|A dashboard provides you with key
indicators of critical information, so you can make effective decisions
Many boards spend a huge portion of
their meetings reviewing reports. And when we ask what they are looking for in
all that information, frequently they do not know.
When you review the financials,
what is important to consider? When you review your program successes, what do
you want to know? What are the key indicators in all those reports?
car's dashboard, the gauges do not tell you the exact temperature of your
engine, nor the exact amount of voltage the alternator is sending to your
battery. You will not learn how many gallons of gas are in your
car's dashboard tells you whether the engine is hot or cold, whether the
battery is charging or not, and whether your gas tank is "almost full" or
"almost empty." It provides you with key indicators of critical information, so
you can make effective decisions quickly.
what your organization's dashboard will do. The key indicators your board wants
to consider every time they meet will be easily reviewed at a glance on your
How to Create Your Dashboard
There are two simple steps in creating your dashboard.
- Discuss what key indicators the
board feels are important to consider every month.
- Have those indicators provided as an
at-a-glance cover page to the reports the board already receives.
The indicators may be financial.
They may be program-related. They may monitor progress on certain key
The important first step is that
your board have the discussion. What is it important for us to know? What are
we concerned about? What information is so critical that we shouldn't have to
dig in the reports to find it?
When it comes to
reviewing the financials, some board members are more adept than others. But
all board members are concerned about the finances.
"When it comes to the finances of
the organization, what worries you? What indicators would you want to
member may not know what a debt/equity ratio is, but he/she will certainly
understand enough about debt to be able to say, "I am worried that we have so
much debt, and I am not sure if we have the wherewithal to cover that debt."
From there, a simple graphic can
show, "Here's how much debt we have, and here is how we are doing in paying
that down, compared to last year. And here is how much equity we have to
balance against that debt."
that simple chart, the financially savvy board members don't have to rummage
through the financials to figure out the debt/equity ratio. And the financially
unsophisticated board members can finally understand the organization's
situation regarding debt!
can be done for your mission and your programs. Again, ask, "What do we want to
know?" It may be numbers of people who have attended a particular performance,
compared with other performances that year, or compared with last year. It
could be advance ticket sales. It could be number of visiting artists this year
compared to last year. Or it could be anything that is important in measuring
raw data for the mission.
you are feeling particularly feisty, try asking those questions about your
vision for the community! How will you measure that success?)
a number of advantages to using a dashboard as the "Executive Summary" for your
- Effectiveness: Key indicators are
not buried in mountains of data, but easy to monitor.
- Quick: By saving time in digging
through reports for pertinent information, the board has more time to focus on
leading and guiding the organization's mission.
- Easy to Understand: The dashboard
is presented in a language (or visuals) that is familiar and understandable,
specifically answering what board members have said they want to know.
- Not "Instead Of," but "In Addition
To": Those who still want to examine the meat of the reports can do so. The
dashboard is a cover page, like an Executive Summary. For those who require
more detail, those details are still in the reports.
- Forcing the Discussion: One of the
biggest advantages to using a dashboard is the discussion that precedes the
development of that system (a discussion you may want to review each year, to
consider changes in what the board is monitoring). The discussion forces the
question, "Is this report really necessary at all? Do we really need to know
all this? Why do we receive all this information anyway?"
Most boards receive information the
staff thinks the board needs. Having board members discuss what information
they themselves need will be revealing. You may end up trashing some reports as
superfluous, and you may end up adding some reports you have never received
before. Unless you have discussed the question, "What information does the
board need, to be able to lead and guide the organization on behalf of the
community?" you cannot know if the information you are receiving is good or bad
for your needs. The alternative is unfortunately the way most boards operate -
reading the same reports, year after year, simply because "that's the way we do
One Final Word About Reviewing
The amount of time you spend reviewing what has already
happened - the past - is time spent talking about something you can do nothing
The past is gone.
present is a blip, quickly becoming the past.
The only thing about which
your board has any control is the future.
If your board wants to create
significant, visionary improvement in your community, you will begin focusing
your time and your attention on that future. You will use reports about the
past to assess the present, and to be proactive about the future. Any
discussion beyond that is wasting precious time that could be spent creating
the future of your community.
And that future is where the board's