Four Tips for Avoiding Benchmarking Data Overload

By Adam Drinan, Director, Synergy Fundraising

I remember the very first time I participated in benchmarking. I don’t mind admitting I was completely overwhelmed. I was excited by the areas where we were doing better than most and immediately terrified about all the places where we could improve.

You’re suddenly blessed with more information on your program than you’ve ever had before but you don’t have the resources to immediately address every area of potential improvement.

It’s now 15 years since my first experience with benchmarking and I have a much better grip on what to focus on and how to avoid that feeling of data overload.

Tip 1: Look at the data through your own lens

Let’s take bequests for example. We know it’s the largest and most lucrative revenue stream for most charities. But is there a reason your confirmed bequestor count or percentage is lower than others? Maybe.

Let’s assume you’re a relatively new organisation and you’ve grown the base of your supporters via Face-to-Face fundraising and Peer to Peer Events. Chances are you’ll have a huge proportion of supporters that won’t even think about creating a Will for another decade. It’s not to say you shouldn’t have a well-crafted Gift in Wills product and the communications to support it but you’re going to find it difficult to compete with a charity that was founded in the 1920s and has been prospecting for bequests for the best part of a century.  Ironically, the charity formed in the 1920s would kill to have your younger audience so just remember to take that step back and consider your operating environment.

Tip 2: Don't let the data fool you.

If you were present at Forum One this year, you would have seen that charities were receiving a $1.73 for every dollar spent on Direct Mail but $17.30 for every dollar spent on Bequests. The contrast is significant, but it’s important to remember that the two figures are intrinsically linked.

Direct Mail has been recruiting new donors for charities in Australia for over a century and so much of the revenue generated from Bequests comes donors acquired by Direct Mail. In short, one wouldn’t have occurred without the other. It’s why the original source of your supporters is something you can’t ignore and why you can’t let one big figure trick you into making sweeping changes in your overall strategy.

Tip 3: Beware the self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s OK to be weaker in areas that haven’t been part of your focus. If you’re currently developing a brand-new RG proposition and you’ve spent nothing on acquiring regular donors in the last three years, I simply wouldn’t look at other organisations’ RG data.

It’s not that you suck at all things RG. It just hasn’t been your focus yet. Let’s assume you do create that incredible product and start investing in RG acquisition, it’s still highly likely that you won’t be able to compare some of your measures to a national charity that’s been investing in RG for decades. It’s unfair to yourself and isn’t a true indication of your performance. It’s just a by-product of your focus to date.

Tip 4: Prioritise!

– If you’re still feeling overwhelmed there’s an old project management trick that can be your friend.

– If you’ve got a list of the twenty-five things that concern you most, you just take the top five items and make a new list of those.

– Then throw your big scary list away!

– That way you can focus on the top five issues and complete them without the pressure of having a list as long as your arm.

– Once you’ve conquered the five priorities make another list of the NEW top five priorities and start over.

– It sounds crazy but psychologically it’s the items you haven’t touched that cause you the most worry. By having a smaller list you won’t feel like you’re drowning.

If you’d like more tips and tricks for how to approach your Benchmarking Project data, please reach out to Adam Drinan at: