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Charity Community

Start with 'Why': Top Tips for Effective Board Reports

Author: Kristina Kopic, Head of Charity and Voluntary Sector

Published: 11 Apr 2024

Effective board reports enable informed decision-making and strategic alignment. However, crafting a board report that supports your board’s decision-making requires more than just compiling data and financial results. It demands communicating the report’s purpose clearly, understanding the requirements of the trustees, and anchoring the reports in the charity’s strategic priorities.

Charity boards exist to make good decisions on behalf of the charity and those who rely on the charity’s services. However, no matter how skilled and engaged the trustees are, good decisions rely on relevant information presented in effective board papers that spark effective board conversations.

Here are some top tips to enhance the effectiveness of your board reports:

  1. Clarify the purpose of each board paper: Before diving into the content, it's crucial to clearly define the purpose of the board paper. Is it seeking approval for a specific action? Is it a performance review of past initiatives? Or is it an update on internal or external key developments? Being explicit about the purpose helps you decide how to present the information and ensures that the trustees know what is expected from them.
  2. Link to strategic priorities: To provide meaningful insights and guide strategic decision-making, board reports should be closely aligned with the organisation's strategic priorities. Clearly articulate how each agenda item contributes to the overarching goals and mission of the charity. By establishing this connection, board members can better evaluate the relevance and impact of proposed initiatives and allocate resources accordingly.
  3. Consider the audience: Consider the expertise and background of board members and tailor the report accordingly. Present complex financial data in a digestible format and provide sufficient context to facilitate informed discussions. If you want to learn how to present financial information effectively (and learn some Excel tricks), please revisit our February webinar, ‘Finance board packs – how to bring numbers alive using Excel’.
  4. Focus on key questions and metrics: It’s likely that some of your trustees juggle their voluntary board role with employment and other responsibilities. While it’s important to give them the information they need to make good decisions, avoid inundating them with a deluge of data. Instead, focus on key metrics and performance indicators that drive organisational success.
  5. Provide context and analysis: Numbers alone rarely tell the full story. Provide context and analysis to help board members understand the underlying drivers behind the data. What are the external factors and trends influencing performance? By offering insights beyond the numbers, you empower board members to make informed decisions grounded in strategic foresight.
  6. Anticipate questions and concerns: Anticipate the questions and concerns that board members are likely to raise during discussions and address them proactively in the report. Be transparent about challenges and risks, but also highlight opportunities and successes. By demonstrating foresight and preparedness, you will foster trust and confidence among board members.
  7. Encourage dialogue and collaboration: Board reports should serve as a catalyst for meaningful dialogue and enable good decisions. Encourage board members to ask questions, share diverse views, and challenge assumptions. If you are interested in learning the key principles (and real-life experiences) of board conversations about finance, please join our free webinar ‘Leading good board conversations about finance’.

In conclusion, effective board reporting is not merely a box-ticking exercise but a strategic imperative for organisational success. By starting with 'why' and following these top tips, you can elevate the quality and impact of your board reports, driving informed decision-making and helping your charity succeed.