5 Lessons on Making Dashboards and An Awesome Free Tool

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I love teaching. So when Nonprofit Learning Point  approached me last year and asked that I create a class on dashboards I set out to make something relevant and interesting.  Over a few weeks I collected links and articles from around the internet* {see below for download list}, spied pinterest boards, looked at corporate examples and debuted a few apps and online tools.

Here are my five key lessons and tools and helpful things.

1. Step One, make a plan.  

No seriously, to make a dashboard you first need a plan.  In Measuring the Networked Nonprofit Beth Kanter reviews the seven steps of measurement.  I have found over the year since I read that book that it applies to almost everything.  

  1. Define your goals
  2. Define your audiences
  3. Define your benchmarks
  4. Define your metrics and get buy in
  5. Define your time and costs
  6. Select your collection tools
  7. Collect and analyze your data then turn what you have learned into action

2. If you can't draw it on paper, then you aren't ready to make a dashboard. 

photo credit: Kim Lee Photography taken at Nonprofit Learning Point Class, October 2013

photo credit: Kim Lee Photography taken at Nonprofit Learning Point Class, October 2013

Everyone wants a user friendly pretty dashboard but you can spend hours creating it or trying to articulate it to a graphic designer. So grab some craft supplies, washi tape, markers and glue and draw it.  If you can draw it then you can create it in excel or powerpoint and potentially save yourself hours of work. 

3. Less is more.  

Once you draw your dashboard, keep taking things out of it until what is left either, helps make a decision or allows for a quick assessment of your current state.  

4. Your intended use should define the dashboard, not your data. 

If you want to motivate your board into action your dashboard should focus their attention on engagement, fundraising, and strategic goals. If you want to tell your story to donors then you want a snapshot of your key program goals.  If you are going to use it internally with staff to monitor programs then it needs to be quick to update. Just because you collect a piece of data doesn't mean it belongs on your dashboard.

5. Super duper free online tool. Sparkwise

Designed specifically for nonprofits this tool pulls social media, pictures, google docs, and more into an easy to use interface that is embeddable.  It is amazingly easy and beautiful. Did I mention it was free?  Here is a great article from Fast Co. Design on this tool.

Check out the Flickr pool created by Sparkwise staff for example boards so you can see the options.  

Check out the Flickr pool created by Sparkwise staff for example boards so you can see the options.  

At the end of the day the line between dashboards and infographics and videos and pictures is getting blurrier by the day. If you aren't paying attention to these things, now is the time. 

 *Here is a copy of my curated list of dashboard resources.  

 

photo credit: Kim Lee Photography. Taken at Nonprofit Learning Point Class October, 2013

photo credit: Kim Lee Photography. Taken at Nonprofit Learning Point Class October, 2013