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3 Tips to NAIL Your Year End Board Report

A few months back I wrote a blog post titled, “What You Should Include in a Board Presentation (with Examples & A Free Template).” If you didn’t get a chance to read that post (or download the free template), please do. It’s time to be prepared for your board report.

Today’s article is a part deux of sorts. In August’s post I discussed what not to include in your board report, and went in depth on a few key fundraising metrics you should share with your leadership. Today let’s approach this from a different angle, how to present the report. Board members play a special role in your organizations success, and after presenting to dozens of boards over the past 3 years, I have learned some tips and tricks you can leverage.

Data, data, data

Before we can talk numbers we need to talk data. Your board members are sharp — there is a reason their in a leadership position at your organization. Whether they are local philanthropists or titans of industry, you need to prepare to present to an audience that “knows their stuff,” even if they aren’t fundraising professionals.

With that in mind it’s important that you feel confident in the metrics and reports you share with them.

Board members want data. With many members coming from for-profit institutions, data is a way of life. In their day job they may have a whole team of individuals tasked with collecting, organizing, and reporting data. A savvy board member won’t have the same expectations for you in your reporting, but they will appreciate any unbiased data you can convey to them to help with decision making.

What does all this mean? It means you need to be sure of what information you are sharing with the board. Let’s use a quick example…

Let’s say you calculate your organizations year over year donor retention rate and it went up 3 basis points, from 50% to 53%. That’s a huge improvement! You may put that report at the beginning of your presentation to share with the board. But, upon further review you realize that you analyzed a data-set that included soft-credits, not one that contained only cash contributions. With this realization your story changes… “Is our donor retention rate really 50%? Did it really increase by 3 basis points?”

It all comes back to data. If you want to analyze your key metrics with soft-credits included that is a-okay. The only thing you’ll need to keep in mind is that you have to share this tidbit of information with your audience. At the beginning of your presentation clearly articulate to your board what data set you used to calculate the organization’s key fundraising metrics. So long as there is a disclaimer at the start you’re good to go.

What are some of the common donation types that inevitably skew or alter an organization’s key fundraising metrics? I’m glad you asked:

There are more caveats to be wary of, but these are the most common I’ve come across in the past 3 years.

Be prepared for some common questions

Yes, presenting to the board can be nerve racking, but it doesn’t need to be too daunting. Thousands of other nonprofit professionals do it every year. What does that mean for you in your position? There are a few common threads or themes you can grab on to right now.

As I discussed a few months back in my post “What You Should Include in a Board Presentation (with Examples & A Free Template),” there are templates for what you should present and how you should display it. But, there is another area of content that I have yet to write about — questions you should expect to be asked.

Board members like data (as mentioned above), and they’re smart (for the most part!), so don’t be surprised when you get bombarded with questions during your presentation. Don’t flinch. You can prepare for them.

In my 3 years of presenting to boards there are a few common questions that always seem to come up (especially if you use the template I shared in my last post on this topic).

First, you need to come prepared for those data questions. As we walked through before, it is crucial that everyone understands what dataset your metrics and reports stem from. If you are unsure what data you are using, (or if it is accurate), you shouldn’t be presenting metrics and reports. In that case, should present on how you need to invest in cleaning up the organization’s database.

After data questions come, “How does this compare to other similar organizations?” questions. You can prepare for this too. There are two benchmarks I’d recommend referring to. One is Fundraising Report Card’s Live Benchmarks. You can, and should print out this page (or have it open if there is internet connection) during the presentation. The second is the AFP’s Fundraising Effectiveness Project. Between the two, you can point your inquisitive board members in the right direction, if not answer their questions right there on the spot.

The third line of questioning I’ve come to see most often revolves around “What are we going to do next?” These questions will come from your most passionate (or nervous) board members. Members that see the numbers and recognize that strategies and tactics may need to change to grow and sustain the organization. Like before, you can prepare for these questions as well. I’d recommend (and I do this every time I present to a board), reviewing your key fundraising metrics a few days in advance of the meeting. Take a paper and pen and jot down three bullet points with strategies you think could improve your key fundraising metrics. Generally speaking, your notes will include high-level ideas like, “put in place a new donor welcome series to boost first time donor acquisition rate,” or something along those lines. Regardless of what the tactic is, you can prepare to address questions that ask you, “Where do we go from here?”

Confidence is key

The final piece of advice I’ll share with you is one that you may find on a more qualified blog or website; it is that is confidence key.

I will make no claims to be a public speaking expert, or even suggest that I am good at presenting to boards (although I do have a lot of experience and get invited back to speak with them…), but confidence has forever been one of the driving factors in presentation success for me, and it can do the same for you too.

When it comes to presenting data and reports you may feel overwhelmed, “I’m a fundraising expert, not a data scientist!” you may say. You’re right, your roll is to raise funds, not create charts and reports, but that doesn’t change the fact that your leadership will be inspired and impressed by meaningful metrics. How do you cope with this juxtaposition? You take ownership of a small number of key fundraising metrics.

Please, please, please don’t get overwhelmed trying to understand donor lifetime value, segmented retention rates, or even cohort donor analysis. Don’t do it. Just because there is fancy jargon (and some real benefit) to using advanced analytics doesn’t mean you need to get anxiety trying to becomes a “data sensei” in a week. No, not at all.

Read simple materials on basic metrics and gain a complete understanding of how they are calculated.

For examples, and this is a real story, when a board members asks you, “Well, that is the the average donation amount, isn’t mean donation amount really what we want to be looking at?” You can respond confidently, “You’re right! And fortunately for us average and mean or synonymous, you are looking at the mean.”

Be confident in the simple metrics you’ll be presenting and save the deep-dive into advanced analytics for after the meeting.

Applying this at your shop

Over the past few years I’ve written a lot about presenting to the board. This is with good reason. Conveying important information to those that make strategic decisions (and also hopefully fund the organization) is critical to growing a sustainable and healthy nonprofit.

With that in mind, please take these 3 motifs and apply them over the next few months. Please also consider using our live chat (down in the bottom right) to ask me any specific questions that come to mind. You can do this, your board will be appreciative, and your organization will grow stronger because of it.

You’ve got this!

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