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  • Anne McDaniel

What Makes a Good Scorecard and 4 Reasons Why your Nonprofit Needs One

Updated: Jan 31

Understanding the Importance of Scorecards for Nonprofits: 4 Reasons to Implement One

Have you ever gone through a lengthy strategic planning process? That months-long process of gathering input from key stakeholders... then ideating and dreaming of a better future... finally someone (maybe you!) creates a beautiful document outlining your vision and plans for the future.

Now, did you find an easy way to track milestones and goals, or did that well manicured plan end up on a shelf? I know I have had a few sit on my shelves (or in a hidden away folder on my computer).

Strategic planning can be energizing and inspiring, but what comes next is the hard part. This is especially true when the crisis of the day - that next grant deadline or emergency with a participant - can take all of your focus. Meshing that strategic plan with that critical day-to-day work and the realities of your budget makes things even harder. Implementing your plan is the hard part, and an organizational scorecard can help your strategic plan do more than collect dust.

In this post, I'll try to convince you that you need a scorecard and that with a little bit of work, it can make your life easier and your organization more successful.

How do I build my scorecard?

So what does a good scorecard look like? Here’s what I recommend:

First, it should be simple. A scorecard does not include pages and pages (or spreadsheets) of information. Ideally a scorecard should fit on one page and have no more than 20 metrics, even though that is a lot.

Second, it will include evergreen, always measured components. Fundraising dollars and staff count are good examples. You’ll select these based on what’s important to your organization and you expect to be important for years to come.

Third, it should also include your strategic goals, likely derived from your strategic plan and measured using the SMART method (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound). These goals should be ‘must do’ for your organization, the things on which everyone should focus - such as increasing engagement in the community, serving more people, or having higher success rates. With that in mind...

Fourth, it has to be a living document that is updated regularly. Scorecards can take a lot of work to put together, and that work will only pay-off if you spend the time and energy to regularly update it at a cadence that works for your organization (monthly is a good place to start). Make it a visible, living document and actually use it to guide your day-to-day work. This focus will help your organization, and ultimately, help you meet your goals.

Isn’t this just another thing to do? What can a scorecard do for us?

Scorecards have plenty of potential benefits for your nonprofit. Here are some of the most important:

  1. It keeps your vision top of mind.

  2. It puts the must-dos on the board.

  3. It ensures everyone is responsible for the strategic goals.

  4. It creates transparency for staff and key stakeholders.

1. Keeps your vision top of mind

Having a scorecard can keep the vision of your organization fresh in everyone’s minds. In fact, often a good scorecard will include the vision statement. Seeing it regularly will remind you and your organization not just of the mission, but where you want to go. A vision statement is aspirational, but we all know it can be hard to maintain those aspirations and momentum in the day to day of work. A little reminder never hurt anyone.

2. Puts your must dos on the board

I love a good to-do list, and a scorecard serves as just that but at a grander level. While we all run through the list of the things we need to do day to day via an app on our computer, sticky notes on our desk, or a mental list in our head, it can be hard to remember all of the bigger, longer term things your organization is trying to achieve. The scorecard is a way to see those all in one place and track progress toward them. A scorecard is a cheat sheet for the important, strategic work you should be doing while balancing the day to day demands of your job. It's a big to do list for everyone to see and remember to cross off.

3. Ensures everyone is responsible for the strategic goals.

Effective organizations make their scorecards available internally to all staff, refer to it often in staff meetings or regular communications, and tie performance evaluations and management to progress on strategic goals. A scorecard is a reminder to your organization that everyone is responsible for strategic goals. While you certainly need leads for specific projects or phases of projects, your team should all be helping each other. For example, your development person may be responsible for the final annual fundraising number, but everyone on your team should be thinking about ways to help that person do their job. Whether that is forwarding thank you notes from clients that could be powerful for donors to see or sharing your annual fundraising drive with their personal and professional networks. Everyone is responsible for the success of your scorecard metrics.

4. Creates transparency for staff and key stakeholders.

Scorecards create transparency for staff and other key stakeholders, especially your Board of Directors. Scorecards not only lay out what the goals are, and aren’t, but progress toward those goals so no one is surprised when a project is falling behind. This allows the team to really focus on the things that really matter, but sometimes, more importantly, what can be let go. Nonprofits often face the challenge of trying to be everything to everyone, often without enough staff or budget. A scorecard can crystallize to you, your team, and your key stakeholders, what you are focusing on and why you may not pursue other projects or opportunities. Saying no can often be the hardest part, and a quick reference to your scorecard can help you make that decision, or back it up, when needed.

Scorecards are a Tool for Organizing Data

A scorecard is a great way to organize and prioritize the data your nonprofit collects by allowing you to focus on a small number of important metrics. But, a scorecard is not a data collection system itself. Rather, it’s a tool to help you focus on what’s most important. to track your progress, and help you make decisions. Your nonprofit still needs to determine the right outputs and outcomes to track. You need to continue to collect financial data, donor data and strategic plan progress. All of that data feeds your scorecard to make it a useful and powerful tool.

Start Keeping Score

With all of that in mind, I hope you can see how a scorecard can be a valuable tool for your nonprofit organization. While it may take a little work to create and update regularly, it will pay off in the clarity and transparency of what your organization is achieving.

Building a good scorecard is just the beginning. You have to actually use it! In a future post, we will describe how to implement your scorecard so you can reap the rewards of your great work.

Guest Writer

Reporting your impact is hard when you’re juggling spreadsheets. countbubble makes it easy so you can focus on your mission.

Feel free to email us at to start a conversation, or sign up for email updates.

Founder, CountBubble, LLC

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