Many of us enjoy reading benchmarking reports but managing a chapter benchmarking project is a whole ‘nother story. It’s a big job, but it’s worth the effort. We don’t say that lightly. We’re quite familiar with benchmarking thanks to our biannual Chapter Benchmarking Report. Just the phrase “chapter benchmarking” calls to mind our collaborator on the report, Peter Houstle of Mariner Management.
We had a nice long chat with Peter recently about chapter benchmarking, specifically about the kind of data to collect from chapters so your team and your chapter leaders (whether volunteers or staff) can measure their performance against chapters of similar size, budget, location, or other characteristics.
What’s the point of benchmarking?
First, we will address the question on everyone’s mind. Let’s say you collect a lot of chapter data and share it with chapter leaders, then what? How do they use it? How do you use it?
Benchmarking data sparks change within chapters
Data can be magical if you know how to use its powers for good. Data can help you shake off the complacency you might see in some of your chapters. Although the pandemic shook many of them out of their ruts, surprisingly, some decided to just wait it out. As we emerge from the other side, where do your chapters stand now?
- Who has a healthy balance sheet?
- Engaged members?
- A strong program portfolio?
- A high retention rate?
- Who’s helping your collective community and who’s not pitching in?
Benchmarking illuminates what’s really going on. Benchmarking data points out where chapters need to improve performance and where they’re falling short of the standard. They can’t help but see the need to reconsider the status quo, prioritize different things, professionalize their operations, and/or change how they do business.
Benchmarking data gives chapter leaders the impetus and excuse they need to play bigger—to ask for more from their volunteers and members, and give them more in exchange. The data may show the need for a different type of leadership culture: volunteer leaders who steer the ship, not just let it coast along, and who follow a strategic plan, not the whimsy of the current president.
Benchmarking data feeds into the competitive egos of chapter leaders. Many of them won’t be able to resist the comparison game. They want to bring the results out of the board room or office and share their high marks with their members and chapter leader peers.
At the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), chapter self-assessments tap into their chapter leaders’ competitive nature. Chapters do this self-assessment as part of the Chapter of the Year awards program. They know they must adhere to best practices if they want to win in their chapter-size category.
The self-assessments have also led to a better dialogue between ACG and its chapters. Instead of having to pester chapters about compliance issues, the chapters call ACG to find out how they can improve their practices. The result is a total shift in the chapter leader mindset and conversations.
High-performing chapters win more than the comparison game. Because of the pandemic, many chapters have taken on a virtual identity with their boundaries no longer limited by geography. They can compete virtually with other chapters and with HQ—and that doesn’t have to be a terrible thing. For example, the Austin chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) hosted an online course that attracted attendees from chapters all over the country. Austin shared the registration revenue with those chapters. Their success encouraged other chapters to form education partnerships. High-performing chapters figure out how to win market share and revenue, and other chapters often follow their lead.
Benchmarking data helps CRPs focus their efforts
AGC wants to ensure its member firms consistently receive “a full range of services” wherever they work. With the assistance of Mariner Management, they developed a chapter self-assessment tool that measures performance and shows chapters where and how they can improve their practices. Benchmarking data helps Christi Beatty, vice president of chapter services and member engagement at AGC, shine a light on high-performing chapters—those with bright spots to share. It also helps her identify low-performing chapters, so her team can intercede, coach them, or pair them with a chapter leader who can provide guidance. Benchmarking data can also validate the need for additional chapter resources, such as chapter leader training and/or technology that facilitates data-sharing.
Software, like Billhighway, gives you access to chapter data that allows you to benchmark, understand the correlations between chapter activities and performance, and share those findings with your chapters. This data can spark the impetus for a new type of cooperation between your association and your chapter network. For example, if you spot an issue that’s holding back many chapters from higher performance, you can provide the support or resources that will help them improve. If your association is unable to provide those resources, you can help facilitate progress by bringing chapter bright spots to everyone’s attention and helping chapter leaders find support in each other.
Benchmarking challenge: measuring what matters
Peter observed that many associations collect chapter data and information that measures compliance with chapter affiliation requirements but doesn’t have anything to do with performance. You have to measure what matters. The benchmarking data you collect must be tied to goals and desired change.
Metrics must be specific and measurable. “Getting better” and “creating more value” won’t cut it; they’re wishes, not metrics. Instead, think in terms of numbers and percentages.
In the remaining posts in this series, we’ll describe a chapter benchmarking project underway right now at the Associated General Contractors of America. Their chapter self-assessment scorecard is focused on a short list of items that are true indicators of performance, such as recruitment, retention, market penetration, non-dues revenue sources, and gross receipts.