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 In Case Studies, Data Analysis Concepts Simplified, Data Resources for Nonprofits, How To

Is your organization benchmarking? Should you be?

I don’t know the answer to the first question, but the answer to the second is a resounding ‘YES’.

Many nonprofits still fall into the trap of believing strategies like benchmarking are only for the corporate world, not the social sector. But benchmarking is a critical component of two important aspects of your work as a nonprofit: grant writing and monitoring or evaluation.

If you’re not convinced yet, you’re not alone. Let’s take a closer look at how benchmarking can make a difference in your efforts.

Benchmarking for Grant Writing

There are a growing number of nonprofits and social sector organizations vying for the favour of funders, and a compelling grant application is crucial to securing the funding you need to undertake a new project (or simply keep your operations going).

Benchmarking data in your grant application can dramatically increase your chances of getting the funding you need.

When writing a grant application, your chances of success increase dramatically if you can point to measurable impacts your efforts will have — and that means including data. Instead of simply painting a vague picture of the problems you hypothesize exist and how you hope to address them, you can use benchmarking to outline clear differences you will make in a way that funders will have faith in.

But how can you use benchmarking before your project even begins? The simplest answer here is to utilize open or public data — you can provide benchmarks for key areas your organization aims to improve.

Benchmarking for Monitoring and Evaluation

I’ve talked a lot about the importance of impact measurement and the steps nonprofits can take to measure the impact of their efforts. Benchmarking is a valuable tool when trying to determine what difference your team is making.


Presumably, your project has generated some internal data — you’re keeping track of the people you’re working with, the services you’re offering, the money you’re spending. To determine the impact of your project, you’ll need external data to compare to your own. The increased availability of detailed levels of open and public data can make this a much easier (and less expensive!) prospect than it used to be.

Early in 2015, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced that all projects funded by the foundation would be required to make their data open — creating a valuable library of resources for nonprofits around the globe to access. I’ve started using data from these sources quite frequently to help partners with benchmarking for grant applications and impact evaluation. (And to make life for nonprofits even easier, the foundation plans to launch their Gates Open Research data portal later this year.)

Benchmarking for Nonprofits in Action

Datassist is currently working with CARE Access Africa as they endeavour to improve the lives of those in rural Africa through financial inclusion. We’re researching how different savings and credit tools can help people without bank accounts gain access to secure, effective ways to save money.

We use benchmarking to help CARE Access Africa measure the impact of their programs.

Using only internal data — data generated by the project about the population we are working with — we could never know for sure how big a difference the CARE project was making. And while we all get warm fuzzies from feeling we’re doing some good in the world, it’s important for CARE to be able to measure the project’s impact. If they’re not really facilitating significant change, the resources spent on this effort might be better dedicated elsewhere.

That’s where benchmarking comes in. Using open data, Datassist has established financial inclusion benchmarks for different sub-populations in the groups CARE is working with (women, youth, etc.) as well as for different regions. This allows us to understand the success and impact of CARE’s programs in a much broader scope.

Ready to Get Started?

If you’re ready to use benchmarking but aren’t sure where to find data or how to incorporate it into your analysis, we’re here to help.

We can’t wait for Gates Open Research to launch. In the meantime, most Gates research projects are still making their data public and here are a couple of our other favourite sources for benchmarking data:

If you need help using public or open data in your analysis, check out the archived version of our recent webinar, How to Add Public Data to Your Analysis or download your own free copy of the webinar guide.

Still have questions? Our team would love to help answer them. Get in touch with us today to discuss how Datassist can help you.

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