When two local social service agencies merged in 2009 to form LifePoint Solutions, the new organization quickly melded administrations and programs, so staff members could continue to provide necessary – and high-quality – assistance. But when Roger Rosenberger joined the organization a year later, he noticed that the financial impact of the merger was not as efficient or encouraging as the service impact.
“We were spending down reserves, taking out more loans and our financial assets were declining, and there was not clear visibility about why that was,” said Rosenberger, the Chief Financial Officer and IT Director at LifePoint Solutions. “Even people in the agency did not know our true financial state.”
So Rosenberger created a dashboard of key financial data that he presented monthly to the board of directors and senior staff members. Over time, the dashboard has become a key piece of the organization’s planning and management efforts, and he shared it publicly at www.ideaencore.com.
“I’m pleased to say that we have our first surplus, we’ve grown reserves and we have some money invested,” Rosenberger said. “We got focused on the goal, went after the goal and turned around the financial results to now match the good results we’ve had on the program side.”
Rosenberger recounted the process at the most recent Barnes Dennig non-profit roundtable, as part of a panel of local leaders with experience using dashboards to improve transparency and efficiency – including John Mitchell, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Association for the Blind & Visually Impaired; Doug Sandor, Finance Director of Educational Theatre Association; and moderator Bryan Orander of Charitable Advisors.
Mackey McNeill, founder and president of Mackey Advisors Wealth Advocates, shared a dashboarding tool that her firm uses with many of its for-profit clients, and she explained how it can be adapted to the unique needs and structures of non-profit organizations.
“You want that feedback loop,” McNeill said. “The premise is that we’re making decisions, and we want to see the results of those decisions so we can make faster course-corrections. That’s why the data is important. The data lets us know if we are on or off our goal and if we need to make a different decision.”
The panelists use dashboards in different forms and in different ways, but a few trends emerged from the conversation:
- Measure what is important to the organization’s mission, not simply what is easy to measure. At the same time, recognize that you cannot measure everything.
- Make the data relevant and easy to understand, especially if you will share it with non-financial staff and board members. Put it in chart form whenever possible.
- Act on the data. If it does not lead to better decisions, it is not worth the effort to measure and report it.
“It’s an opportunity for everyone to be very open about how the organization is performing as a whole,” Mitchell said. “We’ve seen that board members are more engaged, more apprised of what’s going on, asking some very good questions, challenging us. It’s been a big help.”
To request a copy of the handouts or an audio copy of the event, contact the Barnes Dennig marketing department.