In the previous article in this series, we considered the content of your board reports. Now, our focus will be how to elevate the look and feel of those reports. As we grow our set of data reporting features at Ravenna, we are always considering how to most effectively present data as valuable information. We know that admission directors are drawing data from many sources. Simply cutting and pasting from those sources doesn’t provide the specific information you are looking to present to your board. There are tools out there to help build beautiful graphics, but they can involve spending time to learn a new technology, or may be too expensive for your needs. In this article, we will talk through how to elevate reports using a tool most everyone has at their disposal: Excel.

A Basic Excel Table
Here is your typical Excel table displaying your projected enrollment for the upcoming school year.

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It likely looks very familiar. Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with this table; it is the information your board needs to know. It tells how overall enrollment is relative to goal, and what grade levels are over- or under-enrolled. However, like all simple tables, it requires board members to spend time considering the data and drawing conclusions themselves.

Instead, hand data like this out as a supplemental report for the board so they have a record of it. For your presentation, though, highlight your expertise by sharing analyses of the data. Consider: what are the most important elements of this table? What do you really want the board to know?

A Better Excel Table
Taking a few minutes to format your tables can make a big difference. Use Excel’s “Format as Table” capability to apply a template format as a starting point. Fill all the cells around the table with white to get a cleaner look. If you use the same spreadsheet from year to year, or if you have many data cells that you want to easily visually group, you can use “Conditional Formatting” to make cells certain colors based on some logic.

In the example here, we added logic in the Projected column so that grade levels that are over goal are in green and under goal are in red. Finally, we want the board to clearly see that we met our overall enrollment goals for the school, so we highlighted this as a call-out.

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An Excel Chart
Excel also has a robust chart-making capability that could be an even better alternative for your report. The chart below was created from the Excel table we have been using (above). We first made a stacked bar chart that showed rising and newly-matriculating students. Then we added the grade-level goal as a dotted line chart. The overall enrollment goal was added as a sub-header of the chart so that it stands out as a main point. Your board can clearly see which grades are over- or under-goal.

One thing to note is that when you create a chart in Excel, the default design choices are typically not ideal. There are a few quick modifications you can make to your charts that will greatly enhance its look, including:
Eliminate noise. Most charts look better with minimal grids and labels.
Keep it simple. Resist the bells-and-whistles temptations: no gradients; no 3-D; no shadows.
Use gray. If it’s not part of your primary information, make text, lines, etc., gray rather than black. If Excel chooses a particularly bold color palette for you, consider substituting shades of gray for all the fills except for the most important data.

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As with many things in life, the way something looks can significantly affect the way it is perceived. Taking time to apply a few simple formatting tricks to your tables and charts will help bring credibility to your analysis and focus your board on what really matters.

View our video to see an example of the transformation of a spreadsheet.

In our next article, we will take a look at how to spice up your funnel statistics.

Linda Haitani

Linda Haitani

Linda Haitani has served on the board of several non-profits, including The Evergreen School in Seattle. She began her involvement with independent schools helping her children's program eliminate manual processes through the use of technology. These experiences led her to co-found Ravenna Solutions to offer transformational admission software to schools across the country. Linda has an engineering degree from Princeton University.

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