Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dashboards Aren't Just for Cars

Anyone heard of dashboards? No, not the ones in your car or SUV, but the one used by businesses to help in reporting and quality control. More and more, nonprofit organizations are also realizing the potential of using simple dashboards to keep an eye on programs, control expenses and report back to constituents.
So what is a dashboard really? Consider a car's dashboard. As you are driving, a quick glimpse at the dashboard reveals key information about your speed, the fuel level and a lot more. Similarly, a business dashboard collects critical information about the organization relating to factors that drive costs, expenses, profits, sales, and the like. The results are typically in the form of charts and graphs that are easy to comprehend at one glance.

More and more, nonprofit leaders are realizing the value of dashboard reporting. It is easy to implement - you can use Excel to create charts, or buy fancy software if resources are available. Regardless of what program is used, the data behind it is relatively easy to collect because various employees within the agency may already be doing so for their teams or departments. For nonprofits, as for their corporate counterparts, dashboards can be of two types:
  1. Snapshots give information about how the various factors (clients served, salaries paid, government grants received, test scores, etc. etc.) are performing at a given point in time.
  2. Trends show how the factors are moving - thereby understanding improvements or declines in almost every part of the organization.
The list of those who can benefit from dashboards is endless. Board members can better appreciate the operations of an organization and devise strategies based on the data. Executive directors can monitor a vast array of indicators including revenues, expenses, and much more. Program directors can have quick and ready information about each aspect of each program, including outcomes. Dashboards can be used for fundraising in a number of ways as well. In my next article I will explain the value of dashboards to the grants department.

Look for these excellent articles and samples of dashboards:
  1. Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN)'s article explaining how to create a dashboard as well as an a comprehensive example.
  2. Indianapolis Museum of Art's online dashboard.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's e-Health Metrics
  4. Blue Avocado's new take on dashboards in this comprehensive article.
  5. Board Source's book on dashboard techniques including a downloadable sample on their website.
Happy dashboarding!

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