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  • 6 Steps to Create Meaningful Benchmarks For Your Nonprofit

In just 6 steps, you can create meaningful benchmarks to help your nonprofit in strategic planning, proposal writing, and evaluation of your staff and programs. You can apply benchmarks to nearly anything that is goal oriented, so you can use them liberally to improve your measurement and ultimately your nonprofit’s efficacy!

Step 1: Figure out what you need to measure by benchmarking

Benchmarking is only effective if you need to measure progress and know what you want to learn. Do you need to measure a certain program’s effectiveness? Do you need to measure staff performance? Do you need to understand how different satellite offices are performing compared to one another? Do you need to measure progress toward grant deliverables?


creating nonprofit benchmarks


Step 2: Set baseline data

Baseline data is, simply put, your starting point for measurement. You might already have this data, or you can use public data or partner data.  The data should be measurable and easily extrapolated going into the future. It should be based on your goal, or the idea of what you are measuring as determined in step one.(More on data collection and statistics.)

Examples include:

  • 3 local schools out of 7 have afterschool fitness programs. Your benchmarks might be to increase that to 4 schools in 6 months and 6 schools in 2 years, for example, if your goal is to improve afterschool options for fitness. You already know which schools have programs or don’t possibly, or might research to find out.
  • Staff member is not a team leader. You might build her skills by making her responsible for a small, 2-3 person team project supervised by a more experienced staff member. The benchmark would be project success and satisfaction of her leadership skills by team member feedback. The goal of the project is to improve your staff leadership skills.
  • 100,000 veterans do not get adequate medical treatment. Your program’s benchmark might be to provide treatment for a percentage of that number annually.
  • A comparative nonprofit’s statistics, such as using 95% of funding for programs. Compare yourself to the competition regularly to grow stronger. Maybe you only use 90% of funding for programs and can set benchmarks to gradually improve your ratio.

Step 3: Set benchmarks

Analyze your baseline data and determine what is reasonable to assume you can accomplish in set amounts of time. In the veteran’s program example, you might reasonably be able to serve only 1% in your first program year, and then gradually increase your program offerings over time. You will need to have a system in place as well to be able to measure how many people are participating in your programs, so factor that capacity into your benchmark setting.

Step 4: Collect data for benchmarks

Once you know what you want to measure, you will have to set up a means to measure it. For example, you can track attendance of your programs by recording at each event. For the staff team leader example, you could set up a 360 degree survey system or make a staff person responsible for not just supervising, but also following up with everyone involved and creating a means of objectively rating the new leader.

Make sure you are capable of collecting the data and have systems in place to do so. Steps 3 and 4 go hand in hand because you have to consider your capacity for data collection while setting the benchmarks in the first place.

Step 5: Analyze your benchmark progress

You have to have a dedicated staff person or system in place to analyze the data as well, for the benchmarks to be meaningful.  Too often nonprofits bother to set up benchmarks and collect data but do not take the time to analyze it. Did you meet your goals? Did you exceed your goals? Set up tables, graphs, reporting systems, and other Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are extracted from the data. Make a staff manager responsible for reviewing them in their performance goals. Report them to other staff and the board at set intervals as well.

Step 6: Adjust your plans after analyzing benchmarks

Don’t stop at analyzing the data, but use the results to amend your strategies, plans, staff goals, etc.  Even if you developed the benchmarks to report on a grant, the funder is not going to be upset that you did not meet your goals as long as you learn from your work to date and adjust your plans!

Benchmark analysis may be the simplest way to keep your nonprofit on track for any and all of your internal and external goals. Having a plan from the start to collect and analyze your data for real organizational change can make all the difference in their ability to help you.

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