Skip to content
PEAK Grantmaking

Upgrade that Board Packet with the Same Data, Better Storytelling

I work at a private foundation and one of my grants management duties is to update the board three times a year on the grant applications we are considering for awards, the grantmaking budget, and other information. But at meetings, the board would sometimes be distracted trying to look for the information while discussion was happening or would ask questions about how to find the information in the packet.

You will see below the original version of our slate of grant proposals under consideration and our grantmaking budget summary. (I am almost too embarrassed to show this!) Fortunately, by taking Depict Data Studio’s Dashboard Design course, I was able to revitalize a tired spreadsheet into an information powerhouse and a colorful budget visualization into a professional presentation.

It’s the same information, just presented differently.

Getting rid of gridlines galore

This docket of grants applications was printed on 11×17 paper for easier readability, but there was still a lot wrong with the document:

  • An overwhelming amount of information
  • Gridlines and cells highlighted in yellow distract the eye
  • Applications were presented alphabetically by organization and not grouped in any way

I learned that making little changes can have a big impact. Although this docket is just a list of our applications, using visualizations, icons, colors, and conditional formatting helps to tell a story. For example, it was easy to see which organizations were new to us, like the last grant on the sheet. You’ll see that the request is 25 percent of the organization’s budget, and that may seem like a large percentage. However, this is a Black-led organization (anonymized here, but the board would know based on the organization’s name) and we are trying to lean into funding more deeply in that space, and the pie chart allows the reader to quickly see our level of commitment.

These are some of the other changes I made:

  • Added a logo and subtitle to better orient the audience, create a cohesive brand style, and help to manage version control issues
  • Used brand colors in headings and their corresponding icon for added sophistication and cohesive aesthetic
  • Minimized the use of gridlines to make the visual presentation cleaner and easier to read
  • Used font colors in lieu of highlighting to spotlight key information.
  • Grouped applicants together by type of grant (general operating vs. project) so the board could quickly see the balance in the grants slate, as it is a priority of ours to award general operating dollars whenever feasible
  • Created pie charts via conditional formatting to indicate how much of the organization’s budget each grant consumed instead of listing percentages to create visual interest and easily communicate how our budget was apportioned
  • Aligned numbers to the right so that decimals are lined up in a column and aligned text to the left for easier readability
  • Used deviation bar visualization to show the percent change of the current request from their previous award instead of just expecting the reader to do the math
  • Added a budget summary chart at the bottom

This resulted in a much more well-received document with lots of compliments from board members!

As a result of their feedback, I have begun creating a cohesive aesthetic for all the documents I produce for the board to give them the information they need in the most streamlined way possible. With these changes, we can focus discussion on more important topics, such as grantmaking strategy, instead of hunting for information.

Redesigning the budget

Although I had already revised the budget visualization spreadsheet so that board members could more easily understand it, Ann’s course challenged me to turn it up a few notches.

This is what the budget originally looked like.

And this is my redesign.

Changes to this in terms of conditional formatting or visualizations, but I did tone it down. The biggest change was that I replaced the explanatory text boxes with icons to illustrate where we are in the budget, which the board members appreciated. As you can see, there is that cohesive title, subtitle, font, and color choice to keep the branding in line.

Overall, the changes on both documents tie to our value on streamlining all of our grantmaking practices, and not just our application and reporting templates. We value streamlining because it opens up more time for staff and board to do strategic work. The cleanliness of the documents reduces time wasted by the board members doing unnecessary hunting for information or performing calculations in their head. Staff and board are better able to take a holistic view of the work that quarter. What’s more is that these are just two examples of what can be done with some easy formatting changes. There are other documents that can be revamped, like dashboards or write-ups, as well as other changes that can be made with sparklines or charts. Streamlining is a mind-set and there are many ways and places to put it into practice

A version of this post was first published by Depict Data Studio.