Reset Search



How do I use SMU DataArts 5-year Trend Reports?

« Go Back



All of a sudden we’ve been dropped into a world with more uncertainty than ever.  Cultural organizations are facing, at best, temporary closures and a move toward online programming, and at worst, permanent staff lay-offs and bankruptcy.  Now, in the midst of making contingency plans, and hoping against hope that your organization can recover, as well as trying to keep yourself, your family, and your staff safe, is a time to dig into data.  To help you, even in a small way, SMU DataArts has created 5-year trend reports of your financial and programmatic data so you can have information at your fingertips as you look forward.  Here’s a section-by-section look at the two reports with some ideas for using them.

Operating Overview Trend Report

Financial Summary

This section is a great financial overview of your organization.  Look first at the Net Unrestricted Activity line.  Is it a positive or a negative number? 

  • If you’ve been generating a surplus year after year, that’s the cushion you have to fall back on right now. 

  • If you’ve been losing money, you have harder work ahead of you, but because you may be used to working frugally, think about all of the ways you have been saving money now, whether it's through volunteer labor, in-kind contributions, or negotiating discounted rates, and see how you can capitalize on those skills and techniques. 

  • If you’ve moved from a deficit to a surplus or decreased your deficit over the last five years, think about how you did that.  Did you increase prices?  Did you get grants?  Did you step-up your marketing efforts and bring in larger audiences?  Whatever solutions you employed, think about which of those might help you right now, and make plans to put other strategies in place as soon as we’re all out and about again.

Fundraising Activity

This section highlights the dollars you spend on fundraising and the grants and contributions you receive.

  • Check out your Fundraising Efficiency metric.  This calculation tells you how much you receive in contributions for every dollar you spend on fundraising.  Especially if the amount is fairly steady, this gives you a good idea of the effectiveness of your fundraising efforts and helps you gauge how much more you might gain in contributed revenue if you decide to increase your fundraising efforts right now.

  • To further plan your fundraising efforts, look at the contributed revenue table.  This table puts together contributions, the number of contributors, and average contribution by source.  As an example, if you notice that the average board member contribution has dropped over the years, you might want to not only ask board members to give right now, but also suggest an amount.

Marketing Activity

This section highlights the dollars you spend on marketing, the program revenue you receive, and your website and social media activity.

  • As many of us are temporarily suspending in-person activities, consider how effective your marketing dollars have been at bringing people to your events and traffic to your website and social media outlets.  Can those marketing dollars be redirected toward any new online activities you’re developing, or even saved for the day when you’re ready to resume programming?

  • Take a look at your website and social media activity in comparison with your attendance statistics.  If one of your marketing goals is to use your website and social media posts to drive attendance, consider using this downtime to revamp your communications efforts so that more people will encounter your online presence.


This section highlights your attendance and participation, and breaks it down by event type, and whether people paid to attend, or attended for free. 

  • As you plan to resume your programming, your 5-year trends can help you determine which of your programs are most popular and which less so.  This may be a good moment to think about shifting or changing some of your emphasis to serve a different group of people, a larger audience, or reaffirm your commitment to other programs.

  • If your organization is in a cash crunch because of pandemic shut-downs, use the paid/free information in your 5-year trends to either make sure you’re re-starting programs that will bring in revenue first.  Or, if you’re on a solid financial footing, consider re-starting free programs first to serve your community.

Program Activity

This section lists how many programs and events you offered broken down by activity type.

  • Use this section in conjunction with attendance and financial information to get a sense of how many people you can expect to serve and the financial impact once you resume in-person programming.  For example, if you’ve canceled 4 out of 5 classes you offer, but you know from the attendance section that over the last 5 years your classes serve an average of 1000 people, you can estimate that the one class you hope to offer will still serve 200 people.  And if you look at the Revenue Details section in your 5-year Financial Details report, you might discover that tuitions, on average, bring in $200,000 per year.  If you’re only able to offer one class, you can calculate you’ll receive $40,000 in tuition revenue.  Doing these types of calculations can help you decide if it’s worth offering only one class, whether you should change your tuition prices, how many classes you should try an offer, etc.


This section brings together your data about the number of people who work for your organization in any capacity, salary and benefits information and the number of artists you employ.

  • If you’ve had to cut staff, or not hire contractors because of cancellations and loss of revenue, use the Staff Expenses section to understand exactly how much money you might save.  It might be more or less than you think.  For example, if you’re considering letting your program coordinator go, you might think that you’re saving $45,000 in salary and benefits, but consider you are also losing the capacity that person brings to your team, and not having that person on board means you won’t be able to get your programs up and running quickly after we’re all back to work. 

  • Use the FTE information as part of conversations with your board.  If you’re down staff members because you’re not running programs or experiencing cash-flow issues, let the board know how many hours you will need them to contribute to your organization so you can get up and running, or use this data as a springboard to recruit new volunteers once we’re all able to get back to work.

Financial Details Trend Report

This report adds three sections in addition to the Financial Summary.

Revenue Details

This section lists all of the sources of your earned and contributed revenue over the last five years. 

  • On the earned revenue side, scan the list and think about how and whether each type of activity can move online.  Look at how much revenue each area is bringing in.  If you can’t do the work to generate those funds, but still need those dollars to survive, add that sum to your fundraising goal.

  • On the contributed revenue side, look at which sources of grants and contributions have been most consistent over the years.  If you receive a similar amount every year, those are donors and funds you can likely count on as you recover from the pandemic, and represent people you might turn to for specific outreach now.

Expense Details

This section lists all of your organization’s expenses broken down by expense type over the last five years. 

  • Scan the entire list.  Make note of which expenses will stay the same during this time, and which will change.  For example, if you’re working at home, and not at your office, do you get a discount on your rent?  Are there are workers you hire seasonally, but won’t hire this year?  This information can help you prepare an immediate budget and adjust your revenue needs.

  • As your organization prepares for life post-pandemic and think about whether will you re-introduce all of your programs at the same time, or gradually, use your five-year expense trends as a starting point for a new budget, and think about which expenses will increase or decrease for the year because of programs you were not able to offer, discounts you might have received, etc. 

Balance Sheet/Metrics

The balance sheet is your financial health roadmap.  Now, more than ever, is a time to spend quality time with your balance sheet and balance sheet metrics to understand what they mean, and to use the information to help plan for the future.

  • Start with your Unrestricted Net Assets.  This is your organization’s net worth at the end of your fiscal year.  Do you see a 5-year trend of positive numbers, with an increase every year?  This means that your organization has a history of generating surpluses and you have a cushion to fall back on.

  • Check out the Months of Operating Cash and Months of Working Capital metrics.  Both of these items indicate how many months of savings your organization has to fall back on given the absence of new revenue coming in, which is the situation you might find yourself in right now.  Look at your trends over the last five years.  If, on average you don’t have the number of months you think will match the number of months of the current shut down, now is the time to make a plan for fundraising and other immediate means of revenue generation of other cost savings. 

  • For more immediate financial health information, generate a balance sheet from your accounting software, and get in touch with the SMU DataArts support center.  We can help you calculate the same metrics based on your most up-to-date figures.



Was this article helpful?



Please tell us how we can make this article more useful.

Characters Remaining: 255