit your nonprofit?

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Nonprofit leaders are often pulled in 100 different directions. Donor and volunteer management, internal meetings, fundraising, finance, accounting, marketing — all before 10 a.m. Some days, it feels like just another job, and you have to remind yourself why you got into nonprofit work in the first place — to help people.

We see this often with our clients. Spread thin, trying to do more with less, running from one meeting to the next, all while trying — sometimes in vain — to get everything done within normal business hours. Does that sound familiar? If it does, you’re not alone.

However, many nonprofit leaders have an even larger concern looming in the back of their minds: keeping pace with unrelenting governance cycles.

Just like us, board members bring their attitudes, experiences, and backgrounds to their board service every day. And almost unanimously, we see nonprofit boards made up heavily of folks with private sector experience. With that comes many great benefits (fundraising connections, targeted high-level skillsets, different perspectives) but also some potential challenges. Namely, a private sector desire to track metrics and data. Our clients often find it challenging to communicate with their board members, who — with day jobs and busy lives themselves — are often hungry for clear, cogent measures of mission success.

While healthy, this tension often makes preparing for board meetings overwhelming. Nonprofit leadership and staff might spend hundreds of hours collecting relevant materials into an exhaustive board packet that, truth be told, few board members may read. One client told us how they spend multiple weeks leading up to a board meeting building the packet and collecting data, and it’s so disruptive it interferes with her day job. Then once one committee or board meeting is done, it’s on to the next.

At board meetings, it’s not unusual for board members to briefly skim the materials and then ask specific data-driven questions nonprofit leadership struggles to answer on the fly. Caught between too much and too little information, nonprofit leaders usually err on the side of volume and provide the boards with everything and anything they could ever imagine.

There must be a better way. In our experience, nonprofits that track data in real-time digital dashboards have an easier time communicating important information with their board members (and funders, clients, and more).

Dashboards allow nonprofits to:

  • Get consistent agreement on metrics (both quantitative and qualitative) that matter.
  • Structure and focus board discussion — both parties get familiar with “what success looks like.”
  • Visualize and simplify complex and large amounts of information.
  • Make everyone’s job easier. One of our digital principals used a dashboard to present at a board meeting. At the end, two of the senior board members excitedly came up to him and said, “This is the first board meeting we didn’t fall asleep in — well done!” While that may sound cliché, it may be your reality.
  • Create a top-down, bottom-up data-driven culture. Many nonprofits don’t know where to start with data. Multiple systems, innumerable KPIs they want to track, funding restrictions, etc. Starting with an executive or board dashboard sets the tone and can scale into a holistic digital transformation effort.

How we can help

Dashboards aren’t the right solution for everyone, but if you’ve been experiencing any of the aforementioned headaches, it might make sense to look at what dashboarding can do for your organization.

If any of the above resonates, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our nonprofit and digital teams. Also, be sure to tune in to our upcoming webinar on data-driven board reporting for nonprofits, where we’ll discuss board reporting and sparking your own organization’s digital transformation. Learn more and register here.

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