A board report is like a State of the Union for your board of directors—a regular update on where the business currently is, and where it’s going in the upcoming year. This is the primary chance for the CEO and CFO to speak directly to the board about how they’re handling their business responsibilities.
The board reports allow you to lay out your plans and point of view on the business and set the tone for the coming year. It’s your chance to contextualize the company’s performance and strategy and set the stage for board member buy-in on upcoming projects and financial needs.
For all those reasons, it’s important to get this report right—not only to keep board members up-to-date and informed, but also to build their confidence in your leadership and vision.
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How to write a great board report?
So, what does getting a board report “right” actually mean? Here are the most important points:
- Keep it concise: Board members don’t need (or want) a full post-mortem on every single thing the company did last year. Instead, keep your report to a few pages, giving a high-level overview of the company’s performance.
- Be clear and don’t hedge: Whether the company had a great year or a not-so-great one, it’s important to be clear and honest with board members. Transparency can help your board better understand where the company is and where it’s going.
With that in mind, let’s talk about the five steps you can take to nail your board report and set your company’s growth up for success.
1. Include the right elements in writing your board report
Keeping your board reports concise helps you avoid the trap of over-explaining everything that happened over the last year. So, what should you include in your board report? Understanding which elements to include and exclude is the first step in nailing your report.
Here are the four essential format and structure elements to touch on:
- Explain any changes or problems you faced this year: Whether you pivoted the entire business, expanded into a new market, launched a new product line, or missed a KPI target, the board report is your opportunity to explain why these things occurred and how they’ll affect the business.
- Accomplishments your organization achieved: This can include goals or KPIs that you exceeded (i.e., revenue targets), milestones you surpassed (turning a profit for the first time, for example), or anything you’re particularly proud of.
- Important facts or statistics to share with the board: This is where your CFO can get into the nitty-gritty of the company’s financial performance. Be sure to highlight trends and contextualize all of the numbers with respect to where the company has been and where you’re going—more on that in Step 3.
- Upcoming projects or changes that require the board’s authorization or financial support: A board report is a good time to get board members looking forward. If there are projects or changes on the horizon that require their support (financial or otherwise), inform them with a high-level overview and highlight next steps.
2. Organize and structure the information when you write your board reports
Now that you know which elements to talk about in your report, let’s examine the best way to organize a board report. Here are our recommendations to draw a coherent picture with your report:
- To start, broadly explain any highs, lows, or changes the business experienced over the previous year. This is the time to recap the year and give your perspective on how things went.
- Next, share specific data and key performance indicators (KPIs). If you’ve already given a previous board report, frame these numbers in the context of the benchmarks and plans you set forth in your last report. Be sure to explain how your strategy impacted these KPIs over the past year.
- Now, begin outlining how your strategy is (or isn’t) changing for the coming year. If it’s changing, explain the new strategy and tie it back to any KPI projects or goals you’ve set.
- Flowing from that discussion, introduce any upcoming projects that require board approval. Here, you should give a high-level overview of the project, next steps, and explain what you need from the board to make it happen. Always tie these projects back to the strategy you’ve just outlined.
- To wrap up, end on a high note. Highlight any key accomplishments that you’re particularly proud of from the past year. Maybe you successfully launched a new product line, for example, or made a big splash in a new geographic market.
3. Use data to explain business performance
If there’s one element common to every good board report, it’s data. The key is to include the right metrics—the ones that actually matter to board members. Instead of spending time on vanity metrics—like how many people visited your website or how many social media users follow the company—focus on bigger-picture metrics like:
- Revenue or monthly recurring revenue (MRR)
- Customer growth
In addition to including these KPIs, include graphs and other visuals that help board members make sense of the numbers. Graphs, charts, and other visualizations make it easier to understand the trends that you outline in the report.
4. Anticipate board questions and concerns
While it’s important to include the standbys we’ve talked about so far in your report, remember to take your audience into account. That means understanding individual board members and the items that are likely to raise questions. When you know your audience, you can better provide the context and explanation each member needs to fully understand the business’ strategy and performance.
Board members who come from a finance background, for example, may be more interested in hard revenue numbers and other financial data. Board members who’ve spent their careers in your industry may have more in-depth thoughts on the execution of your go-forward strategy.
In addition to adding details tailored to your specific audience, prepare for follow-up questions board members may ask. That could include clarification on particular data points or requests for more details on a particular project.
To anticipate what questions might arise during your board presentation, you’ll need to step outside your role as the founder or CEO. To help you get there, try these exercises:
- Read through your board report in the mindset of a board member—do any questions immediately come to mind?
- Read previous board meeting minutes to see what questions board members have previously asked about upcoming projects or plans.
- Search for any gaps in the strategy, goals, and individual projects you’ve proposed. Do they flow logically from one to another?
- If you’ve discussed upcoming projects or strategy with other members of your team, think about the questions they had for you and note how you answered them.
5. Introduce upcoming needs and plans
The last step in writing your board report is to set yourself up for success for the coming year. Before closing out your board report, introduce members to any upcoming needs or plans that will require support or buy-in. When it comes to getting board approval on your plans and financial needs, it’s always best to start early.
Upon hearing your board report, the overall business strategy is fresh in the mind of board members—that makes it an ideal time to bring up future needs within the context of that strategy. It helps board members to visualize how those needs fit into the larger strategy and how each smaller project contributes to your overall plan for the business.
To introduce upcoming projects, it’s best to start with a high-level overview, explaining the basics of the project, an introductory timeline, and emphasizing what you need from the board in order to make it happen: money, help with staffing, connections with potential investors, etc. If a project is already in motion, share the next few steps and the end goal.
A better board report to set your company up for success
Writing a better board report ensures your company’s board is up to speed as well as invested in and excited by the company’s future. That means you’ll be able to solicit more valuable feedback and insights that make sense within the context of your strategy. You’ll also have an easier time securing the buy-in you need for future projects and financial needs.
Board reports can contain a lot of confidential information meant for board members’ eyes only. After putting in the effort to write a strong report, keep your proprietary information safe by sending the document using a secure link, instead of as an unsecured email attachment. This will give you the added benefit of seeing who has opened and read the report, and who still needs to.
With the steps above, you’re well on your way to creating a board report that strengthens the cooperation between yourself and the board—and helps to grow the business in turn.