March 02, 2017   |   Vol. 16   |   Issue 1
By Tom Beauchamp, MCC, MGI’s Vice President of Operations

Win the Race! Drive your Association or Non-Profit to
Success by Visualizing with Dashboards.

When you have important decisions to make, you need to understand your data—and data visualization is one of the best tools in your arsenal. Data visualization is the presentation of data in a pictorial or graphical format. A data dashboard is an information management tool that is used to track KPIs, metrics, and other key data points. Using data visualizations, data dashboards can simplify complex data sets to provide users with smaller pieces of real-time information that can be used to make data-driven decisions without getting lost or overloaded with data.

But I’m not a data analyst or in IT and big data may be too big for me!

Many commercially available products offer drag and drop capabilities to help you build dashboards. These products make dashboard building simple, allowing users to easily connect data from single or multiple sources and design a dashboard. The dashboard can then be deployed organization-wide or with customers. Users, members, board members, association staff, customers, and others can then access the dashboard (typically via a web browser, mobile device, pdf export, infographic, or printout) from almost anywhere.

Dashboard Basics, Best Practices, and Challenges for Associations

So how do you get started? You know that your association has a variety of data sets and sources that you would like to analyze and gain insights from.

  1. Before building a dashboard, you need to determine what story you would like your dashboard to tell, what questions you want it to provide answers to, or what metrics or KPIs you want to report. This will help you identify what data sets and data points to include, how to represent them, and any key items you’ll need to emphasize in the dashboard itself.
  2. Next you’ll need to determine which data sets are required to tell your story or answer your questions.
  3. After determining the exact data sets that you will be using, you’ll need to do a data quality review to ensure that values you want to analyze are standardized across your data source or sources—otherwise you may misrepresent data in your dashboard. Let’s say you wanted to design a simple dashboard to report on membership dues, and in your AMS system membership dues for one member appear as $1,000 but for another member dues appear as $1k. Without standardization of these values, they would be represented as different values and counted separately in your dashboard.


    Membership Dues Amount # of Members Paid
    $1,000 42
    $1k 21


  4. You don’t need perfect data for a dashboard but the data points you are representing should be standardized enough to avoid false information. You can focus on ensuring that only the data points being used are standardized.
  5. After key data points have been standardized in the data sets being used, you can connect the data sets to your dashboard tool. Associations may have many different data sets in different systems; commercial dashboard tools allow you to easily connect multiple data sources from multiple systems & file types, even data stored in multiple locations. For example, a national association may want to connect data from their state chapters with their own.

Do I need a centralized data-warehouse?

No, you don’t have to combine all your data in a data-warehouse to connect multiple data sources to your dashboard. Data can be combined or blended based on data sets having a common field across all of your data sets, such as a unique ID number. However, having all of your data combined properly in a data-warehouse will allow for more robust analysis, insights, reporting, standardization, and more, while offering a true 360° view of all cross-organizational data records within a centralized location.

You are now ready to begin building your dashboard!

Remember to follow these best practices and keep these tips in mind when working on a dashboard project:

  • Define the story you want the dashboard to tell, questions it should answer, KPIs, or metrics to be reported.
  • Define the data sets and data points being used.
  • Ensure that values being reported or analyzed are standardized across the data sets being used.
  • Identify your audience. (Members, board members, staff, etc.)
  • Keep context in mind. After you’ve identified the audience for your dashboard, you’ll need to select visuals that are meaningful to them. An executive director, CEO, or president will want a more compact and clean dashboard than a data analyst, who will want more information represented on a dashboard and the ability to dive deeper.
  • Arrange data in an order that makes sense for your story, metric, or KPI. (Values can be sorted low to high or high to low).
  • Shorten labels or values when possible ($10,000 to $10k).
  • Don’t use excessive styling like shadows, color blends, or 3D Effects.
  • Don’t include legends or keys unless absolutely necessary.
  • Keep it simple! Remove all unnecessary information to ensure your dashboard is not difficult to use or understand.
  • Share your dashboard, collaborate, and revise. The more feedback you receive along the way, the better your final dashboard will be.

Contact Tom Beauchamp, MGI’s Vice President of Operations, and find out more about association dashboards, data-warehousing, and data hygiene or data enhancement. Tom can be reached at or (703) 706-0377.

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