10 steps to developing a dashboard of key metricsBy E. Bradley TisdaleReporting key metrics can make thedifference between an overwhelmingamount of data and clear, concise messages to the CFO’s various audiences—messages that enable them to managechange in their institutions. Brad Tisdale, chief financial officer of ReformedTheological Seminary, presents 10 stepsto developing an effective dashboard—or flash report—and shares differentformats that have proven successfulwith senior executives, board members,and academic officers.As CFOs, we have available to us a wealth ofdata that can be overwhelming even to themost sophisticated of board members andsenior administrators. But presented in a new,strategic way through a dashboard or flashreport, this data can become precisely the toolthat our various audiences need to be successful in their roles. At some point, you just need to dive in and startreporting in this new way, whether or not your report is completely perfect, or even beautiful. We have access tothe data, and we have a responsibility to communicate it in an effective manner. Ten steps can get you started:1. Define your audience. A new flash report providesan opportunity to reach out to each constituency in a way that is meaningful to them. Focuson the reader’s perspective by asking yourself,What is my board or finance committee concerned with? Where does the president want totake the school? What does the dean like to talkabout? Now, how do I best report to each of thesegroups?2. Start with what you have. Aggregate the reportsyou are already generating to assess the dataavailable, such as monthly reports (e.g., departmental statements, gift/tuition reports, internalfinancials, investment reports, etc.) or annual reports (e.g., audited financial statements, IRS Form990, total credit-hour report, scholarship report,enrollment reports, professor course lists, etc.).3. Group vital information into key categories. Whatdo you want to highlight from the income statement or balance sheet? Decide if you want tocompare actual to budget or to prior years’ actualresults. How can you measure your success in1
meeting the mission (e.g., number of graduates,placement rate, professor course loads, averageclass sizes, percentage of MDivs to total enrollment, average scholarship per student etc.)? Howcan you measure internal operational efficiency(e.g., part- to full-time employee ratio, cost percredit hour, percent of adjunct usage, etc.)? Thisstep is a key opportunity for the CFO to direct theconversation where we want and where we feel itis needed to manage change in the organization.4. Keep it simple. Remember your audience. You arereporting not only to the top administrators butalso to board members and other administratorswho might be scattered across multiple locations.Don’t overwhelm. Boil the dashboard down to agood mix of 10 or 12 key performance indicatorsand prioritize them for presentation. But don’tbypass reporting on the vital, basic information inorder to show a new fancy ratio. Try to keep thedashboard to one page.5. Be flexible. Mix metrics if they speak to the sameissue. If your school is tuition driven, then it makessense to weight the dashboard in that direction, sofor example, reporting fall head count, scholarshippercentages, and student accounts receivable willspark conversation on a few different levels. Reserve the right to change certain data points fromreport to report if they don’t seem to add value orgenerate any interest.6. Personalize the data. Ask, What information does[the president, the board, the dean, and so forth]need to know to be successful? What do I wantthem to know? Put yourself in their shoes and pulltogether data that would be meaningful to them.7. Make the timing appropriate to the audience. Determine the best timing and frequency for sharingmetrics with various audiences (e.g., campus presidents or department managers monthly, chancelloror president quarterly). Consider a targeted reporting for the executive committee or board threetimes a year that focuses on enrollment and tuitionin the fall, annual giving in the winter, and key an-nual metrics in the summer after the fiscal year end.8. Use graphics to reinforce your message. Colorcode changes from year to year. Use graphs or piecharts to tell the story, which will reduce the needto decipher a bunch of numbers on the paper.Color code up/down arrows to indicate positive/negative change. The use of Sparklines in Excelcan also help to present trends visually withouttaking up a lot of space.9. Collaborate with others. Identify key