Knowledge is power: how benchmarking can unlock your fundraising potential

What is Benchmarking? According to the dictionary, “to benchmark” is “to evaluate something against a standard.” But what should you be evaluating, and against what standard? A Google search only brings up more questions and several different types of benchmarking, Internal benchmarking, Strategic benchmarking, Process benchmarking. It’s easy to become confused.

Here at On Agency, we believe that it is essential for any charity or not-for-profit organisation to carry out Competitive benchmarking. Competitive benchmarking is the practice of comparing your organisation’s performance against other organisations within the industry. By identifying the right Key Performance Indicators and comparing these against your peers, benchmarking can be the fuel that drives your fundraising performance to new heights.

There are many benefits to benchmarking. Primarily, benchmarking can prove to be a key tool for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of your fundraising campaigns. Consider two charities: Charity A and Charity B. Charity A know they generate double the annual income from their fundraising campaigns than Charity B, making Charity A believe they run more effective campaigns than Charity B. However, Charity A later finds out that they have the triple the expenditure on their fundraising campaigns compared to Charity B, as Charity B are much more selective with their supporter targeting for appeals. This means that Charity B has a greater return-on-investment, they’re receiving more income for each pound they spend on fundraising, than Charity A. Charity A are now armed with greater clarity and insight; other charities are delivering more cost-effective campaigns than them. By delivering more cost-effective campaigns, other charities are spending a greater proportion of their money on their cause – which makes supporters happier with how their money is spent.

Benchmarking provides many additional insights on your internal performance that your organisation can use to take immediate action. You could be receiving thousands of responses to your appeals, but your response rate could be comparatively small. A potentially fruitful action you can then take with this insight is to develop a robust targeting plan. Selecting the right supporters to receive the right appeal at the right time can have a massive impact on your response rates. Your appeal income might be high but the average donation to these appeals might be way below industry average. Reviewing your ask strategies is one potential path to higher average donations, increasingly higher income and less wastage.

After you decide which actions you wish to take, you might think that this is the end of the process. But this would mean you miss out on another key benefit of benchmarking! Benchmarking is more than just a tool; it is a practice. Each time you carry out a benchmarking report, you are provided with a snapshot of your place within the industry at a given moment in time. But the industry is dynamic and constantly changing. By continuously carrying out benchmarking at regular intervals, at least every year, you can see the impact of your actions on your fundraising performance and assess which actions were the most beneficial since the last report.

At On Agency, we believe so strongly in the ability of benchmarking to power your campaigns that we have developed our own annual benchmarking survey. Since 2013, we have invited fundraisers from across the industry to provide us with their annual results from their Direct Mail appeals and, in return, we produce a FREE anonymised benchmarking report they can use to better power their fundraising in the future. This year, it is bigger and better than ever. For the first time, we will be comparing Regular Giving mailings as well as reviewing supporter acquisition with inserts and door drops.

Click here to take part.

So, if you are thinking your fundraising performance could be improved or if you want to deliver more effective campaigns in the future, benchmarking should be at the top of your priority list.

Joseph Hobbs, Data Executive

Do you have a fundraising dilemma? As always, we are here to help. Please email us on: or call us on: 07917 113157

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