Wednesday, February 5, 2020

LESSON 5 – Dashboards Are Not a Secret Sauce for Sound Governance

Welcome to More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom Blog, a 40-week journey through the new book, More Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson. Each Wednesday, we're featuring a guest writer’s favorite snippet from the week's topic. Reid Lehman is our guest blogger this week for the first of four lessons in "Part 2: Boardroom Tools and Templates.”

LESSON 5 OF 40 - Dashboards Are Not a Secret Sauce for Sound Governance
Too often the use of dashboards does not clearly communicate the past and give signals for the future.

THE BIG IDEA FROM THE BOOK: In Lesson 5, the authors note the importance of a simple, easy-to-understand tool to help the board understand where the ministry is compared to where it should be. First determine Key Performance Indicators for your ministry and how to measure them. Then provide the board with regular data along with context as to what it means, both for those key performance indicators and for the health of the ministry.   

Less is more. The more information you give the board, the less likely the board will be to understand what information is most important. 

MY FAVORITE INSIGHTS from Lesson 5, pages 28-34:
• “…a failure to make a conscious decision about what it is we’re going to measure often causes discombobulation and a lack of effectiveness and a lack of achievement.” (Max De Pree)
• “Data requires simplification…and becomes information only when it is shared in context.”
• “Without an effective dashboard, a ministry lacks a fast way to check on the basics so you can spend less time on where you have been and more time on where you are going.”  

Why do we bury our boards in so much information? Carver’s Policy Governance™ template specifies that the CEO is not to “present information in an unnecessarily complex or lengthy form.” A recent monthly board packet for a large ministry contained 28 pages—including 10 pages of financial data and 14 pages of program data. There was little context and no indication of what was most important. And, sadly, the agenda contained no important decisions.  

Sharing a lot of information:
Helps the CEO show the board how smart or gifted he/she is.
Convinces the board of ministry complexity and may cause them to doubt their ability to lead.
Is sometimes a way to bury bad news we hope board members won’t notice.
Wastes the board’s time and keeps them from focusing on the few “most-important” things they should be paying attention to. Thus, they squander time on the minutiae of the past instead of focusing on future direction.  

Of the seven dashboard questions suggested by the authors, I’d like to highlight two:
#5. Are we providing the proper level of context? Board members want to focus on what’s most important. Helping them understand key indicators in context helps them to do so. 

#7. Are we using the best dashboard presentation approach for our ministry? If you don’t know how to graphically represent the data best, default to a simple approach with clear indications for whether board action, caution, or celebration may be needed. And remember the title of this lesson. A dashboard doesn’t mean the board governs well, but it does minimize detail so the board can use its time on things that matter.    


Until January 1st, REID LEHMAN was CEO of Miracle Hill Ministries, the largest provider of homeless shelter services in the Carolinas. More than 650 men, women, and children are housed nightly in Miracle Hill’s nine shelters.  

A Policy Governance™ Professional board consultant, Reid has provided board training and facilitation since 1992. He assists Citygate Network by training the boards of rescue missions across the country. Reid and Barbara live in Greenville, S.C. near their five grandchildren.  

• Has the board identified its 3-4 key performance indicators (KPI’s) for the ministry? If not, let’s get it on the agenda soon.
• Make sure the board sees its KPI’s at each board meeting, with an understanding of whether the current data is within safe boundaries.
• Visit the ECFA Knowledge Center and read and share the short chapter, “Lesson 5: Dashboards Are Not a Secret Sauce for Sound Governance.”

On Feb. 12, 2020, watch for the commentary by Andy Bales on Lesson 6, “Enhance Harmony by Clarifying Your Participant-Hat Expectations. Understand the three board hats: Governance, Volunteer, and Participant.”

BULK ORDERS: Click here. For more resources and to download the book's Table of Contents, visit the book's webpage.

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