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Webinar Follow-up: How a Performance Dashboard Can Engage and Inform Your Board: One Nonprofit’s Story


The Q&A below is a follow up to address many of the friedman-llp-logo.pngquestions raised by participants at the April 5th webinar presented by Friedman LLP Accountants and Advisors. Don't miss out: view the recording of the event and slides from the event.

Q: ­How do you handle Board turnover and individual perspectives on which data points they want to see and how they visually want to view the dashboard report? We spent so much time creating the Board's ideal report and a new person would throw a wrench in it.­

A:  As a general rule, the dashboard and the dashboard process belongs to the organization – senior management and board – and, where applicable, its stakeholders.  Not necessarily to any one individual or stakeholder group.  That’s not to say the dashboard process is not open to new ideas and perspectives at any given time.  As mentioned in our presentation, the richness and diversity of perspectives, skill sets and experiences is essential to developing meaningful, impactful and successful dashboard. But we, as a board and senior management team, realize that this can only be achieved through a disciplined framework or process.

As described in the presentation, the BBBS-NJ board’s executive committee commissioned a project team to develop a draft dashboard to present to the full board for review and approval.  We have been up and running with version 1.0 of our dashboard for just about one year.  Our process requires that we re-visit the dashboard at the end of year two (2017); sooner, as needs require. 

If, in the interim two-year period, senior management or the board identify an opportunity to improve reporting, it would be given due consideration per the established framework – e.g., alignment with mission, current availability of supporting data, cost vs. benefit of capturing and reporting the additional data, etc.  Any update to the dashboard would be subject to board approval.  As mentioned, we will be turning our attention to assessing the practicality and organizational “readiness” of expanding our 2017 dashboard reporting to include outcome measures. 

Q: ­How would you recommend persuading a reluctant board that moving to a dashboard reporting model is a valuable undertaking?­

A:  This can be a tough undertaking if the board is reluctant to move to a dashboard reporting.  Ultimately, the choice is theirs to make.  As staff, the best we can do is provide the board with the best available information, in keeping with their oversight and governance responsibilities.

A few suggestions to consider:

  1. Is there a potential dashboard “champion” on the board that you can work with to encourage the other members of the board to consider or re-consider implementing a performance dashboard? Perhaps, a fellow board member can get some traction on the issue, or, at least, provide you with an opportunity to make a case for the dashboard.
  2. Nonprofits are typically very generous with sharing their experiences with fellow organizations. Consider reaching out those agencies that you have developed relationships with that are known to have implemented dashboard reporting.  Inquire if they had similar experiences, and what they did to overcome them.  Ask if their board or senior management would agree to discuss their experience with your board or board chair.
  3. With respect to making the case for the dashboard, consider interviewing your board chair and selected board members regarding their views on the kinds of performance information they currently receive and the way in which they receive it as it relates to:
    1. Adherence to mission and values
    2. Performance against strategic goals and objectives – operational, programs, compliance and financial
    3. Enabling the board to carry out its “duties” of care, loyalty and obedience, and fiduciary responsibilities
    4. The needs of the full board versus those of the board committees

Q: ­How often do you recommend sharing the dashboard with your board?­

A:  As frequently as the full board meets; but no less than quarterly.  If the board meets less than quarterly, consider mailing/emailing a dashboard out to them for review.

Q: ­Good sources for dashboard info presentation ideas, as well as easy instructions to create in Excel­?

A:  I recommend purchasing the “The Nonprofit Dashboard: Using Metrics to Drive Mission” by Lawrence Butler.  It’s available on the BoardSource online Learning Center & Store for $52 (non-members) and $35 (members).  Besides helping you design your dashboard, you’ll also have access to an Excel template that includes a number of the basic charts and graphs.

Q: ­ There are so many opportunities and data points to measure and report.  how do you suggest the prioritization?­

A:  Work with your organization’s board and senior management team to identify the measures and metrics that best represent organizational performance, financial health, mission and program effectiveness. In the short-term, also consider if there are any data availability or data collection shortfalls or short-comings that need to be addressed.

Q: ­Since board members will have different outlooks and learning styles, how do you choose a presentation style that will work for all?­

A:  Recognizing that your board members bring a richness or diversity of opinions, outlooks and learning styles to the table actually provides you with a very powerful advantage.  Look to channel this diversity to creating the best possible dashboard. 

