In preparation for my upcoming breakout session at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Annual Conference, I’ve put a lot of thought into benchmarking. A lot of my work on the session has been focused on obtaining a deeper understanding of benchmarks for MN, and how MN based organizations can use that knowledge to improve their communications. An integral part of that understanding depends on organizations benchmarking themselves.
Here are some tips on how to benchmark your own organization.

Start with a question. This is what you want to know or are curious about. If you are not sure what questions to ask of your org, check out what other people are curious about by checking out a national benchmark report like the one put out by NTEN.

Define your metric. How are you going to measure the result? Maybe the measurement is open rate, click-thru rate, new donors, total donors, etc. Your metric should be easy to calculate and replicable so you can easily do month to month comparisons. CRM software can greatly reduce the time it takes to get these numbers.

Measure over time. Look at your metrics for a couple months to get an idea of what numbers are currently “normal” for your organization. Make sure that you are doing meaningful comparisons. For example, your number of new donors will spike during your annual month long pledge drive. Take this into consideration when comparing that month to others.

Once you have baseline metrics for your organization, then comes the fun part! (Although, If you’re like me, the number gathering part was also fun). You can now test out new ideas or approaches to see if there is improvement against your benchmark. See what works over time, and use what you learn to outperform your previous benchmarks.