Donors, Board Members and Real-time Reporting

real-time reportingBy Danny Oberman

Donors and board members are all interested in the financial sustainability and successful implementation of programs within the NGOs they support, but more than anything they don’t want surprises.

New tools are now available which enable lay leaders to have greater insight into budgeting, decision making, project management and almost all aspects of the NGOs’ operation. Whether board members, should “micromanage” an organization is definitely an issue, but not the subject of this article. It may also be a mute argument, since the technology already exists and as with disappearance of privacy in the social realm, the monthly, quarterly or annual update to lay leaders will I believe, go the way of the dinosaurs.

Today, lay leaders can define the real time reports they want and simply login to their tablets and check if goals have been met, suppliers paid, or whether projects are on schedule. An additional feature enables board members to input their opinion or vote on specific issues.

These reporting tools provide a real time picture, and are simple and fast to implement and do not require any special software installations. They are typically cloud based solutions, which are secure and have a very short learning curve. The solutions can be custom built using Google spreadsheets or pre-packaged solutions like Smartsheet.

This enables the lay leader to logon 24/7 and see the reports that he has chosen to see. Is the donor’s favorite project running on schedule? Is there an issue with cashflow? Are new donors joining to support the effort?

This technology is not for the board member who wishes to see a manicured report once a year, but instead, enables an NGO to benefit from the experience of lay leaders who are interested in contributing their accumulated knowledge. A healthy professional/lay leader relationship is a prerequisite for any successful NGO, and real time reporting can strengthen the dialog.

There is typically a “primary” report for all board members which has current bank balances, donations received, outstanding debt and other key variables. An additional feature are reminders and notifications that can be set, so that board members can for example, know when a decision requires their input, or if bank balances are getting too low.

For foundations who closely monitor the activities of the NGOs they support, real time reporting can provide a new level of confidence that targets are being met, on schedule and within budget. Automatic alerts can be built into the reporting system to advise of changes to scheduling or budgeting.

Those responsible for fundraising for the NGO have a powerful asset in real time reporting. Giving the donor the ability to monitor the progress of their pet project will strengthen donor retention and demonstrate a healthy partnership with management.

Not all is perfect in this real time reporting environment. Reports are only as good as the data which has been input, and some of the data must be entered manually by staff members. If the relationship between the board and management is not open, and transparency is not part of the organizational culture, the real time “big brother is watching” can be threatening and stressful.

Real time reporting is still a relatively new practice, but can be a game changer in the relationship between lay leaders and the NGOs they support. NGO’s are often suspect of weak management practices, but a policy of transparency with lay leaders can be implemented at a very low cost, and can strengthen the board members’ and donors’ conviction, that they are supporting a professionally run organization.

Danny Oberman has worked in senior positions in both the NGO realm and in hitech. He is
currently managing a small NGO, consulting to donors, and has also launched a mobile app for cardiac patients. He can be reached at: