Board reporting is a must for nonprofit organizations and their staff. These comprehensive reports ensure appropriate organizational oversight and allow executives and others to develop and maintain meaningful engagement with board leaders.
But many organizations struggle with board reports. Recently I chatted with a colleague of mine about reporting to her board. She works for a large, public-facing arts organization in Los Angeles; her board members are prominent members of the community and deeply committed to the organization’s mission. She told me about her current practices in board reporting and her ideal vision for board reports.
“I have this fantasy that a finely tuned board packet will lead to a finely tuned board of directors and a finely tuned organization. We’re not there just yet, but maybe with the right resources, we could be,” she explained.
My colleague talked at length about working with her board. She loves board meetings. She enjoys watching this impressive group of leaders come together, appreciates the unique chatter their board relationships and work with the organization bring about, and is more than grateful for their overwhelming support.
And she loves her board members. While she mentioned ways to increase their collective impact, she also recognized the value each of them offered to the group and the organization.
However, she most definitely doesn’t love mammoth board packets and the time and energy they take to compile.
She said, “Here’s what goes through my mind like clockwork each month as I prepare reports and packets: ‘How did it get to be nearly a week before the board meeting?!? It feels like we just had one. We vowed to prepare much earlier for this month… [Sigh]. Maybe next month. Time to call the program directors. Need to gather financials. And cross check fundraising. What has attendance been like? Wait. That one board member was interested in that one issue. What was it again?’ It’s exhausting!
“With all that frenzy, the fire drill, you’d think we’d end up with exactly what we need in the packets. But month after month, we always seem to miss important, relevant information.”
Board Reporting: The Basics
Like most organizations, this arts organization focuses its regular reporting on a few key categories:
Special initiatives—such as major fundraising campaigns, large events, or pilot programs—typically have their own reports.
When combined, this information offers board members and executives a robust picture of organizational health.
Nonprofit staff members go to great lengths to collect report data. My colleague described more specifically how she gathers the information she needs for her monthly meetings from various technology systems:
- Constituent relationship management (CRM) software solution: Constituent touchpoints, communications, admissions and ticket information, memberships, event revenue
- Accounting software solution: Statement of financial position (balance sheet), statement of activities (income statement), cash flow forecast, budgets
- Fundraising software solution: Individual and corporate gifts, capital campaign contributions, legacy gifts, grants, sponsorships, event revenue
- Program software solution: Program activities and outputs, impact metrics
Like many folks in the nonprofit sector, my colleague sincerely appreciates being able to do mission-driven work with like-minded staff, donors, and board members. But also like many others in her field, she often finds the administrative aspects of her work prevent her from truly enjoying her livelihood.
She described using a patchwork of disconnected technology solutions to track constituents, finances, fundraising, and programs; pull reports; and prepare packets as:
Generating reports from multiple systems requires duplicative efforts: staff perform the same functions—often taking hours of extra time—in numerous platforms.
“Sometimes I wonder if using four solutions takes four times the staff hours,” said my colleague.
And depending on the solution, it may not be configured to report in the ways required for board reports.
“Admittedly, after we report out from those solutions, we still do significant manipulation and formatting. Last month, for example, we used spreadsheet and presentation tools to prepare certain information for display.”
With information captured and often duplicated, in multiple systems, gathering exactly what’s needed from where it’s accurately stored can be difficult.
For example, my colleague described how her organization captures fundraising and marketing information in both a CRM and a fundraising solution. There have been months when their staff reported from both solutions, puzzling executives and generating undue questions and concerns.
Furthermore, it’s all too easy to omit valuable information when picking and choosing from numerous solutions and hundreds (if not thousands) of data points.
Maintaining and reporting from multiple systems of record creates opportunities for data errors and integrity issues. What’s updated in one system might not be captured similarly, or at all, in another.
For instance, when reporting on the same event data from one platform to the next or pulling a constituent’s contact information, the information produced doesn’t always match.
Inefficient and ineffective
My colleague summarized the impact of this process, “It takes us a lot of time and effort to prepare board reports. It’s much more than just a few clicks. Frequently, it leaves us tired, confused, concerned, and frustrated with the results. And if we feel like that, our board members may too.”
Opportunities for Change
Today, there are realistic, viable opportunities to change board reports for the better.
In recent years, technology vendors have created software solutions that incorporate most, if not all, core functions into one platform. For example, in February 2022, Foundant released NonprofitCore—fundraising, CRM, and accounting in a single system.