conversation partners with whom you can discuss the bigpicture of what’s happening in your institution.This will bring out new ideas on which to startreporting. Coordinate your reporting with others,such as the development office, to make sure thenumbers are consistent and accurate.10. Put it out there. You have to start somewhere.Your flash report can be your microphone, andyou already have enough information to pull onetogether . . . even if it’s not perfect or presentssensitive issues. Understanding that it can adaptover time . . . just do it!E. Bradley Tisdale is chief financial officerof Reformed Theological Seminary. Thisarticle is adapted from his presentationat the Financial Officers and TechnologyProfessionals Conference sponsored by theAssociation of Theological Schools in SanAntonio, Texas, in November 2014.THE FOLLOWING PAGES SHOW SAMPLES OF(1) A BOARD FLASH REPORT,(2) AN OPERATIONAL FLASH REPORT, AND(3) A SIMPLE MONTHLY FLASH REPORT.2
CONFIDENTIALABC SeminaryABC Seminary logoFor 3 mos ended August 31, 2014Founded in 1946ABC Seminary serves the Church by preparing its leaders,through a program of graduate theological education, based upon Net Tuition concentration by campus2% 2%LA12%13%10%NYCCommentaryNOThe first quarter has been strong for net tuitionand giving compared to last year, but enrollmentonly seems to be returning to previous levels.Total Revenue has increased 22% from last yearATL28%9%SEABOS11%CHI13%June-Aug 2014DENNet Tuition Institutional Operating Surplus (Deficit) is (24,000).Summer/Fall "Snapshot" of Total Credit Hours9800960092009000880033%Scholarship %:33%New Applications:240 8400350FY Portfolio return:1.9%Operating Expenses:8200 % Plant Maint/Total80007800Su/Fa 2008Su/Fa 2009Su/Fa 2010Su/Fa 2011Su/Fa 2012Su/Fa 2013Su/Fa 2014Reserve balance:Website Visitswww.edu@ABCSeminaryiTunes.abc.edu1,000,000# of Donors:Over (Under) End. Draw: 86001,250,000DE /Total Net Tuition:Operating Gifts9400 3 Yr Trend250,0003,000,00010% 3
CONFIDENTIALMonthly FLASH REPORTABC SeminaryABC Seminary logoFour mos ended September 30, 2014Founded in 1946ABC Seminary serves the Church by preparing its leaders,through a program of graduate theological education, based upon OPERATING RESULTS THROUGH SEPTEMBER 302013-142014-15ChangeCommentaryGross TuitionScholarshipsNet Tuition 1,500,000(500,000) 1,000,000 1,750,000(550,000)1,200,00017%10%20%Church givingDonor givingTotal Operating Gifts 350,000250,000600,000 375,000260,000635,0007%4%6%Net Endowment Draw 1,000,000 950,000-5%Other Income 250,000 235,000-6%Total Revenue 2,850,000 3,020,0006%Total Expenses 3,000,000 3,000,0000%Operating Surplus (Deficit) 20,000 (150,000) - Enrollment and giving havestayed higher than last year;however, the market took back allprevious gains.- The Net Tuition dollars areinreasing due to a rise in TCH andgood discipline on sholarshipassistance. New applications areincreasing as well, which is a goodindicator of potential growth.- Operating Gifts have increased atthe Church and donor levelcompared to last year.- The Net Endowment Draw hasdecreased due to a lower budgetedtotal amount for the year.- Total Expenses are staying evenwith prior year.- Overall, we're looking better thanlast year; however, we must stillconcentrate on limiting spending.KEY OPERATIONAL DATA2013-14Total Credit HoursNew Applications Rec'dScholarship %Number of DonorsInvestment Portfolio ReturnTotal website -3%-6%iTunes.abc.edu-The investment return for the yearis trending even so far.- Website visits are downcompared to last year due to thebig bump we received due to thesocial media referrals.facebook.com/ABCSeminary4
ABC SeminaryMonthly Flash ReportYTD September 3-142014-15 Financial DataNet tuition 229,431 218,334 235,016Total Operating Gifts 160,207 200,594 182,516Compensation Expense 514,854 526,459 537,653Non-Personnel Expense 184,366 202,263 244,378Total operating expenses 699,220 728,721 782,031Total honoraria expense 18,265 12,847 20,200Total Work Scholarship expense 22,484 29,758 26,627Total travel and meals expense 17,477 27,395 26,182Total Plant Maintenance 64,155 66,585 91,377Operating surplus (deficit) (269,217) (246,896) (230,893) 3731221,87747% 4701411,54943% 4731421,65245%Key Operational DataCost per credit hourNet tuition per credit HourTotal credit hoursScholarship %Positive trendNegative trend5
Don’t overwhelm. Boil the dashboard down to a good mix of 10 or 12 key performance indicators and prioritize them for presentation. But don’t bypass reporting on the vital, basic information in order to show a new fancy ratio. Try to keep the dashboard to one page. 5.