You know your board of directors—the elected or appointed group of people who jointly oversee your nonprofit’s activities—is vital to your organization’s success. They quietly meet every so often and decide your nonprofit’s future in terms of finances, strategic direction, and sometimes even specific initiatives. And it’s your job to give them enough information to understand just how hard your team is working, what you’ve achieved, and what you have planned, without overwhelming them or getting them too far into the weeds. No small task!
Board meetings are often a source of stress for nonprofit staff. Even if your staff and board members have a great working relationship, you work hard to prove value and progress during board meetings. One of the most concrete deliverables for a board meeting is the board report, a set of documents updating the board on the nonprofit’s progress.
Each quarter, I manage the board report preparation process for GuideStar. Each department writes their own section, and then I edit before sending it to our leadership for final review. In my year of running this process, I’ve learned a couple of important lessons on creating a good board report.
1. Skip “No Update” sections
Sometimes, projects don’t move. You may have reported an update in Q1, but your department had other projects, and there was no major change to progress in Q2. If that is the case, skip the section. Do not fill your board report with fluff. Board members want updates on changes, and can always ask specific questions if they want to know more.
2. Keep strict page limits
Most board members do not want to read hundreds of pages of updates. Yet, each department wants to provide proof of their value and progress, and tend to write long sections. It is important that the curator of the board report (in GuideStar’s case, me) set strict limitations on board report length. It may cause some tension to cut down section size, but ultimately, it’s to the benefit of your organization.
3. Recheck your content and flow between sections
If your board report is authored by many people, it is important to merge the styles, formatting, and content between sections. Do you say $5 in one section and 6 dollars in another? Do you call your organization by one name at the beginning of the book and the acronym at the end? And most importantly – do your numbers add up? Often times, finance will use a rounded number while a department will identify a specific dollar amount. This is fine for accounting purposes, but looks sloppy in a board document. Make sure your sections flow together into one cohesive board report.
4. Personalize it
Pictures can add color, personality, and value to your board report. Include pictures of your staff in action or pictures of your latest brainstorming session. Let the board see your staff for who they are – dynamic, creative people working at a great organization.
5. Ask the board what they want to know
Take time each year to understand what the board wants. Are the board reports too long? Do they come in early enough? Do they want to learn something else? You can do this in many ways – particularly an annual board assessment or year-end conversation.
How do you write your board reports? Any tips for making them better?
Anisha Singh is a strategy analyst at GuideStar. She splits her time between the Strategy Team, Finance Team, and Office of the President/CEO. Anisha is a graduate from Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in International Studies and Economics. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, finding the best restaurants in town, and annoying her brother with her philanthropy chatter. You can reach Anisha at email@example.com.