By Robert Boarman and Joanna Nixon
It is not uncommon today to see many nonprofit leaders using colorfully crafted shapes and renderings of automobile gauges to monitor and detect changes in their organizations’ fundraising or service performance. Commonly referred to as “performance dashboards,” these visual tools can be much more than colorful charts; dashboards can help an organization communicate and monitor organizational health and effectiveness.
Given the demands of a complex, fast-paced and hyper-connected world, effective leaders need more than just their interpersonal skills and management experience to pilot an organization in the right direction. Many organization leaders are having success with visual dashboards that that augment their ability to communicate clearly and concisely relevant strategies and program objectives to staff, volunteers, and key stakeholders. Dashboards can be helpful for individuals to visualize complex data and trends quickly so they can assess progress and make business decisions based on historical performance or indicators. Wayne Eckerson, Director of Research at the Data Warehousing Institute, believes performance dashboards serve this information need. He explains that performance dashboards have three core functions, which allow leaders to:
- Monitor critical business processes and activities using metrics of business performance that trigger alerts when potential problems arise.
- Analyze the root cause of problems by exploring relevant and timely information from multiple perspectives and at various levels of detail.
- Manage people and processes to improve decisions, optimize performance and steer the organization in the right direction.
Beyond Erickson’s “core functions,” performance dashboards serve another vital function to leaders of social organizations, namely “transparency.” The issue of transparency within public and nonprofit organizations is critical. Donors expect results. Without a clear picture of an organization’s activities, it often becomes more difficult to develop trusting, long-term relationships. One particular organization that has been an advocate of organizational transparency is the Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA). In an interview
with Rob Stein, the IMA’s Chief Information Officer, Rob addresses the issue of transparency and how the use of ‘live’ metrics help the IMA guide staff, inform the public and increase access to the organization. To view the IMA’s visual dashboards, click here
Achieve also uses dashboards as a tool for its clients to visually show fundraising progress and hold staff and organization boards accountable so they can reach their fundraising goals. The dashboards have been effective in helping organizations monitor progress, celebrate fundraising success and develop short and long term fundraising strategies.
2010 Campaign Dashboard Short Term Financial Plan Dashboard
Despite the usefulness of dashboards, many organizations struggle which metrics to choose and which aspects of their work to include or omit. While this can be overwhelming, start small and begin by using dashboards to visually display performance data that is frequently requested by boards, management or donors. Experiment with what data drives decision-making or measures performance progress. Once you begin displaying information in a visually compelling way, you will begin to see patterns and trends which will enable to you assess the success of your organization or program effectiveness.
 Eckerson, W. Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business. John Wiley & Sons. 2005.