Minding the Gap with Dashboards

We love sharing good deeds like a great one we saw from July 2019 when good Samaritans came to the aid of a little boy in Australia who fell in the gap when boarding a train. The boy ultimately was fine thanks to the dozen or so commuters on the platform rushing to his aid. In fact, because train platforms can be especially treacherous, the London Underground started a campaign in 1968 using the phrase “Mind the Gap” to alert passengers to the space between the platform and the train. Now, the phrase is used by transit authorities around the world.

Like passengers on a train platform, we in the social sector also need a reminder to “mind the gap” between where we stand and where we want to go. Our favorite tool for minding the gap is organizational dashboards. Dashboards can be useful in a number of ways, such as tracking key metrics for programs, analyzing progress to goal for fundraising and monitoring progress toward completion of a strategic plan. Dashboards mind your organization’s gap not only in collecting data and turning it into insights used for decision-making, but also in tracking progress, communicating it and ensuring accountability. For example, board and staff can quickly review the dashboard and focus on things that need their attention. To do this effectively, many of our clients use signal lights (green = celebrate, yellow = caution and red = act) or other color-coding processes. Armed with this information, your board and staff can know when to spring into action.

To develop a dashboard, it is important to decide which indicators to track.

For a strategic plan, organizations develop high-level objectives about where they want to go. For example, a high-level objective could be to improve internal communications. Once that is defined, staff and/or board need to develop a connected project plan (e.g., assemble a committee) with deadlines, owners and completion percentages associated with each activity to track progress toward the objective. You may even want to go beyond measuring it through completion by measuring improvement through an employee survey. We have included a sample dashboard in Powerpoint with many types of objectives to better understand how to construct one.

click to download sample

For fundraising, organizations develop budgets that forecast how much money is needed to support the organization. For example, fundraising could track the number of asks requested, expected (using a percentage likelihood to be received) and received per quarter to ensure that the organization will meet or exceed fundraising targets. For example, if you submit a $25,000 grant to Smith Foundation and it is your first request for a new program, you may want to show that you only have a 50% chance of getting it, which calculates to $12,500 of possible revenue. You may even want to compare this year-over-year to find giving trends and track asks made over time.

For a program, organizations may want to track key metrics that can be regularly updated and reviewed for program improvement. You might want to start with the end in mind — for example, how will we use this information? Then, decide what data to collect, where it should come from and how often you will track it. We discuss this area more fully in our blogs on impact culture.

We hope you start to “mind the gap” by using dashboards as a tool to communicate as well as track your progress toward your strategic plan, fundraising goals or program metrics. The key to success is unlocking the data points that matter the most, making it easy to track them and regularly reviewing them for celebrations or course corrections. We welcome your input on how you use dashboards as a part of your organizational culture.

Features bite-size posts providing the latest trends and ideas within social sector. Place to be inspired, cross-pollinate, and provoke new thinking.