How Nonprofit Boards Can Use Dashboards to Focus on What’s Important
How Nonprofit Boards Can Use Dashboards to Focus on What’s Importantback

by Michael Davidson

Cheshire Puss, Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.
Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
—so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.
Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.

The extent to which the boards of directors of nonprofit organizations understand the organization’s mission, its priorities and mission based results, directly affects their level of engagement and ability to be effective stewards and leaders. 

Dashboards are effective tools to communicate information to nonprofit boards about the extent to which the organization is being managed to achieve the social change outcomes of their mission. 

This outcomes focus is the subject of two of the eight questions in the application for the New York Magazine Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Management.
© New York Magazine, Nonprofit Coordinating Committee, Philanthropy New York

1. Please provide your mission statement and explain how it guides the management of your organization.  Cite specific examples.

2. How does your organization’s management focus on results? Give specific examples of regular planning and feedback that have led to measurable results in advancing your mission and other organizational goals.

For many nonprofit organizations, social change outcomes are difficult to define and usually costly to measure. There are however, readily measurable outputs that can, with a fair degree of confidence, be used as surrogates for ultimate outcomes. (See. John C. Sawhill, David Williamson, Mission Impossible?  Measuring Success in Nonprofit Organizations, Nonprofit Management and Leadership 11(3), Spring 2001

For example,

• An organization whose mission is leadership development may not be able to measure that outcome directly but it can measure client attendance in leadership workshops, public speaking skills, recruitment of new members, etc

• An organization committed to helping young people become successful adults can measure class attendance, class participation, violence reduction, development of plans, etc.

• An organization devoted to reducing a disease rate, can measure participation in screening programs, number of participants in education programs, etc.

Staff and board can design a graphic Dashboard to show progress in the key organizational work needed to achieve these mission goals.  This can focus the attention of the board on the challenges for the organization and will enable the board to define its role in supporting the achievement of the mission objectives.


Michael Davidson, is a consultant specializing in nonprofit board development. He is the former Chair of Governance Matters and lead consultant for the BoardServe NYC program of the United Way of New York City. 

Photo by churl