Show Me Your Nonprofit Dashboard! | Beth's Blog

Show Me Your Nonprofit Dashboard!


Flickr Photo by See No Evil

Note from Beth: Show Me Your Dashboard!  Imagine that I’m dancing around singing that phrase.    I’m looking for good examples (and stories) about nonprofit dashboards, especially ones that support social media decision-making.   Tell me about your dashboard in the comments – and if you’re willing to take a screen capture or two, your organization’s dashboard could be featured on this blog!

Nonprofit Dashboards, Guest Post by Jacob Smith

A dashboard can be your nonprofit’s trusted adviser.  Why?   Think about a driver who is speeding on a highway and suddenly spots a policeman lurking behind the next with corner with a radar gun.   That driver (if they’re lucky) might be able to slow down enough to avoid a speeding ticket.  Dashboards provide measures to help you make better decisions.

They are also useful for nonprofits.   A  staffer can quickly glance at the gauges and clearly understand the real-time status of key systems and indicators across the organization.    The understanding won’t be deep – they may need to look at past trends to fully understand anything they are seeing on the dashboard – but they can very quickly get a sense of how well the organization is functioning and if any problems are emerging.  In short, they can make decisions that improve results.

Dashboards have the following characteristics:

They are dynamic. They display information that is changing on a regular basis.

They rely heavily on gauges or other data visualization displays to convey information in readily understandable formats.

They allow for quick status assessments, although they may enable deeper inquiry

Even with these criteria, however, the dashboard concept is used to describe a diverse range of data collection, each distinct in function and design from the next. As the dashboard concept takes great hold among nonprofits,  there are   five distinct types of dashboards:

1) Business Intelligence Dashboards
These display detailed information about a particular area of an organization’s operations. Many customer relationship management systems, for example, like Salesforce and Raiser’s Edge, include dashboards to make it easier for the development staff to track fundraising activities, donations, and other performance measures. Fundraising and advocacy management tools like Convio use dashboards to display campaign status. Google Analytics, with its robust dashboard system displaying key web site metrics, is another example.  These dashboards help specialized staff keep a close watch on what’s happening within their organizational purview. These dashboards are typically inward facing, so that only staff and perhaps board members can view them, but they can be outward facing as well. The Indianapolis Museum of Art’s dashboard is an oft-cited example. (Note from Beth: Check out this case study about The Indianapolis Museum of Art’s Dashboard)

2) Status Dashboards
Organizational status dashboards, like the one the software company Panic described on their blog, are another variant. In contrast to technical dashboards, which tend to focus on a single functional area within an organization, status dashboards display less information from a wider range of functional areas across an organization. A status dashboard is the answer to the question: what is the critical information everyone in the organization should be able to view all the time? Rather than probing deeply into any one area of an organization’s operations, they offer a broader overview of value to everyone.

3) Accountability Dashboards
Increasingly, we are seeing dashboards used in external accountability contexts: a nonprofit or local government that wants to share its real-time performance data with its donors and its community. The Town of Oro Valley in Arizona maintains a financial dashboard displaying the town’s financial performance compared to past trends. It’s not a great example in that it is only updated monthly, and not in real-time, but it’s at least in the ballpark. Over at PlaceMatters (where I spend part of my week), we’ve been doing a lot of work on sustainability dashboards, web-based tools that openly share a community’s performance against its sustainability goals. Incidentally, we described the Indianapolis Museum of Art dashboard as a Technical Dashboard because of its depth, but it really serves as an Accountability Dashboard as well.

4) Tracking Dashboards
These can be inward or outward facing, and typically show visualizations of unfolding data streams in real-time. These aren’t organizational in nature but, rather, are tracking events that are taking place outside the organization. The data stream may have implications for an organization, but it isn’t specific to that organization. Al Jazeera’s “Region in Turmoil” dashboard shows the volume of Twitter traffic by country in the Middle East as a proxy for the level of political activity.

5) Scenario Comparison Dashboards
These are typically designed to compare likely outcomes of a range of future scenarios across a range of key metrics. For instance, MetroQuest uses dashboards to compare multiple regional development scenarios across factors. CommunityViz, a GIS-based data visualization and decision support tool, allows user to analyze the environmental and other community outcomes from a range of land use scenarios, and it uses dashboards to display those outcomes across a range of factors.

We shouldn’t entirely neglect the category of “Displays That Are Called Dashboards But Aren’t.” It probably isn’t useful to use ‘dashboard’ to refer to web pages full of relatively static narrative information, for example. One example is the recycling portion of the Emory University Sustainability Dashboard.

What are the terrific examples of different types of nonprofit dashboards?

Jacob Smith has worked for, worked with, and run nonprofits for the past fifteen years. He is now the director of the nascent PlaceMatters Institute at the Denver-based nonprofit Placematters. Jacob also serves as the mayor of Golden, Colorado.

