Benchmarking for Catalyst Arts orgs: What we learnt

We spent Wednesday 19th Feb with some 30 ACE Catalyst funded organisations to look at how to use data to help them plan and measure the successes of their income generating activities. Sarah Thelwall was joined by William Makower and Paul Cutts of the National Funding Scheme who gave an overview of how Donate works and the sorts of successes that arts organisations have had with this approach to the development of incremental casual giving.

So what did we learn? How will participants be doing things differently as a result of attending the workshop?

Many found it reassuring to know that they are no worse than anyone else in the room and that many are struggling to develop strategies that successfully attract donors. Small solace but solace nonetheless!

One of the big, and surprising, headlines in terms of things learned was that the turnover of your organisation is a greater determining factor in terms of the shape of your business model than the art form you work in.

There was real value in finding clusters of peers to benchmark with, not simply because this encourages participation in the joys of data entry but that once you have the data set, what you really need is contextual information …. Otherwise known as chats to answer questions like ‘how did you do that?’ As a Culture Benchmark subscriber you can of course always talk to us about setting up a bespoke comparison group or we can point you in the direction of existing clusters. We could even help you set up a new cluster of your own.

It became clear as the afternoon progressed that the team at Donate are not just delivering a technology for the sector but are amassing a substantial knowledge base about what strategies do and don’t work. The bonus is that much of this knowledge is available for free on the Donate website in the form of case studies.

Several workshop participants had clearly started thinking about how they might use data internally rather than simply report on it to funders and other stakeholders (see our pieces for Audience Finder and the Guardian on data uses and note that we’ll write more on this topic in the future). The issue of not knowing how to use the data effectively and the need for more training on this topic came through very clearly … Again we are more than happy to help with this either on an organisation or sector basis. The carrot for many is of course that if you collect the data and understand it because you use it internally then you are in a much better position to use the data for external lobbying purposes.

So, in summary, the feedback from the workshop participants indicated the following to us:

–    there is a clear and immediate need to improve data handling skills in arts organisations so that data is not simply reported to funders but used internally to support and improve decision making within the organisation – skills training please!

–    There is an appetite for benchmarking generally and a desire to make data useful rather than simply a chore to keep funders happy

–    There is a desire to find or establish benchmarking clusters and it is likely that the three types of data that folks are most interested in are financials, audiences and social impact

–    A minority of organisations have real confidence in their knowledge of donors and sponsors and many could learn from both the Donate case studies and the skills and experience that the National Funding Scheme has to offer

–    There are capacity issues for small grain saying in particular when it comes to learning these new skills and a prioritisation challenge rears its head quite early on

MyCake will be using this insight to help shape the way we offer support to arts organisations who want to take on benchmarking. We will also use it to help devise new articles for our blog, Audience Finder and the Guardian. Feel free to give us a nudge any time you like when it comes to uses of data and the sorts of comparisons you would like us to investigate.

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