Drowning in Data? Create a Dashboard

Are your board members or staff bogged down by lengthy financial statements and programmatic reports, causing them to miss overarching trends and key success metrics? Need a way to more quickly and easily interpret your organization’s data? Much like the dashboard in your car, an organizational dashboard can take a series of data points that measure your association’s health and present a high-level analysis of whether the organization and its activities are
on track.

For associations, dashboards are often used to evaluate and communicate financial data, the progression of strategic goals, membership, products, and events. To help you bring the power of a dashboard to your organization, we’ll walk through the steps to create and implement a dashboard of your own.


You’ve bought into the concept of a dashboard and want your organization to implement one to measure your progress towards your strategic plan. Now what? At this stage, it’s critical to get buy-in and build a shared understanding of how you will utilize the dashboard. We’ve found some initial questions are useful to engage in a robust conversation with organization leaders:

  • Who is the audience of this dashboard?
  • What matters to the association in this moment?
  • What are the targets that demonstrate that the association had success? What intermediate targets show progress toward your ultimate goal?
  • When do we have to act to ensure we meet our targets and accomplish
    our goals?


As you build your dashboard, use your strategic plan, budget, plan of work and committee charges for context into the metrics that you choose. Depending on the audience for your dashboard, you can consider metrics on any of the following types of data:

Financial – While a dashboard won’t replace financial reports, it can convey key indicators of the financial health of the association and may help increase the financial literacy of your staff and board.

Progress Toward Objectives – Every association has unique objectives aligned with their mission. Use a dashboard to monitor key milestones, demonstrate outcomes, and keep your strategic plan top of mind for your staff and board. We recommend thinking beyond just numbers by identifying measures of quality and/or impact on your membership.

Human Capital – People are critical to any organization’s success, so consider including a snapshot of your staff and/or volunteer metrics. Some examples include staff retention and development, performance, time management, or volunteer hours.

Compliance & Risk Management – Administrative and fiduciary tasks are often less visible or less desired conversation topics but are certainly needed to maintain a successful association. A dashboard may include information related to tax/audit forms, insurance payments, or business plans. The inclusion of compliance or risk management indicators is a good way to begin discussions on these less visible topic areas.

Board of Directors & Governance – Monitoring board performance on a dashboard can facilitate ongoing evaluation and makes this process less personal. These indicators can connect board performance to organizational performance and help to inform the staff and board of the board’s role.

Membership & Revenue Generation – As an association, member services are a central priority for board and staff. The dashboard can give information to assess the ROI for different revenue strategies that support these services, providing an indication of the health of the overall business model.


Once your dashboard is in place, track and review the information in regular intervals. Consider using colors to show when metrics are on track (green), needing attention (yellow), or off track (red). Be ready to take corrective action if your metrics indicate that a program or project is off track.


After tracking has started, you can then leverage the outcomes of the tool to monitor your association’s implementation of strategies and organizational health. Each association is different, so there are many ways to use, publicize, and communicate with your dashboard.

Make the Case – Send clear, consistent messages about why you are doing this work and the results of your team’s efforts.

Refine Internal Structures – As the leadership team review and update the dashboard in an ongoing manner, don’t be afraid to use your data’s outcomes to start discussions around changes activities and structure for the association.

Create Feedback Loops – Organizations should engage in strategy formation more than once every three years; the dashboard is a powerful tool to involve in your association’s strategic review.

We’re fortunate to live in a time where information abounds. Much like dashboards in our car that convey specific information, the organizational dashboard serves as a shortcut for an association’s stakeholders to understand not only where the organization wants to go, but also how it’s making it there. The consolidating effect of a dashboard can help break down silos and empower all to lead and contribute to the association’s long-term sustainability.

Author Steve Strang is a senior consultant, practice director at Spectrum Nonprofit Services, where he provides consulting and training in sustainability strategies for community-based organization. He works with organizations to understand and measure their impact, define the market in which they work, and shape their business models to accomplish strategic goals. He can be reached at [email protected]. Chris Fink is an associate at Spectrum Nonprofit Services.
Photo credit: Wright Studio/Shutterstock.com

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