If you think your nonprofit doesn’t need a dashboard, consider whether you would own a car without a dashboard.
Without all the gauges in your car’s dashboard, you would experience a lot of negative consequences:
- Getting pulled over for speeding nearly every week because you don’t know your own speed
- Running out of gas often (or filling up the tank every day)
- Checking your fluids and tires every time you fill up (because you’ll never know when the air is low or fluids have leaked)
- Getting stuck in a parking lot with a dead battery
- Destroying your transmission because you do not know if you’re in drive or overdrive
- Breaking down on the side of the road because you didn’t know the engine had an issue
- The hood or trunk flying open on the highway because it wasn’t fully closed
- Being unaware that your child unbuckled their seatbelt
- Having no clue that your airbags aren’t functioning
- Anxiety every time you drive because you have no idea what will go wrong this time
The average car dashboard today has more than 25 different gauges. And we unconsciously scan these gauges every minute. It’s an early alert system that has made driving safer and our cars more reliable.
Nonprofit dashboards play a similar role by supporting the chief executive in managing the organization and facilitating board governance. A good organizational dashboard is a one page document that a reader can easily scan to understand how each area of your organization is performing. This probably includes programs, finance, fundraising, board governance, and facilities.
There are four components to a great nonprofit dashboard, and they combine to form the acronym D-A-S-H:
- Data. The dashboard must contain measurable, quantitative data. Even qualitative measures, such as client satisfaction, can be quantified as average scores on a satisfaction survey.
- Accurate. Every number on the dashboard must be accurate, and any likely variation should be footnoted. If you need more than one or two notes about possible variation, the data isn’t accurate enough to present to a manager, board or funder.
- Simple. A first-time reader of the dashboard should be able to understand the information and identify current challenges in less than 5 minutes. The best dashboards are no more than one page. They also use a red-yellow-green color code to draw our attention to what is going well (green items) and what needs some attention (yellow and red items). But the dashboard should also be simple to produce. If a dashboard requires twenty hours to produce each month, it is unlikely that you will consistently create it.
- High-level information. While every data point might be important, not every data point has to be on the dashboard. As an example, if your dashboard a days of cash metric, do you really need to list the amounts in each bank account?
If you follow the D-A-S-H principle to create your nonprofit’s dashboard, you will have a tool that helps the chief executive manage the organization and the board to stay focused on high-level issues. Instead of spending precious board meeting time talking about all the items that are “green,” the board can allocate more of the meeting to those items at risk of not meeting goals (yellow and red).
You can download the nonprofit dashboard template excel file linked below. The file has three tabs with a sample dashboard for an organization without a facility, a dashboard for an organization with a building and a sample fundraising dashboard.
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You can also watch a Nonprofit Quarterly webinar on dashboards here:
Once you’ve successfully used an organization-wide dashboard for at least six months, the next evolution is for each member of your senior leadership team to create management dashboards for their departments. These would follow the same D-A-S-H principle but provide more detailed information on programs, finance, fundraising, and facilities. These dashboards might be shared with the staff leadership team, but likely wouldn’t be shared with the full board.
Why I’m Writing About This
As a strategic planning consultant, executive coach, and board development expert, I often help nonprofits create dashboards as part of an engagement. If you or your board want to include a dashboard in your next planning process or nonprofit board retreat, reach out to me!
Additionally, check out the following Successful Nonprofits® resources if this post was helpful:
Blog: Templates for Writing a Better Board Report
Podcast: Measuring Impact with Alan Mackie