The benefits of benchmarking

When you and your organisation are setting goals for your new fundraising endeavours—be it for your start-up fundraising operation, your augmented major or principal giving programme, or launching in a new country or region—you will have many questions, one of which will be, ‘What are our peers doing?’ 

Independent consultants can often answer these answers anecdotally (on a confidential basis), by sharing their experience of working with similar organisations. But there are opportunities to go much deeper, with the gathering of targeted evidence through a benchmarking study

This might include both quantitative and qualitative information, such as the amount of philanthropic revenue raised annually, number of staff, the history of how resourcing evolved over time, challenges and successes, etc. And it can be applied by the sector and region most relevant to your organisation but also internationally. 

Here are five powerful reasons your organisation might benefit from one: 

   1. A chance to think even bigger

Developing a list of organisations to benchmark against is a great way to identify not only the obvious peers but also aspirational ones. To whom does the organisation want to be compared in five or 10 years? Commissioning a benchmarking study invigorates this sort of visionary thinking and will also lead to identifying some of the elements it will take to fulfil this vision. 

   2. Getting an extra edge

In thinking about your peer organisations, you might have assumed you were on par. A study conducted by an independent party may reveal areas where you are not, and how you may be losing out when competing with other organisations for the same donors. Again, benchmarking will provide an opportunity to more precisely identify where you can strengthen your practice and stand out. 

   3. Myth busting and managing expectations

Many perceptions of fundraising success are based on myths or elusive ‘magic bullets’. As professional fundraisers, we know that it is in fact critical elements like practical discipline, enough qualified staff, and the participation of organisational leadership that enhance major giving and long-term fundraising success, but sometimes it’s hard to communicate this to those who manage our budgets. You can use evidence gathered from a benchmarking study for your board or executive leadership to set realistic expectations and get their buy-in to build more robust philanthropic relationships for your organisation.  

   4. Profiting from lessons already learned

Why stumble over the same hurdles? One educational organisation in Austria shared that making the case for support around filling a funding gap left by government funding cuts was not compelling. Donors didn’t want to hear more. But when the case became more about the value of supporting education in general or specific projects, they were able to have more conversations with prospects that led to their highest gifts. Our client gained valuable insights and saved precious time by not making the same mistakes. 

   5. More than just fundraising

Benchmarking can be used to better understand many different facets of your fundraising operation, for continuous improvement and enhancement that ultimately leads to revenue growth—for example, your stewardship programme. Following their own such studies, several of our North American clients were better able to calibrate their donors’ expectations, and built a stronger, more loyal donor base.  

Benchmarking can easily be scaled to budget, by focusing on the most immediately useful parameters, the most important information to be gathered, and the number of organisations to be included. The end result: valuable, objective information that supports your organisation to make informed decisions, set qualified goals, and create realistic milestones in your strategic planning.

Read more about the results achieved from a benchmarking study for the Canberra Hospital Foundation (Australia).

Jane Joo Park is a doctoral researcher at the WHU–Otto Beisheim School of Management and formerly a Senior Consultant and Vice-President (Europe) for Global Philanthropic.