Make data-driven decisions

4 Steps to Set Up Your Report For Success

Accurate and detailed reports are essential to run an effective nonprofit. This doesn't mean that setting up reports has to be a lengthy, grueling process, though.

When you invest the time to set up your report process for success from the beginning, you'll have a strong foundation that will save you time and energy in the long-run.

That's why we're sharing our four-step reporting set-up process with you. While every organizational structure is different and has unique needs, this process is intended to serve as an outline of what you and your team can do to start building more effective reports in less time.

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1. Identify the Purpose of the Report

Before you do anything else in your reporting process, it’s essential to understand the purpose of the report.

If your colleague is requesting the report, schedule a time to meet with them to go over their needs. In this stage of your reporting, it’s important to focus on the right aspects so you don’t get bogged down with information. Be sure to ask questions that focus on the high-level functional need of your colleagues requesting the report, and not the specific technical solution.

For example, a need that your colleague may request from you could be, “how is the capital campaign progressing?”, “how close are we to meeting our monthly funding goal?”, or “how many members are currently active… is this more than last year?” These types of questions will be your starting point. Notice this is not specifying the exact chart and design of the final report. The request should not be “I need a bar chart that compares General Admission tickets versus Memberships.”

As your colleagues start explaining more about their needs it’s important to listen without judgment or challenge. Asking questions like “Why does your team do that?” and “Could you explain more about that operation?” is important, but be sure to clarify that you’re not asking these questions to challenge what they are doing. You just need to ensure you can deliver a report that best fits their needs.

 How to build great nonprofit data reports

2. Capture All of the Details

To ensure you have all the detailed information you need for the report, we recommend creating a template to answer the 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where, and Why. (Notice we left out “how”! The specifics of how you will build the final report and design any required dashboards should come later on, not in the initial set-up stage.)

Here’s how the 5 W’s translate into figuring out reporting needs:

  • Who = the audience (for example, the Operations or Development department)       
  • What = the business operation (for example, tracking a Capital Campaign’s progress or membership activity)
  • When = how often the report needs to be sent out (yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, or some other rate of frequency)
  • Where = how the report(s) will be distributed (via email, an email with a PDF attachment, a dashboard in a reporting tool, or through another medium)
  • Why = the business cases for tracking the metric (to judge success, monitor conversion rate, track membership changes, etc. There likely will be more than one “whys”.)

Don't have the time to create a reporting requirements template? No problem—we've created one for you!

Download the Template

3. Determine (and Categorize) the Metrics

After the needs of the report have been specified and all the details have been captured, it's time to determine which metrics will be included in your report.

The specific process we recommend to our clients is as follows:

  • Set up a time for a brainstorming session with those who will use the report.
  • Have everyone come prepared with the metrics they’d like to see written out on sticky notes.
  • Stick the notes with the metrics on a wall where everyone can see them.
  • Group the sticky notes into three categories: Executive Summary (the overall takeaway of the report, such as, "we are $xx away from our fundraising goal"), Summary (a deeper level of explanation of the overall takeaway, such as progress towards a fundraising goal in the last 8 months), and Detailed Information (the more specific metrics, such as how many people have donated, average gift size, etc.).

From there, you can select the metrics that are vital to your report. Refer back to the information you gathered in steps one and two to make sure that the metrics you’ve selected are fulfilling the purpose of the report. Editing down to only the necessary metrics is key to this process—you don't want to end up with a report that’s so full of metrics that nobody can find the information they need.

How to make a fundraising report

4. Find the Data You Need

Once you've clarified the needs and structure of the report, it's essential to ensure that you have the data required to create an accurate report.

Before sitting down to create your report, validate that the data you are reporting on is all in your source database and is in there correctly. If you are having a difficult time identifying where the data is or are unsure of the quality of the data, set up a time with the person who enters the data and ask them to walk you through their process. You may find that your colleague is using a different field from what you expected to track the data you need or that the specific type of data requested isn't entered in regularly.

These are vital aspects to consider and clarify before starting your report, otherwise, you'll likely waste time down the road going back to your report to fix data errors and add in more data to your report after you've created it. 

In Conclusion

To summarize, our four-step reporting set-up process is to first identify the purpose of the report, then capture all of the required reporting details in our 5 W's Template, then determine and categorize the metrics, and finally, ensure you have all the data you'll need.

We hope that this set-up process proves helpful to you and your team! Looking for more nonprofit data insights? Download the Fundraiser's Guide to Data Analysis.

Download the eBook


How to set up effective fundraising reports

If you have questions or would like additional assistance in developing efficient data processes and building better reports, contact us.

Do you use Raiser’s Edge, Galaxy, or Siriusware? We recommend using Answers as your reporting and business intelligence tool. Learn more about JCA Answers.