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How nonprofits can create compelling board reports

Between decreasing government appropriations, fluctuating enrollments, increasing pressure for tuition increases and rising costs of salaries and benefits, many higher education institutions are feeling the pinch. While this is nothing new for Ramapo College of New Jersey, as the chief budget officer I see that it’s becoming harder to find a balance between the supply of funding and the demand for services.

Because nonprofits must report to a huge array of stakeholders—from individual donors to the grant-giving federal government—and because they must stretch every dollar, their nonprofit budgeting and reporting requires even more detail than that of for-profit institutions. What’s more, these organizations don’t have the luxury of increasing overhead costs, which means they can’t simply hire more staff to keep up with increasingly complicated Excel sheets.

Despite these added challenges, the CEOs of charitable organizations still expect their finance teams to provide insightful reports that power strategic decision-making. Here are three steps a nonprofit FP&A team must take to ensure they generate reports that ultimately help the firm serve its mission.

Watch the webcast Creating Compelling Board Reports for Nonprofits

Seek out a single version of the truth

By moving away from Excel, nonprofit finance teams can unload the burden of maintaining multiple worksheets with multiple participants. Cloud-based software allows you to import data from multiple sources with perfect confidence—a fact that 73% of CFOs we surveyed now understand. This leaves more time to dive into the whys behind the numbers. It also solves one of the major problems of nonprofits: decision paralysis. When executives and donors have to spend hours figuring out the profit-and-loss analysis or different programs’ performances, they aren’t doing work that benefits the mission.

Data debates waste time and hinder progress. With a cloud-based system, nonprofit managers can create a core set of operational and financial that’s common across the organization while eliminating multiple Excel documents and enabling improved collaboration. They can also eliminate most of the mistakes that lead to bad data: In fact, one client that switched to Adaptive Insights watched its revenue variance decrease to just 2%—from 14%! Yep, a whopping 12 percentage points of the nonprofit’s variance was related to basic system errors. Better tracking translates to a drastically smaller contingency, which allows charities with tight budgets to put more of their money where it matters most.

Clear metrics and a single truth, then, are the first step to concise, correct, and impactful reports that help executives boldly push an organization forward.

Make it dynamic and easy to update

Many nonprofits administer a variety of programs, just as corporate firms offer a variety of products. But when a small, Excel-dependent finance staff tries to meet regularly with each program administrator to go over budget variances, no one wins. Preparing for these meetings takes far too long, because the team has to dig deep into a worksheet to understand spending. Moreover, constant grant deadlines require constant updates and budget analysis, which easily get lost in an unwieldy, old-fashioned system. The results: Deadlines are missed and reports are already outdated by the time they’re distributed to stakeholders, which wastes everyone’s time. This frustrating system is a reality at most nonprofits: A recent Adaptive Insights survey found that 70% of them still export their data to Excel, PowerPoint, or Word.

Moving to a cloud-based solution provides instant clarity with a fraction of the effort. Everything is drag-and-drop, which makes reports truly dynamic, simple to edit, and always updated. Meeting with each program administrator no longer requires massive preparation and manual data entry, which frees up time for deep conversations about strategic goals and problem-solving. These higher-level discussions can then be easily incorporated into a comprehensive and digestible report that hits every question stakeholders want to know: What was budgeted for the year in each program, where does the organization stand against that number, and what are the factors that will influence the rest of the year?

Get visual

Again, no one at a busy nonprofit has the time to continually churn out perfect, clearly readable charts and graphs for each report. But at the same time, donors and other stakeholders need high-quality visual aids to help them break down financial data and make decisions. An easy solution comes via a cloud-based dashboard, which allows finance chiefs to tell their story more effectively.

With Adaptive Insights’ visual analytics dashboard, executives and donors can see live information and drill down appropriately. They can also toggle between different views, whether program-by-program, region-by-region, or something else entirely. As stakeholders get to feast on rich information that clarifies their strategic objectives, FP&A team members no longer have to sit nervously, wondering when the numbers in the charts were updated or if the correct information was downloaded.

Implementing even one of the tips above can dramatically better your company’s board reports. But FP&A teams that embrace all three will take their nonprofit reports to another level.

Watch the webcast Creating Compelling Board Reports for Nonprofits

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