• Janice Taylor

Dashboards for Not-for-Profits

Updated: Feb 1

Jae Wilson from Onyx Reporting and myself recently provided a free webinar on tips and tricks in creating charts for Excel Dashboards. We have known each other for many years through our work in providing training and consulting services on Jet products. (I ran the operations in Canada whilst Jae was part of the USA services team. Jae trained a lot of my customers.)


We both have the same observation that while we may have been great at showing customers how to extract their data into Excel, the opportunity missed was in not showing them how to do more than standard reporting with their data.


Our goal with this webinar wasn’t to show what a great dashboard looked like but rather to offer some tips on how to manipulate charts and interactive slicers and, more importantly, to get people to think about better ways to convey data in a more meaningful way. It was a little of this and a little of that because one hour just will not do justice to the conversation. We want to keep building on this conversation. Our hope is in showing possibilities, our customers will really get a lot more out of their investment in Jet.



After the webinar, Jae and I had a great discussion about what we could provide in the next webinar. We have way too many ideas!


I commented I was concerned about the not-for-profit attendees because we always tend to present sales data as that’s what we have to work with in our demo database and that usually just shuts down this audience. And the problem with presenting to not-for-profits is the reporting needs can be vastly different.


I know a bit about not-for-profits. I worked in a college for 13 years providing financial reports to management and the Board. In delivering a presentation it was a delicate balance between telling the Board what they needed to know to fulfill their governance responsibility versus providing too much detail and starting the wrong discussion on data that just wasn’t that important.


More recently, I volunteered as a treasurer for a large Canadian not-for-profit where my role was to provide financial insight to the large governance Board. In my first meeting with the CFO, he handed me a 69-page financial report with detailed reporting on each program and department. He called it ‘The Monster’. This was what my predecessors distributed to the Board. Whoa! What was I supposed to do with that? That was getting into ‘the kitchen’ and I could see from previous minutes that the important points were getting lost in details.


In this organization, the funders never provided 100% of the required funding and expected the organization to make up the difference through fundraisers, donations and sales of merchandise related to the community they served. We called it ‘The Gap.’ It was large and it was challenging. The other glaring issue was the growing Operating deficit due to the widening gap and other factors. We needed this to be the focus of the financial discussion with the Board.


We discontinued the monster report and the CFO significantly pared down the reporting to just global numbers. I created a dashboard with the primary graphic being The Gap and the supporting data were the numbers that gave the status of where we were at with achieving the targets for those activities that would close that gap.


We also looked at the Operating Deficit and reported on how long it would before we were out of money and would have to dip into Board reserves or sell assets.


With that change in Board reporting to a concise dashboard, the Board suddenly understood the magnitude of the problem and, gosh, they took action. Within a few short years and under new leadership, the organization has a healthy Operating fund and a solid future.


Conclusion: Dashboards definitely have their place in not-for-profits. A Board dashboard needs to be very succinct to what really matters and easy to understand at a glance. Operating dashboards for the management team also have an important part to play as well.




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