Skip to main content

Poke Your Head Up and Ask

I'M IN LOVE WITH BENCHMARKING.  I love gathering data about organizations, but not simply for gathering's sake.  It's got to be focused information that can help to paint a picture about success (or the potential for success).  For me, benchmarking is a nifty tool that can help to answer two key questions every nonprofit needs to ask: 1)  how can I tell how my organization's doing until I start to compare it with similar or better organizations?  and 2) how can I know all that might be possible for my organization until I know what's out there already?
Benchmarking is one way to get a handle on exactly this type of information.  It can be as simple as sending an email or as formal as making an on-site visit with a laundry list of questions for specific staff or board members.  What you find out can help you to place your organization on the great continuum of organizations like yours.  It gets you grounded and lets you know if your organization is at or near the top of its game, or has many miles to go.  No matter how simple or complicated your benchmarking, here are what I think the overriding factors are to make your benchmarking the most useful for you: 
  • get very clear on what you want to find out.  Unless you want to do just a general overview for comparison, i.e., budget size, number of staff, size of board, extent of programming, etc., make your focus for benchmarking fairly tight.
  • choose organizations based on what you want to find out.  Looking to elevate audience development activities, for example?  Put your thinking cap on and choose benchmarking prospects that do audience development really well.
  •  always benchmark organizations that are at or above your own organization's level (whether it be size or programming sophistication).  Benchmarking organizations that are below your organization's level won't necessarily teach you anything new or help you raise the bar.
  • never benchmark organizations you know are mediocre -- that's a waste of time in my book.
  • develop a list of questions from which to work and stick to them; do this so that you can compare organization to organization (sure, sidebar conversations are great and you may discover something you'll want to explore that you hadn't anticipated, but make sure you cover your primary list first).
  • benchmark across geographic areas and the nonprofit spectrum.  Depending upon the topic of your interest, a for-profit might be a likely prospect.  This is about moving out of your comfort zone a bit to discover possibilities you might not have thought of before.
Bottom line, benchmarking is about poking your head up out of the your own institution's particular hole and taking a look around.  First, you've got to be willing to poke your head up.  And then you've got to ask some questions.  It's an interactive activity, this benchmarking stuff.  So, come on out of the hole and breathe some fresh air!  It can be so worth it.

Photo:  Whack a mole! from catgotti via Flickr
 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

4 Nonprofit Resolutions for 2021

Even though 2020 will technically be in our rear view mirror soon, its ramifications will be with us for years to come. Make no mistake, there's a lot of work to do. So, here are my four really tough, but really important, resolutions designed to lay some solid groundwork for doing your best work in 2021. Aren't you glad there are only four? If you're interested in my resolutions from previous years, take a look here  and here .

4 Strategies to Pivot and Lead Through Disruption

Organizational Resiliency in This Crucible Moment

I am currently working with two colleagues from the cultural and heritage fields to think and write about organizational resiliency in times of upheaval and ambiguity. We believe resiliency in this crucible moment requires, first and foremost, nonprofit organizations activate equity and inclusion by embracing it as central to all their internal and external work. It begins when organizations commit the time to examine their own historical roots and practices as a critical step to ensure they “live” their most meaningful missions, visions, and values. Resiliency requires many organizations also renegotiate what it means to be valuable to their communities. The traditional idea of “value” has changed and is changing, and recognizing the extent to what our communities really value is key to being wanted, needed, and, thus relevant. All organizations must retool their financial mindsets, taking a hard look at their current financial realities and realigning the costs of doing business with