Organizations might consider such a product for a myriad of reasons, from time savings to cost savings to improved security. Read Nonprofit Software Solutions: 9 Reasons to Focus on Your Core to learn more.
Core solutions can also make a big difference in producing high-quality board reports. By using a solution that incorporates many key reporting areas, nonprofit staff can ensure they are reporting from a reliable system of record with accurate, timely data that provides a realistic picture of organizational health.
Furthermore, any relevant staff person—with appropriate permissions, of course—can run analyses of any aspect of operations. Staff can also report on the impacts of core activities, such as how specific fundraising campaigns influence donor constituent growth or how particular events impact the monthly budget.
As I shared above, my colleague described her organization’s current board report development process as time-consuming, disorganized, error-prone, and inefficient. Adopting a core solution could generate numerous benefits and make her and her team members’ work a lot easier.
In particular, a core solution can enable:
With a core solution, reporting for all functional areas can be as easy as a few clicks from one singular data source. Since most, if not all, team members will use the solution, navigating among diverse platforms and different interfaces could be a thing of the past.
Not only can staff pull area reports such as individual giving lists or cash flow statements, but they can also produce meaningful cross-departmental analyses. Such reports might include recent major gifts by dollar amount and program budget, or donors’ CRM data for board member thank-you calls.
A core solution provides a reliable system of record. Staff no longer need to worry about where to find information. The data collected is up-to-date and available in real time.
Reports pull in the data points executives and board members need. Fields aren’t redundant from one platform to the next; staff and board members feel confident that the information they’re getting is accurate.
And there’s no longer a need to generate reports from two, three, four, or even more platforms, only to reorganize the data in a master spreadsheet that contains everything relevant.
Fewer errors and issues
When staff enter data into a core solution, the information no longer lives in multiple systems or drives. That means greater data accuracy and integrity, and fewer opportunities for data entry issues or mismatched results.
Furthermore, securing data in one core solution provides greater confidence than securing it in many different systems.
Easier Board Reports = Increased Efficiency, Greater Impact
When I talk with my colleague about her work at the arts organization, board reporting isn’t the first thing she mentions (believe it or not!). In fact, she leads with five or six other things before she even brings up board reports. Her very first comment: how fortunate she feels to get paid to do mission-driven work with other like-minded people.
But administrative burdens, like cumbersome board reports, can drain talented, committed nonprofit professionals like her of their vocational zeal. Often, they spend more of their precious time and talent working in inefficient systems.
Fortunately, core solutions can make a big impact on:
With a reliable system of record, staff enter data fewer times and are guaranteed to see dynamically updated, real-time data on organizational functions. Additionally, staff can build skills in the core solution instead of learning four, five, or six systems. They have greater trust in the data’s integrity and perform less cross-checking and manipulation than when using many solutions.
The efficiencies listed above can save a significant amount of time that can instead be committed to mission-focused work. With more staff time, organizations can serve more clients, offer an increased number of activities, provide improved service, and maximize their impact.
Better Board Reporting: One Executive’s Vision
I shared my ideas about how a core solution might increase organizational efficiencies and improve effectiveness with my arts executive colleague. Her first response was, “Sounds incredible!”
Then I asked her to imagine using a core solution to prepare board reports and to envision what she might do with extra time and energy that week before meetings and during the meeting itself.
She responded, “Great question. I have tons of ideas, and with the right technology, I could make them happen.
“Big picture: I’d do more to motivate and engage our board. I’d take a step back from the operational reports to consider why we’re all involved and what we want to see for the organization and those we serve.
“More tactically, I’d do things like identify trends in the data. For example, which efforts yielded the best results? I’d develop and produce reports—using our combined accounting, CRM, fundraising, and program administration functions—tailoring involvement opportunities to each board member’s specific interests. I’d do more to thank each board member. I’d pull stories about our recipients to share. Actually, with the time saved, I could personally invite them to attend the meeting.
“A core solution would be a game-changer for us. I could get out of the weeds and really, truly focus on our organization’s vision, mission, and values—which is what our board has tasked me with. The right technology would help me fully realize my role while taking us to the next level.”
This blog is an original work of the attributed author and is shared with permission via Foundant Technologies' website for informative purposes only as part of our educational content in the philanthropic sector. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect Foundant's stance on this topic. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to our team.