Are benchmarks useful or not?

At a recent ASAE Technical Section Council meeting, there was a lot of talk about benchmarking. One participant said his executive director is always asking for benchmarks from other organizations, to see (for example) if they’re spending the right amount of money in the right places.

In other forums, I’ll see people asking about membership retention rates or benchmarks for direct mail effectiveness. I’m here to tell you: stop asking that question. Benchmarking against other organizations doesn’t serve any purpose, because their goals may be different from yours.

Having said that, I do think you should have some form of benchmark (I prefer the term metrics) to measure where you are against where you want to be. Unfortunately, most of us don’t know where we want to be and thus don’t know what metrics we need to measure our progress.

For example, my clients will often ask what percentage of their budget they should spend on a new data management system. My response is always the same: that depends on what you want to accomplish. In this case, the metric is not some arbitrary percentage of the budget, but rather what your business objectives are for a new data management system. Once you know what you want to accomplish and price out a new system, you can then make a decision if the return justifies the investment.

About Wes Trochlil

For over 30 years, Wes has worked in and with dozens of associations and membership organizations throughout the US, ranging in size from zero staff (all-volunteer) to over 700. In that time Wes has provided a range of consulting services, from general consulting on data management issues to full-scale, association-wide selection and implementation of association management systems.

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