By: Britt-Marie K. Cole-Johnson, Esq., Partner, Robinson+Cole
We value what we track, and we track what we value. You’ve probably heard this saying or some version of it, but what does it mean for governance for a nonprofit organization? Organizations are constantly looking for tools to track goals and to optimize and streamline operations and various workflows. While a quick search may offer you a number of different apps or software for purchase, a governance dashboard may be the simple, but mighty tool you’re looking for.
What is a governance dashboard?
A governance dashboard is a tool that organizations can use to focus their mission and goals and allow board members and staff to manage important action items, such as an annual review of the organization’s committee structure, chairs and membership, completing the orientation process for any new board members, tracking the annual audit, reviewing and filing the Form 990 and reviewing board attendance and participation. Certain core information must be included in order to make the dashboard an effective tracking tool.
Consider including the following:
• Specific action items
• Timing for completion of the action items
• The responsible party or parties, e.g., CEO, CFO, Board of Directors, Governance Committee, etc.
• The status of the respective action item
• Any comments to facilitate completion
In its simplest form, the dashboard is a table in a document or spreadsheet that serves as a living, breathing record where governance comes to life as boards can list action items, provide updates, and set timelines. While it may be a simple document, the information demonstrates to be useful in so many ways that it is actually incredibly powerful. For an example of a header for a governance dashboard, please see below.
Why should an organization use a governance dashboard?
Organizations that value institutional knowledge, harnessing the power of data, sound recordkeeping, accountability and tracking and efficient meetings will immediately appreciate how a governance dashboard can serve its mission and make board service more manageable and even enjoyable. For example, keeping board members engaged when there is a lack of institutional knowledge and a need to reinvent the wheel every time the board has turnover can be an impediment to growth and success.
As boards turn over and new members join, the governance dashboard serves as a sort of yearbook and capsule for knowledge transfer. New members can review what past boards have acted on, incomplete projects, and possibly even other projects or ideas that were discussed and not pursued. A well-maintained dashboard can help boards to avoid reinventing the wheel by pursuing ideas that have already been discussed and also provide a launching point for vetting future ideas, especially when new members join and may lack institutional knowledge.
By using a governance dashboard, board members can offer a fresh, but informed perspective by building on past ideas or approaching a past problem from a different angle.
The Power of Data and Sound Recordkeeping
Organizations typically have meeting minutes or notes for recordkeeping purposes as some of the core data that supports the organization’s governance. The governance dashboard can supplement this purpose for a governance committee and offers a succinct presentation of much of the information that would typically be found in meeting minutes. It also serves as a resource for those who are absent from meetings to easily review what was discussed. Additionally, it can streamline the creation of the next meeting agenda as it memorializes future meeting topics.
Accountability and Tracking
In its ideal form, the governance dashboard serves as an accountability tool. In designing the dashboard, the responsible party or parties are listed along with their action items. With this shared responsibility, board members can be more engaged and invested in their tasks instead of having a single person or party shoulder the bulk of the work. During each meeting, the action items can be discussed to ensure progress is made on topics by determining next steps and updating the status and timeline as to when the project needs to be completed, creating accountability.
Having a place to list an organization’s goals is important, but what good does it do if the organization’s leaders never review it?
The governance dashboard, if kept simple and user friendly, encourages board members to revisit the organization’s goals which can be a key way to focus meetings and track objectives.
The governance dashboard is an easy way to help meetings run more efficiently. Past governance dashboards serve as a reminder of items that have been completed and those that are still in progress with the notes from past meetings provide insight on next steps. By reviewing the prior governance dashboard before the next meeting, a new governance dashboard template can be created and can itself serve to create the next meeting agenda. By sending the dashboard to meeting attendees in advance of the meeting, the topics of the meeting, the responsible parties and the status of each item is easily available for review; additionally, anyone who is unable to attend can send updates in advance for the rest of the attendees to avoid stagnation or inaction on any action items. Using the dashboard to signal to individuals responsible for tasks that they should prepare an update on any action items they “own” is also a great way to ensure everyone approaches the meeting with an eye toward efficiency, accountability, and success. By having an agenda built from information from past meetings and dashboards and sending the agenda and dashboard before the meeting, organizations can run more effective meetings and better utilize their time, enhancing the board’s support of the organization, and ensuring that the board member and staff experience is supported by strong meeting strategies.
So How Can Your Organization Use A Governance Dashboard?
Now that the value of a governance dashboard is clear, the next step is to create one that meets your organization’s needs. We suggest discussing the following when creating a dashboard:
(1) What are our organization’s goals?
(2) Which of our goals lend themselves to action items and time tracking?
(3) How can we make our dashboard user friendly?
Once your organization has a useful dashboard, constantly updating and reviewing the dashboard can allow board members to assess whether the actions being taken are in line with the organization’s goals. Keeping the dashboard simple, clean and streamlined should be a priority as this will make it easy to review and update for any board, ideally making it a tool that board members look forward to using.
Creating a governance dashboard for your organization can be a thought-provoking exercise that gives your organization a simple, but mighty tool to track goals and manage the organization. Organizations that master the use of a dashboard are sure to reap significant benefits, chief among them capturing institutional knowledge in a way that’s easily transferable, harnessing the power of data, accountability to ensure that organizational goals are tracked and met, sound recordkeeping and efficient meetings that make the best use of board and staff time. Utilize the dashboard properly and your organization will likely see an uptick in board and staff satisfaction, meeting attendance and overall engagement.
For more information, please contact any of the professionals at Fiducient Advisors.
About the Author:
Britt-Marie Cole-Johnson is a member of the firm's Labor, Employment, Benefits + Immigration Group. She focuses her practice on counseling private sector employers, ranging from NYSE and NASDAQ companies, multi-national corporations, nonprofit health care organizations, and educational institutions to manufacturers, in all areas of employment law. She handles sensitive, high-risk personnel issues and investigations as well as compliance and training.
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