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Jason Schoenleber
Jason Schoenleber

Analytics, Best Practices, Data Visualization, Decision Support, Transparency, Branding

3 Rules for Constructing and Communicating Your Financial "Story" to Stakeholders

Posted on Sep 22, 2017 1:44:19 PM

One common thread that every good story has imbedded into it is context.  Without context, it doesn’t make sense as to why Hansel and Gretel are lost in the woods, why Peter Pan never ages, or what Harry Potter’s deal is.  Context provides depth and a frame of reference to an otherwise flat story. 

School administrators across the country are finding that a powerful and effective way to communicate their district's financials to stakeholders is through telling their district’s “story” with data and visuals.  Starting the school year with a State of the District report is increasingly becoming a popular way to provide the needed context for helping a community understand and appreciate the financial management of their school district.

Just like telling any good story, developing a State of the District report requires that the storyteller follow 3 simple rules:

  • Know your audience
  • Know what they need to know
  • Tell it simply

Know Your Audience

When constructing the State of the District report, it’s important to first identify your audience.  Educating local stakeholders on the basics of school business finance looks different than familiarizing a new school board member on the history of the district. Often these two can converge, but even when they do, the level of detail needed to inform the audience looks different. 

Avoid falling into the common trap at this stage of assuming your audience knows more than it does!  Be sure to include key foundational information, no matter how obvious it seems, which leads into the second rule…

Read "How to Effectively Communicate Your Budget to Stakeholders"

Know What They Need to Know

If raising enrollment was the precursor to increasing staff levels, which drove up personnel costs from last year, include that in the presentation.  If changes to the state funding model were determinate to changes the district made in program offerings, include that as well.  These might be obvious to administration, but not necessarily to stakeholders, so map out the paths to decisions made.  “Opening” up your data in this way also increases transparency and builds trust.

To start, think about a list of the key data points someone would be interested in learning and understanding about the district -  the where, when, why, and how.  At the same time, keep in mind that too much data can lead down the wrong path, which is why the third rule is so important…

Tell It Simply

Simplicity is often the key to any stakeholder communication. The US Navy started saying K.I.S.S., Keep It Simple Stupid, in the 1960’s, Henry David Thoreau said “Simplify, Simplify”, and still many use the popular phrase “explain as if talking to a 2nd grader”.  Regardless of the saying used, the idea is the same; simple is better, less is more.

When constructing an outline of what the audience needs to know, cut out the unnecessary and remove the distractions.  If what is being said or shown takes more attention away rather than enhancing the ability to understand the situation, then don’t include it.  This can be difficult at times because some information might be important to share, but keep in mind that the story is meant to provide insights that might lead to questions and further discussions. 

Additionally, simplification doesn’t just mean deciding what data to include and not include, it also looks at the type of content used in the presentation to help your community appreciate the state of your district.  To read more on what this looks like and why it is so important, read David Torres’ recent blog post, “I Love My Schools: Make it Easy for Your Community to Appreciate the State of Your District”.  He does a great job explaining how to show the story you want them to see by using analytical capabilities in your presentation.

The Resolution

There’s nothing worse than jumping into a great or funny story mid-way through, without the context to understand what’s going on, and feeling left out of the conversation, or needing to play catch up.  If information gaps aren’t filled in with the proper context, people will usually fill them in on their own.  A good State of the District presentation will provide that context to your audience to communciate your finanical story, and help create a positive foundation for future discussions predicated on that information. 

Communciate your financial story to stakeholders:
Download a free template to create your "State of the District" Report



Jason Schoenleber is a Relationship Manager with Forecast5 Analytics in Naperville, where he assists clients with data analysis, and connecting them to the value of the Forecast5 product suite.  Prior to working at Forecast5, Jason worked for 3 years as a Solutions Consultant for Enfos Inc., advising corporate remediation directors on managing their financial debt obligation data through a SaaS platform and template modeling.  He received his Bachelors in Marketing from the University of South Dakota, and is currently pursuing his Masters in Business Administration from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

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