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No More Useless Reports

"Didn't you get the memo?" by nataliej on flickr.comWhen I studied wilderness first aid at the United World College of the American West, one student asked, “how often should you take a patient’s vitals during an evacuation.”

The instructor replied, “Only stop an evacuation to take a patient’s vitals if the results could change your evacuation plan. Otherwise you are just delaying the evacuation.

Tonight I was talking with somebody who works on tech issues with nonprofits, and he talked about how managers often request reports because they like to know things, not so they can make decisions based on the data.

When you ask staff or volunteers to put time into inputting, exporting, or reporting data, you are taking their time away from other activities. It’s like interrupting an evacuation to take someone’s vitals. Sometimes it’s necessary, but you should know why you are doing it.

In an evacuation, there are times it makes sense to monitor an evacuee. You may find out they are in too poor of condition to carry them out and that you need to call in an airlift.

In a nonprofit, there are times that it makes sense to spend a lot of time on reports. You may need to adjust your direct mail program to improve member retention.

But sometimes managers, board members, or committee members will ask for reports without any idea how the data will be used, and we’ve all heard the stories of these reports that have been painstakingly created only to sit on the shelf unread.

So, before you ask someone to create a report for you, ask yourself if this information might “change the evacuation plan,” or are you just, “delaying the evacuation.”

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