15 Responses

  1. Alan Eager says:


    I’m one of the implementation consultants at Blackbaud specializing in Business Intelligence and have delivered many different dashboards and scorecards over the years. One in particular tends to get the heart racing is one that was requested by 2 major Children’s Hospitals for a “Solicitor Dashboard”. This shows a 360 degree view of the Solicitor/Fundraiser in terms of his/her portfolio of prospects, activity, financial performance and solicitation performance. I can forward you the screenshot of this. we have developed this in Excel and SQL Reporting Services. The link above is just our stock reports for our Performance Management solution for the Raiser’s Edge.

  2. W.E. Lutz says:

    Interesting subject matter – and one that increasingly is becoming more relevant, especially in today’s tight fiscal market – is the concept of a dashboard; you’d think more entities would apply such a system, but this is not always the case.

    Accountability and transparency are key factors in any given entity; with today’s limited funding and growing human needs in a variety of social and market sectors, electronic dashboards offer the means by which funding agencies can best insure the greatest return for their time and investment. Dash boards, in turn, allow funding agencies to better focus upon their core mission, delivering greater results empowering those receiving funding to achieve greater impact while offering the tools and support to position themselves for additional future funding support.

    Our entity, Task Strategic Alliances, LLC, offers an electronic dashboard (known as “TASK”) based upon our work with a for profit head-start program. TASK employs a trademarked and licensed training and automated support system, specific in the areas of Assessments, Accountabilities, Transparency and Strategic Organizational Culture, enhancing compliance in all disciplines of corporate structure and service delivery, ensuring accountability to the entities from which they receive funding.

    TASK works effectively with a high level of academic contexts, including reliable independence and understanding in critical dialogs and, proposal and contract evaluation, and programmatic management, managing a combination of the following four integrated training systems, strategically designed to ensure optimum operational capacity and organizational competency:

    1) Accounting by Information (ABI)
    2) Accounting by Outcome (ABO)
    3) Strategic Organizational Culture (SOC)
    4) Legal, Tax and Financial Stability (LTFS)

    Accounting by Information (ABI)

    The ABI system is an ongoing real-time self-assessment tool assisting organizations in tracking and assessing all aspects of their internal operations. The ABI system provides a means of real-time discovery, providing a snapshot essential for well informed decision making. The ABI module compiles and monitors while providing information for ready review to ensure accountability and transparency, while enabling authorized remote access for on the spot review.

    Accounting by Outcome (ABO)

    The ABO module is an ongoing self-assessment tool assessing an entities’ goals and objectives in real-time. The ABO module compiles and calculates the daily operations of the organization’s effectiveness in the areas of fiscal management, compliance, delivery and overall reputation.
    Both the ABI and ABO modules are integrated into and managed by a state-of-the-art automated system. The ABO module is also designed to compile and calculate daily operations and also monitors and provides information for review, enforcing accountability and transparency, enabling management to determine if expected goals are either met or exceeded. Both the ABI and ABO modules also enable authorized remote access for on the spot review.

    Strategic Organizational Culture (SOC)

    SOC is a client customized training module focusing on the strategy and the culture of any given organization, reviewing potential issues impacting the organization’s productivity and effectiveness. TASK focuses on internal human relations (for all levels of personnel), organizational infrastructure, customer/client service and public relations. SOC training is designed to ensure smooth and effective organizational information flow as well as individual and collective personnel accountability while enhancing operational activity.

    Legal, Tax and Financial Stability (LTFS)
    It is a vital – but often overlooked facet of effective non-profit management – to insure legal compliance with regard to personnel regulations, organizational activities and adherence to federal or state regulations.

    It’s been our experience that mission critical information and documentation are often overlooked or stored in ways that are not readily conducive to effective management. Time and staff resources can be needlessly spent upon research and/or seeking out vital information stored in a manner difficult to reach. In other instances, financial records can be lacking in scope or simply are not maintained for ready auditing or effective managerial controls.

    Another aspect of management via an effective dashboard system is ensuring the protection and ready access to financial information and records while conducting legal review of operations to insure compliance with state and federal regulations and laws. Entities without electronic dashboards are little better than driving a vehicle without a dashboard!

  3. Gary says:

    Thanks Alan.
    Though, your link is going to an animated gif of a puppy dog ‘being amorous towards’ a chicken…

  4. Jackie Crino says:

    Thanks for posting this, Beth and Jacob!

    With the ever-growing opportunities within social media marketing for the nonprofit community, I think it’s of great importance to leave this comment, which presents an outline of a five-part social media marketing analytics plan, including screenshots of relevant dashboards that would be used in such a plan.

    1. Website/Blogsite Analytics –

    These analytics include the sites and specific URLs from which traffic is coming to your content, what keywords your site visitors are using to reach your content, how long visitors stay on a given page (bounce rate), what links they click on, all the inbound links that appear on the web driving traffic to your content, and visitor conversions (email list subscribers, blog subscribers, etc.).

    2. Content Sharing –

    Every blog post needs to allow users an easy way to share your content on their social media platform(s) of choice. Behind the scenes, you need an analytics platform that will measure not only your content that’s being shared, plus the social media platforms its being shared on, but also who those influencers are sharing and/or mentioning your content.

