Write a Report for the Board Without Creating Anything New

Posted in strategic plan / operations plan

Write a Report for the Board Without Creating Anything New

In the relationship between governance (the board of directors) and operations (usually the executive director and staff team), there is a nice balance. The board, using their linkage to the stakeholders, creates a governing vision for the organization, called the strategic plan. The executive director takes that plan, and with the help of the staff team, creates programs and services to bring the plan to life.

The board wants regular updates.

Challenges can pop up throughout the year as the board wants updates on the progress towards achieving the strategic goals. They, naturally, want to know how things are going.

In larger non-profits with big teams and dashboards of digital tools, the executive director can easily pull data to report to the board. In smaller non-profits with limited staff and no budget for digital tools, reporting to the board is more challenging. Executive directors can get themselves into trouble by defaulting to reporting on the pros and cons of the programs and services the organization is running, rather than the progress towards meeting the strategic goals. This presents information that blurs the line between governance and operations and can set the stage for a board that meddles in day-to-day work.

Save time and create a report from information that already exists.

An executive director can create a monthly report that provides the board with the updates it desires, without defaulting to talking about programs. The report can be created by pulling information from operational processes and not creating any additional work for the ED.

Component #1 – Rationale

When the staff team selects the programs and services to run each operating year, they don’t make those selections based on whim, personal preference, or ‘the way they’ve always done things.’ A thoughtful staff team, led by the executive director, will discuss each strategic goal and will make an informed decision about what programs and services to run. They will have a rationale for the choices they make.

That rationale is the first component of the executive director’s report to the board. It can be copied over from operational planning, and won’t change from month to month, unless there is a major shift in programs and services.

Component #2 – Environmental Scan

Throughout the year, the board of directors, may lose its connection with the organization’s stakeholders. This can occur quite innocently because the board isn’t in active planning mode. An executive director can help a board stay connected to the stakeholders outside of planning mode, by providing their own comments about what is going on in the sector to which the non-profit is connected. This takes a lot of pressure off a volunteer board of directors, who, outside of planning mode, might want to spend their time focussing on their own jobs.

A few bullet points of environmental scanning are the second component of the executive director’s report to the board. These points can be added prior to each board meeting, by pulling from staff meeting discussions.

Component #3 – SWOT

We all know the partner to an environmental scan is the SWOT analysis. This tool usually takes the form of a robust conversation when the board is planning, but it can be surprisingly difficult to get that discussion rolling. An executive director can help a board of directors be ready for the big planning discussion by providing their own comments about the strengths (S), weaknesses (W), opportunities (O), and threats (T) the organization is observing.

An executive director can add these SWOT points as the third, and final, component in the executive director’s report to the board. A bullet point or two can be added prior to each board meeting, by pulling from staff meeting discussions, or drawing on the executive director’s own observations.

Three wins from this report.

There 3 wins an executive director will experience when using this format for the report to the board.

  • All the information comes from other sources, so there is very little extra time required for the executive director to write the report. Write the information once and use it twice!
  • The executive director will ensure the board feels informed at each meeting.
  • The executive directors will help the board become accustomed to the environmental scan and the SWOT. Then, when it comes time for planning mode, the board will more easily jump right into a robust conversation.

How to get started.

It is always easiest to start a new reporting format at the start of a new operational year. To get started in the middle of the year, an executive director can begin with small steps. Try adding a few environmental scan comments to a current report. After a meeting or two, label those comments as environmental scan. Repeat the process for the SWOT. Then when a new operating year starts, report all three components, for each strategic goal, as the new format.

Let me know how it goes.

If you give this my simplified reporting system a try, I’d love to hear how it worked for you. If you have questions, and I love questions, I want to know that too! Please use the form on the right side of the page to let me know.


Hi, I'm Christie Saas, current Executive Director, past board member, and non-profit volunteer. I remember well, those early years when I lacked the training, the confidence, and the work-life balance to focus on becoming the best non-profit leader I could be.

Fast-forward past many bumps in the road, lessons learned, and you’ll find me still in the trenches, but a little wiser, a little calmer, and a whole lot happier. I love my work and I want to help you love yours too.

I created ChristieSaas.com so non-profit leaders never need to feel alone. I’m here to help. If you’re a brand-new non-profit leader, or a little more seasoned, someone who’s looking to make a meaningful contribution and still have time for a full life away from the job, you’re in the right place.

© Christie Saas 2023 All Rights Reserved

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