Amanda Lane, Tax Manager at TD&T CPAs and Advisors, P.C., provides an overview of creating dashboards. Amanda serves social service organizations, colleges and universities, membership organizations and many others throughout Iowa.

Where to start?

When meeting with clients and prospects, the topic of dashboards comes up quite frequently. Dashboards tend to be the new buzzwords for some organizations, but in others, dashboards have been implemented and utilized as a tool for the board and management team for many years. If you’re new to the world of dashboards, don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be a big scary project to undertake. A great place to start is to think about who the users of the dashboard will be. In our example, we’ll assume we are preparing a dashboard for a monthly board meeting. As we think about our board, consider the following questions:

• What types of questions does the board ask on a normal monthly basis?
• What questions should the board be asking that they aren’t yet?
• What key financial and program statistics do we measure on an on-going basis?
• What trends are most important that we monitor for the organization?
• Are their key performance measures we need to be looking at more closely?

We’ll want to utilize the answers to these questions as a foundation to develop our dashboard. Sometimes determining what to track is the most difficult part of the process.

Creating the dashboard

Now that we have a baseline of ideas the board might be looking for, its time to put it into a useable format. Dashboards can be very elaborate, utilizing macros and pivot tables in Excel or other software, but they can also be a very simplistic visual description of what board members might need to be aware of to better manage and understand the operations of the organization. Below is what a sample dashboard might look like:

As you can see, the above sample details program statistics that the board is interested in, tracking on both a monthly basis, year-to-date, and prior year-to-date. The financial information not only highlights where the organization is tracking with budget to actual, but also highlights a few key pieces of information to help the board understand what happened during the month. I have found that providing the dashboard in conjunction with the monthly board financial information can be very effective in enhancing the board’s engagement. Also highlighted in this example is a trend analysis of the organization’s cash balance and how it was tracking against the same period last year. The most successful dashboards include the elements the users find valuable and their continued feedback will allow you to modify the dashboard to best meet their needs.

In conclusion, begin by identifying who will use the dashboard and what information they might be interested in. Consider adding both financial and nonfinancial information to the report to focus on capturing an overall picture of the organization. Finally, don’t be afraid to customize the dashboard to continue to meet the needs of the users .

TD&T CPAs and Advisors is a public accounting firm specializing in helping nonprofit organizations navigate both challenges and opportunities. We work with over 350 organizations throughout Iowa and Illinois providing assurance and tax services, as well as best practices consulting. Feel free to contact us with any questions you may have, we’re always happy to help!