Involve each board member in the process, or at least, a broad cross-section of the board.  Solicit their input as to what’s important to measure and report on, and how they would like to see the information reported. Then draft the best possible dashboard for board approval. One of our key lessons learned was to “Keep it simple and visual” to maximize impact efficiency.  This presentation style typically has the broadest range of appeal.

For sure, there will be some compromises.  But the board will ultimately need to reach a consensus on what its needs are that best represent organizational performance, financial health, mission and program effectiveness.     

Q: ­Is it important for the dashboard to be limited to one page?­

A:  No.  The dashboard should provide the board with the information that it believes necessary to carry out its oversight and governance responsibilities.  The BBBS-NJ dashboard is 5 pages in length.   

Q: ­How would you separate "mission" from "outcomes-oriented" goals? We are facing a downturn in admission and I have an outcomes-oriented board. We do not currently have a dashboard.­

A:  Mission-oriented measures look at the tasks performed in keeping with the mission – e.g., manage finances responsibly and efficiently, mentor children, comply with internal policies and regulatory compliance requirements, etc.  The BBBS-NJ dashboard presents our organizations mission-specific measures. 

A way to look at outcomes-oriented goals is to ask the question, “What would be the product or end result if we successfully performed these tasks?”  For us, we would hope to see that, as a result of our  mentoring programs, our “Littles” were more likely to do better in school than their peers,  be more likely to avoid risk behaviors, etc. At BBBS-NJ, we will be considering outcomes-oriented reporting as part of our planned dashboard review/refresh initiative in 2017. 

Q: ­What about organizations that don't have members or have a revenue budget income.­

A:  Any organization that has a mission; a budget; a set of individuals, communities or groups who benefit from the services provided; and/or other stakeholders can benefit from implementing a performance dashboard.

Q: ­How do your Board members actually view your dashboard - in printed materials distributed once a month? online 24/7? or?­

A:  The BBBS-NJ board meets between 6-7 times a year.  The dashboard comprises part of the board package that is emailed out in advance of the upcoming board session.  Along with the meeting agenda, prior meeting minutes, CEO’s report, detailed profit & loss statement, etc.  Hard copy is also provided at the board meeting.  Our CEO, VP’s of Development and Programs, and Director of Finance step the board through their respective sections of the dashboard and address any questions that arise.

Q: ­You may have discussed this a bit but what were the largest barriers/challenges you encountered during this process? Were there any data points you decided it was too difficult to track?­

A:  We cautioned against trying to do too much, too soon with the dashboard reporting.  To leverage the data that’s readily available, and consider focusing on mission critical activities and measures of financial health to start.  Once the baseline reporting has been established, then consider exploring “outcomes-oriented” performance reporting. 

At BBBS-NJ, we will be considering outcomes-oriented reporting as part of our planned dashboard review/refresh initiative in 2017.  The two-year mark from the dashboard’s initial release.  For us, outcomes-oriented reporting will pose certain challenges, as much of the data resides outside of our routine data collection processes and systems. For example, some of the expected outcomes we’re considering measuring are improved academic performance and avoidance of risky behavior (e.g., substance abuse).  As a result, we will need to identify alternate method and systems for collecting and analyzing the necessary data; and assess the cost-benefit of implementing them.

Q: ­Do dashboards aggravate tendencies to micromanage?­

A:  One of our key learning was “Keep it simple and visual.”  Engage the board in the process and consider all points of view when designing the dashboard.  Focus on mission-critical activities and key measures of financial health. When presenting dashboard results, keep the discussion crisp and to the point; try to pre-empt as many questions as possible. 

Our board agenda devotes 10-15 minutes to run through the dashboard and address any immediate questions that may arise.  If additional discussion is required on a particular matter, the appropriate parties will speak off-line and communicate the outcome to the larger group.  If a more significant matter were to arise, either the board’s executive committee, one of its standing sub-committees, or a task force will work with the management team to investigate the matter and report findings back to the full board.

If you have additional questions or would like assistance creating a performance dashboard for your organization, please contact Amish Mehta at amehta@friedmanllp.com or Peter Manzetti at pmanzetti@friedmanllp.com.

Topics: Finance Board Development Performance Dashboard