On the one hand, dashboards are nothing new.  On the other hand, they’re all the rage.  Dashboards can be on paper or dynamic, on-screen views, but whatever form they take, a dashboard is a snapshot distillation of the current state of key measures of success.

Dashboards are nothing new because organizations that have taken the time to figure out what their key measures are and to collect the data needed to evaluate them have created dashboard-like reports and reviewed them regularly.  There’s a strong strain in strategic planning and outcomes measurement that leads to dashboards to figure out whether the strategies are working and the outcomes are being achieved.  The “new” vibe derives from fundraising packages and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems offering on-screen, live dashboards.  In addition to the point-and-click ease of use of on-screen dashboards, the up-to-the-minute nature of the data can create the incentives that have long been needed to get users to update whatever part of the data stream they own.  If the boss may look at the dashboard on any day (not just the last day of the month when the summary report is printed), I have to keep my data up to date in order to get credit for the work I’ve done.

In my first data-heavy job, I realized that the most important ingredient to good data entry was the feedback loop.  Supervising a team of highly capable people with pretty low motivation (workstudy students), I realized that I had to put the data they created back in front of them quickly for two reasons:

1. to show them how their little bits of record-keeping turned into a vitally useful whole for our organization.

2. to show them their own mistakes and make them responsible for fixing and not repeating them.

A dashboard can be a constant expression of the dynamism of our work.  One of my favorite measures that I put on a client’s dashboard (which opens whenever anyone opens the database) is total unique individuals served all time.  Why should we only look at that number at annual report and fundraising proposal time?  It’s fun to watch it grow week in and week out.

The grand irony of this post is that I wanted to include some good examples of nonprofit on-screen dashboards that I could find on the web.  I couldn’t find any.  Do you have a dashboard that you’d be willing to share?  Leave a comment; we can smudge out any data that’s confidential.