Make sure your organization produces easily navigable reports
Thursday, May 20, 2021
The waiter handed me a menu, asking, “Is this your first-time dining with us?” Yes.
He said the menu is “easily navigable” with food on one side and an exhaustive wine list sorted by country, color, bubbles, and portions on the back.
He returned and asked if I made a choice. To be honest, I found the menu confusing. I didn’t know where to start and didn’t have time to read both sides. I resigned and ordered my usual, a house white wine and chicken salad.
Volunteers are provided a host of reports. They have confessed that they receive the reports on their smartphones. They open them as they wait for the traffic light to turn green. When the light changes, that is about as much of the message that they have time to digest, in less than a minute.
Find ways to improve open rates and understanding. Ask your team if they feel everything is easily navigable or if communications can be enhanced.
The board wants less narrative and more executive summaries. Encourage committees to limit their meeting minutes and board recommendations to one page. Use bullets, not paragraphs. Create a consistent format so readers readily recognize which committee, the recommendations, how it links to the strategic plan, and the economic impact. Limit it to one page.
Brief is better. The minutes are not a place to keep notes and report on “he said, she said.” Avoid supplemental attachments that make minute reading tortuous.
Seldom do we need to know who made the motion and what the vote count was. Whoever takes the minutes should use a consistent format so that volunteers recognize what to expect and how to read them.
Provide the highest-level financial perspective. The details are the domain of a bookkeeper and finance committee. The board needs enough information to feel confident and to identify trends.
Do you give the board a multi-page report with tedious line items, or do you categorize items to depict the big picture? Pie charts improve understanding by volunteers who prefer visuals.
Create a one-page dashboard to keep directors informed at-a-glance. It is possible to include data about income, expenses, savings, membership, PAC, social media, inquiries, and registrations and keep them on a single page. Michael Gellman, CPA, at Sustainability Education for Nonprofits (www.se4nonprofits.com), is a master at condensing critical information into a single page.
Some of the best strategic plans fit on a business card. Most are designed to fit on a single page as a guide at the board table; easily accessible to answer, “how does this motion advance our strategic plan?”
Plans need not include the “fluff,” such as survey results, comparative analysis, SWOT discussions, and suggested tactics (how to). Are you expecting volunteers to read a 10 plus page report when you could frame it as a single page to enhance its use?
Agendas look like they do because, “we’ve always done it that way.” Design an agenda that is easy to navigate. Leave off “new business,” asking that it be submitted before the meeting.
Reduce staff, officer and committee reports by providing them in advance. Add the goals from the strategic plan right on the agenda knowing that’s the primary focus of the board. Include the mission statement as a constant reminder of the purpose of the organization.
To keep volunteers informed and engaged, provide them with clear, concise reports. Ask the staff team how communications can be improved.
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