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Benchmarking Best Practices for Your Association

Benchmarking Best Practices for Your Association

By Sarah Lampson

Benchmarking is an essential tool in strategic planning for your association and a great way to measure your association’s performance against other high performers to identify opportunities to improve. It is an efficient way to determine best practices and avoids the all too common trial and error approach. For smaller associations, it is especially important to save time and resources, and learning from the high performers provides an efficient way to do that.

To start, decide what you want to benchmark. It could be something your association is strong in so you can confirm where you stand and gain some creative ideas from other sectors. Or it could be an area where your association is struggling and you want to map a strategy to success. Determining exactly what you want to benchmark is key to identifying high performing benchmarking partners in the selected area.

Measuring Success

Next determine how you would measure success in that area and design your benchmarking survey. What would excellence look like and how do you know? What metrics will you need and how will you capture them? How do your benchmarking partners determine and measure success? Be sure to include some open ended questions to allow your partners to provide more detail than a multiple choice survey would. Set up a time to talk once all survey results are in as you may have more questions then.

Selecting benchmarking partners may take some research. If you are not sure who the high performers are in the selected area, ask your network including peers, fellow CSAE members and conference attendees. Contact senior leaders in association management such as course instructors, consultants, award winners, authors, bloggers and your mentor.  Associations you regularly interact with may be suitable partners or able to suggest some. 

Make sure you look outside our industry as well. Members have high expectations, and even though your association may be lean, not-for-profit and/or even under-resourced, they will still compare you to the other, large, richer associations they are in. Learning from higher performers in different fields will provide you with innovative ideas for programs and services that you can modify for your association.

Drawing Inspiration

Analyzing the results of the benchmarking and implementing the findings are an exciting time for an association. The new ideas will inspire your team and give you an opportunity to reflect upon, clarify and get excited about strategic planning opportunities. You will celebrate your successes and also engage in the challenge of transferring best practices in other contexts to your association. You will see opportunities at both the strategic and operational level that will lead to improvements for your members.

Lastly, plan to benchmark again in a year to ensure continuous improvement. New ideas and research, evolving member and partner expectations and other changes in your association and environment provide a dynamic context for ongoing growth and change to the advantage of your membership.

Sarah Lampson is the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Research Administrators and works with the Executive Committee to provide organizational leadership and develop and implement its strategic plan. Sarah’s key achievements include: significantly increasing services to members, a proven track record of strong financial management and stewarding international partnerships that have resulted in the development of Canada’s first professional qualifications in research management and administration. Since Sarah was recruited to CARA in 2013, membership has increased 15 per cent and the number of members volunteering with the association has increased 400 per cent. Sarah has co-authored two books and published and presented on various areas of her professional expertise, including research administration and association management, over 100 times in the past 10 years. You can follow her on Twitter at @lampson_sarah. 




CSAE, Membership, Associations, Benchmarking


Education, Guest Contributor



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