Editor’s note: All this month we’re publishing tech tips for nonprofits. Keep a look out for a new tip each day and let us know what you think in the comments. -Dan 

Nonprofits track all sorts of data, from finances and event attendance to volunteer participation, supporter involvement, and more. A dashboard, sometimes called an “executive dashboard,” is simply a means of pulling this information together in one place—often with visuals—to make it easier to understand and act on.

A good dashboard pulls together different, and sometimes disparate, metrics and makes it easy to interpret the data and make decisions. Dashboards often show indicators that make it easy see progress against a goal—for example, a “traffic light” icon with a green, yellow, or red light to show whether fundraising revenue is proceeding according to plan. And a dashboard doesn’t have to be technically complicated to set up. Start by thinking through the metrics you want to measure and how you want them to be displayed, and then see if one of the software applications you already have can display this information.

In fact, that’s the simplest way to create a dashboard: to use one that already exists. Many CRM and Donor Management systems come with pre-programmed dashboards that track fundraising campaigns. Another straightforward approach is to use Excel, as you can easily paste in updated figures, summarize them on a highly formatted summary tab, and use charts and automatic color coding to create something highly readable. You could do something similar with Google Docs. Though not quite as powerful for creating complex calculations, Google Docs does provide graphic dashboard formats that can show you where your metric falls within a range.

Finally, you could build a dashboard from scratch using web-based technology, a Content Management System, or application development tools. These options require a more significant investment, and are more appropriate for larger organizations.