Have you ever been driving and run out of gas? If so, it’s unlikely that you have done it more than a few times. It usually only takes one or two instances of the inconvenience, concern, and sometimes even embarrassment of the experience to help people remember to keep a closer eye on the fuel gauge.
The dashboard of your vehicle provides vital information. In addition to monitoring how much gas you have, the dashboard helps you ensure that you’re not speeding and that all of your car’s major systems are working properly.
A dashboard report serves the same purpose for a church. It takes pages of reports and summarizes the key data into one page of information, mostly in the form of graphs and charts. This report helps you keep an eye on essential information and alerts you when things begin to deviate from the norm. When prepared properly, it can also engage board members who may have been disinterested in operational or “business” matters.
While there are software programs available to facilitate the creation of dashboard reports, Excel is all you need to get started. The simple graphing feature in Excel will allow you to create graphs or charts of various data and select the size and location you desire on a page.
Start by identifying the information you want to include. Keep in mind that this will change over time, so it doesn’t need to be perfect at the beginning. Consider the types of key financial and non-financial data your board and leadership ask for or monitor, as well as the information you believe they should focus on.
Here are some pieces of financial and non-financial information you may choose to include:
- Cash availability. It is imperative for church leaders to have a clear understanding of the difference between the cash balance and the cash available for use. This can be done simply by reflecting the cash balance less any current amounts due (including upcoming payroll), as well as amounts that are held for restricted purposes.
- Budget versus actual amounts. A bar graph can provide an easy, visual way to show the budgeted and actual amounts of revenues and expenses and can help readers see if the church is ahead or behind where they expected to be financially.
- Categories of expenses. A pie chart displaying what percentages of total expenses have been used for personnel costs, facilities, ministry, interest, or other areas may be useful for many.
- Average contribution per attendee. Monitoring this data may enable you to budget for the future more effectively or encourage the congregation by showing what they have given.
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