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How To Fix Dismal Nonprofit Board Engagement With Financial Reports

Nonprofit’s Board Orientation
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nonprofit board enagement

7% nonprofit board engagement is not enough! Do your nonprofit’s financial reports speak to the full board? Can everyone in management engage with them and understand key information?

If your financial reports don’t go beyond numbers on a page, then they exclude almost all your leaders.  

Fortunately, you can start turning that around with some good dashboards.

What’s the problem with nonprofit board engagement?

This is about inclusion, nonprofit board engagement, and legal duty.

When a nonprofit’s whole financial report is just numbers straight from their accounting software, you can be sure some eyes will glaze over. But I only learned recently that it goes beyond just some: 93% of Americans experience math anxiety. 93 percent!

Old, plain financial reports effectively exclude most of your leadership.  

That spells trouble. They presumably got invited to the table because of their wisdom and experience, but they can’t engage in this key component of decision-making.

With board members, this creates a legal problem as well. How can they fulfill their fiduciary duty if they can’t engage with the financial reports you presented them?

Does this make sense to you?

Can you look at numbers like these, quickly understand them, and extrapolate the stories they tell? If so, congratulations, you’re a part of a small, elite group!

For everyone else who can’t: you form part of a very large majority.

Isn’t this more engaging?

Now look at the same data in a pie chart.  

Might this help more of your leaders participate more effectively?  

Could it help focus time on the biggest sources of revenue (grants) and away from the smallest (car wash)?

What does it suggest about the consequences of the annual gala getting rained out?

What other helpful questions might it inspire and how might it help you avoid less useful conversations?


When people can’t fully participate in key conversations, it harms everyone:

  • We lose the benefit of their unique perspective and life experience
  • The organization is less likely to make the best possible decision
  • The organization loses the opportunity to develop a future leader from within

Exclusion like this tends to fall disproportionately on people from historically marginalized communities, ironically exacerbating a harm that so many nonprofits have committed to addressing.

Just a few graphs make a big difference

When you supplement the numbers in your financial reports with 6-8 standard graphs, you will find it transformative.  

How might this cash projection inform some decisions during the first half of the year?  Or help justify opening a new position at the end of the year?

How might this program profitability graph help an organization determine whether to use across-the-board cuts to balance the budget?

Might a graph like this help build true consensus around a difficult decision?  

Without a graph like this, how many stakeholders might feel like they got left out of the decision-making processes?

The good news: A good dashboard isn’t rocket science

Today’s technology makes it fairly easy to build a good financial dashboard.  So while many nonprofits would have seen it as a luxury 20 years ago, more and more now see it as a “must have” to engage their board and management.

Building a basic financial (or other) dashboard doesn’t have to break the bank.  And once built, updates can take as little as 30 minutes per month.

So … how will you make sure the other 93% at your nonprofit get engaged?

Download our Do’s and Don’ts of Getting Boards to Fundraise eBook to review why your board isn’t fundraising, and how to fix it this other form of nonprofit board engagement.

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  • Sean Hale

    Excellent point, Angie! Chad: I'm a big fan of so much that you do and say around dashboards (for example, #azulanalysis). And I'll agree that pie charts often get used in less than optimal ways. But the pie chart has a time and place, doesn't it, where it at minimum does no harm and where in some circumstances it could even be the best possible medium. So, my friend, I'll ask you ... are you ready to #GivePiesAChance? :)
  • Angie Albright

    A pie chart can be useful, though, for showing comparisons of things like revenue sources. It certainly helps my board see that the focus on our store isn't really warranted and more focus on our membership drives is. I could also see it being useful for showing how your budget matches (or doesn't) the strategic plan priorities.
  • Chad Wolver

    I would encourage you to stay away from pie charts, Nancy! Use a bar chart instead :) Bar charts will allow you to present the same information in a more meaningful way. #DespiseThePie
  • Chad Wolver

    Awesome blog post, Sean! Dashboards give way more context than boring, old financials.
  • Sean Hale

    Nancy, that sounds like a great plan. I'm working with a client on this right now. We're going to start with a few charts, see how people respond, and I expect we'll iterate through a few versions of the dashboard as the board begins to engage. Good luck!
  • Nancy Abbott

    Already convinced me that I need to at least present a pie chart of expenses each month at a board meeting.
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