    3. Mentions and Conversations –

    These are mentions and conversations about your organization and content across different social media networks, blogs, forums, and other websites. This will allow you to efficiently engage in conversations to attract and convert more donors, volunteers, etc. and create and increase donor (and other contributor) relationships and loyalty.

    4. Audience & Engagement: Social Media Site/Media/Content Analytics –

    Valuable analytics are provided by specific social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Flickr; however, also utilizing a sophisticated social media analytics platform that can aggregate all of your different social media involvement into one dashboard will allow you to most efficiently and effectively manage and optimize your social media efforts. Activity can easily be compared across different social networks.

    Furthermore, specific media (e.g. videos and photos) can be measured separately to not only determine the success of the media format, but also the specific content. Here is a list of metrics used to measure the success of video content across various video sharing sites:
    – Referring sites to video link
    – Length of views
    – Where viewers left video
    – Incoming traffic to website/blogsite from specific video sharing sites
    – (Where applicable) Trackable links to specific offers to measure conversions from videos and specific video site channels

    5. Website/Blogsite and Landing Page Visitor Conversions and Campaign Return on Investment (ROI) / Return on Objective (ROO) –

    Your organization’s presence out there on the web (i.e. your website/blogsite, social media pages, landing pages, etc.) should be optimized with a sign-up box or otherwise a link to a web form/survey in order to capture data, from visitors, into your email marketing / marketing automation system of choice – for ongoing, relevant communications designed for relationship-building, donor conversions, increased donor giving, and other objectives. Tracking these conversions is essential, especially in regards to which offers and content are leading to the highest conversion rates and which sites and people are referring the most valuable donors.

    Specific campaigns, whether ongoing (like an e-newsletter list sign-up – using a sign-up box on your website or a special landing page) or temporary (like a fundraising event – using a landing page and web form/survey to collect registrations, pledges, and donor preferences), can be implemented, tracked, and measured so that you may accurately calculate ROI/ROO and determine the effectiveness of your promotional and other content that you put out on social media.

    Implementing quality analytics tools into your social media marketing efforts will allow you to appropriately analyze the results of your integrated cross-media/social media marketing efforts and in turn both refine your strategies for subsequent marketing efforts and repeat marketing efforts with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

  5. We have a social media online fundraising platform that was dubbed the “Google Analytics of Philantrhopy” in a Mashable article. We have an extremely robust dashboard which gives the non profit organization the power to monetize the social media channels for the first time.

  6. Beth says:

    Josh: Thanks for emailing me the link

    Alan: Is that the right screenshot?

    Jackie: Wow thanks for sharing all that – I’m off to digest it.

  7. Jacob Smith says:

    Ditto to Beth’s comment: lots of great info in these comments. The ability to build strong dashboards isn’t new, of course, so what’s interesting to me is how little the idea has penetrated the nonprofit organizational culture. Maybe that’s shifting, as nonprofit folks become increasingly comfortable with application-specific dashboards (Google Analytics, many of the CRMs, etc.).

  8. Beth says:

    Jacob: Why hasn’t it become part of the nonprofit culture?

  9. Beth says:

    Another write up on Nonprofit Dashboard!/CWVInc/status/62538892607369216
    via Blue Avocado

    Who knew there so many nonprofit dashboard nerds?

  10. Jacob Smith says:

    I remember the Blue Avocado link . . . it’s useful, but I also think it helps explain why dashboards aren’t very deeply ingrained in nonprofit culture: it’s not real-time, it’s not super easy to use, it doesn’t beg to be looked at. Part of why we are starting to get the hang of application-specific dashboards is that they are pretty easy to use, and automated, and real-time, and easy to interpret. After you set up your Google analytics dashboard, it just does its thing all the time, and the data are there, accurate, and easy to interpret anytime you want to look. I also think in general we are uncomfortable with importing private sector business practices, and dashboards – which are mostly focused on business intelligence and financials – are very much that. This is changing, also, I think, but slowly.

    What do you think?

  11. Beth says:

    Jacob: Here’s another one you might remember – from NTEN in 2009

  12. […] both of practices and tools is how to manage this. There is a lot of talk these days of dashboards and tools like Social Base. I have resisted digging too deeply there due to my own habit of […]

  13. Hubert Lee says:

    Beth – thanks for the excellent article on business dashboards for non-profits. I’ve been tracking the evolution of business intelligence dashboards since day one and have only recently seen them being adopted by non-profits. I’m going to start categorizing my collection of dashboards screenshots by non-profit status. See Thanks, Beth!

  14. […] Note from Beth: Show Me Your Dashboard! Imagine that I'm dancing around singing that phrase. I'm looking for good examples (and stories) about nonprofit dashboards, especially ones that support social media decision-making. Tell me about your…  […]

  15. […] great post on Beth Kanter’s Blog on dashboards. One of the first posts I found in 2011 when I was […]