Nonprofit benchmarking


* What are five tips for successful benchmarking?


Benchmarking is a continuous effort to measure and improve the efforts of your organization against the best practices of the sector.

There is a lot of chatter about accountability and effectiveness, and with funders requiring outcomes, it is important to identify what outcomes you want.

Once you prove your level of impact, you can take steps to improve your results.

* Just get started.

Some organizations feel they need to engage a Ph.D. program evaluator just to measure their own performance. You don’t necessarily need a lot of help.

You should have an internal reason, or a “business driver,” for measuring impact, and that reason should be communicated within your organization. Without a real reason for measuring impact, no one will do it.

* Don’t try to boil the ocean.

You can’t measure everything at once. Identify your highest priorities and focus on those. Once you have improved upon an area, pick a new one to measure.

At the same time, some people worry that their mission is too abstract to measure. But rather than trying to measure whether you are ending homelessness, for example, assess your impact on key issues on the way there – like fundraising, creating public awareness or educating policy makers.

* Remember that measurement isn’t just for programs.

A lot of factors affect impact.

Financial sustainability can make or break a successful program. Management effectiveness, from staff turnover to employee satisfaction, will affect how you do business.

Community engagement, including a poor reputation or lack of public awareness, affects your ability to reach goals within the community.

* Keep it fresh.

Remember that benchmarking is a dynamic process. As strategies and priorities change, so should your methods of measuring impact.

So put a stake in the ground for now, but revisit your outcomes and measures at least once a year.

* Apply it and stick to it.

Benchmarking is not about measuring for the sake of measuring; it’s about improving.

You can’t just care about your activities; you have to care about your results, too. Use your work on measurement to engage your board, inform resource allocation, communicate impact to donors and improve program design.

Improvement should be woven into the fabric of your organization. There should an internal, leadership-driven commitment to improving results.

Compiled by Leslie Williams

Jason Saul is managing director of Chicago-based Mission Measurement, which helps corporations and nonprofits measure and report social impact.

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